Could A’s be moving next door?

Talk of possible sale sparks rumors about the future home of the
Oakland baseball franchise. Could South Valley really be a
contender?
Try this on for size: Major League Baseball’s Hollister Athletics.

With reports that Los Angeles developer Lewis Wolff, who has deep business ties in the San Jose area, is close to buying the team, rumors that the A’s will move away from Oakland to the South Valley – or at least a stone’s throw away – are spreading rapidly.

The one that generated talk on Bay Area radio stations and in local political circles Wednesday centered around San Benito County as a possible location for the Oakland team.

And it’s not as farfetched as it first appears.

The San Francisco Giants have territorial rights to the San Jose area and speculation that Wolff might try to move the A’s to San Jose has not gone over well with Giants owner Peter Magowan.

MLB commissioner Bud Selig, Wolff’s longtime friend and former fraternity brother at the University of Wisconsin, indicated to the Associated Press that owners are not likely to give ground.

“Territorial rights don’t change,” Selig said.

However, the Giants’ territorial rights do end at the Santa Clara/San Benito county line. Moving the A’s to just beyond that line would comply with the rules, while theoretically tapping into the ever-growing South Bay market.

And Schott, whom Wolff has said he wants to keep in the ownership group even after a potential sale, is president of Award Homes, which wants to build a large subdivision in Hollister.

County supervisors said they got calls from other media outlets asking about the possibility, but at least one said it came as a complete surprise.

“I haven’t heard anything about it,” San Benito Supervisor Jaime De La Cruz said, “but let me know if you do.”

At least officially, the response out of Oakland was non-committal.

“We can’t comment on any location proposals,” A’s public relations director Jim Young told the Dispatch. “We’ll just stand by the fact that the concentration of everyone here is on staying in Oakland.”

So is the move even conceivable?

Well, the team has to be sold first. Wolff, vice president for venue development for the Athletics, has an option to buy the team from Steve Schott and Ken Hoffman, who purchased the A’s jointly in 1995. Schott and Hoffman are reportedly looking for a bid of around $175 million.

Wolff, who met with baseball’s ownership committee Wednesday in Scottsdale, Ariz., has been reviewing the team’s financial records for the last few weeks and said he will make a decision in the next three months.

“It’s an option he’s had for quite some time,” Young said. “And he’s looking seriously at exercising that option – subject to approval, of course, by the current ownership.”

Wolff, a former part owner of the Golden State Warriors and St. Louis Blues, was brought in by the A’s in 2003 to lead the search for a new stadium, and maybe a new hometown – with Las Vegas, Portland and San Jose being mentioned most prominently.

While many of the A’s competitors play in ballparks that generate millions in revenue, the Athletics share an older stadium with the NFL’s Oakland Raiders and haven’t made any secret about wanting a baseball-only facility.

The team’s lease at the Networks Associates Coliseum, its home since moving from Kansas City in 1968, runs out in 2007, with one-year options through 2010.

Nevertheless – and despite the organization’s struggle with the city to find a new stadium site – Young said he “absolutely” believes Wolff is committed to finding a way to keep the team in Oakland.

He cited Wolff’s August proposal to the Oakland City Council in which he brought forth the idea of a new stadium located in the northwest corner of the Coliseum parking lot.

“People have been speculating as to the future of the A’s for 40 years … as long as we’ve been in Oakland,” Young said. “I don’t know of anything right now that’s worth commenting on.

“We understand speculation is spreading like wildfire. But until, or if, Wolff decides to buy the team, we just don’t know. If he purchases the team, I’m sure he’ll be more than willing to share his plans.”

– Staff Writer Josh Staloch and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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