Oakland Raiders

O.co Coliseum prepares for extreme makeover – football to baseball in a day

Raiders kicker Giorgio Tavecchio (6) kicks against the St. Louis Rams during an Aug. 14 preseason game in Oakland.
Raiders kicker Giorgio Tavecchio (6) kicks against the St. Louis Rams during an Aug. 14 preseason game in Oakland. The Associated Press

When the clock reaches zeroes in the Raiders-Cardinals preseason game Sunday night, a different countdown will be just getting started.

While the Raiders are busy on the field after the 5 p.m. kickoff, the A’s, their O.co Coliseum co-tenants, will be in the air, heading for Oakland and a homestand that begins Monday night. In less than 24 hours between the end of the Raiders game and Monday’s 7:05 p.m. first pitch, the Coliseum will be transformed from football’s notorious Black Hole to a baseball stadium that meets major-league standards.

It’s a makeover the Coliseum undergoes a handful of times each August and September – and October, if the A’s have their way – at the hands of a seasoned crew of about 50 workers with the choreography down pat. Still, every so often, a one-day turnaround requires them to speed up the dance.

In 2013, an A’s playoff night game against the Detroit Tigers and regular-season Raiders game the following evening required another overnight turnaround – from baseball to football that time.

“That’s the tightest (window) we’ve ever had,” said Dave Rinetti, the A’s director of stadium operations. “This is still going to be tight.”

Opened in 1966, the Coliseum is the only stadium that still hosts teams from both Major League Baseball and the NFL. And since the Raiders moved back to Oakland from Los Angeles in 1995, those involved with the stadium switch have had plenty of practice.

“It’s down to a science now,” Rinetti said.

Logistically, perhaps the biggest change is the bleacher seating added on the east side of the field for Raiders games. Those removable seats are stored in one of the Coliseum’s parking lots when the A’s are at home, then brought in section by section when the stadium is transformed for football.

The lifting is done by Bigge Crane and Rigging of San Leandro in a meticulous process. After several layers of plywood are laid in the center-field area to protect the grass, the seats are carried down the center-field tunnel on Bigge’s specially designed steerable trailers and hoisted into position by two 90-ton conventional truck cranes.

TJ Carden, terminal manager at Bigge, said setting up the east-side seating usually takes two 12-hour days with about 45 workers. Fortunately for this weekend’s changeover, breaking it down can be done in one 12-hour shift.

Sunday night, after the Raiders-Cardinals game, the removable seats will be cleaned and returned to the parking lot. Raiders signs will be replaced by A’s signs and banners. The outfield fence, foul poles, backstop netting and field box seats – removed for football – will be reinstalled, along with the regulation and bullpen mounds, which are designed to be lifted out of the ground.

Head groundskeeper Clay Wood and his crew of seven will get the field ready for play. For Wood, going from football to baseball is more difficult. Along with re-creating the dimensions of the baseball field, there’s the wear and tear that a football game – and the conversion process – creates on the surface.

“The infield dirt has to be perfect so they’re not getting bad hops,” Wood said. “You have to try to get football divots filled; hopefully there’s not too many. And then center field is just a complete mess.”

The weight of the removable bleachers and the machinery takes a toll on the center-field grass, Wood said. Ideally, once the seats and plywood have been removed, the grounds crew would have a few days to re-sod badly affected areas of the outfield. But Sunday’s turnaround won’t allow that.

Instead, Wood said, the crew will bring out a couple machines that “try to get a little life” into the grass in the final hours before pregame work begins for the A’s and Los Angeles Angels.

“It’s definitely a challenging time of year from the standpoint that it’s really hard to keep anybody happy,” Wood said. “You got dirt for football, messed-up outfield for baseball. It’s just one of those things.”

A’s outfielder Sam Fuld said the change in center field is noticeable at this time of year. The tamped-down grass in areas means the outfield feels harder and plays faster.

“You have to be a little more conservative,” Fuld said. “Balls have a tendency to bounce up on you and take some bad hops. We do the best we can with it. In some ways, it’s a home-field advantage. At least we have the opportunity to practice on it on a daily basis.”

Fuld said he couldn’t remember the condition of the field drastically affecting any game. Fuld is fairly aggressive in the outfield, and he said that while he might be more careful at this time of year when fielding a ground-ball single, the harder surface would never deter him from diving for a fly ball.

“It’s still grass,” he said.

A’s manager Bob Melvin said he normally checks center field and the areas behind shortstop and second base when the A’s return from a trip and a football game has been played there. But he said he couldn’t remember “too many times that we’ve gotten hops that have really affected games and been that dramatic.”

“Sometimes it just looks a little worse than maybe it feels, just because there are lines out there (from the football field),” Melvin said. “But I don’t know that anybody does a better job than Clay and his group to get it ready.”

Wood said this is his 21st season participating in the transition and, “it never seems to get any easier.”

“It’s a crazy process,” he said.