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Transplanted Bay Area fans excited to see A's in Las Vegas exhibitions

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Romeo Zaragoza until a year ago lived in the Bay Area, and like two teams dear to his heart, he found his way to Las Vegas.

First it was the Raiders leaving Oakland for Las Vegas before the 2020 season, and in roughly four years the Athletics will join them. With the A's on Friday night playing the first of two exhibitions at Las Vegas Ballpark against Milwaukee, Zaragoza wanted to catch them in person.

Zaragoza, wearing an A's cap, said he had no issue with the club deciding to make Las Vegas its future home. The A's on Tuesday unveiled renderings of what their new stadium on the Las Vegas Strip would look like.

In addition to the A's and Raiders, Oakland has watched the Warriors go across the bay to San Francisco in 2019.

“When it comes down to it, there has to be support from the city,” Zaragoza said. "Not just in baseball, but in football and basketball. It's just a shame. When the city loses all three of their major sports teams, there's an issue. So when you look at it from that perspective, you can't blame the teams entirely. Yes, it will be a loss to the fans, but like anything else, things change.

“When they offered the A's the chance to come over here (to Las Vegas) and gave them basically what they were looking for, it's hard to say no.”

The A's still have plenty of steps to take before targeted move in 2028. The most pressing is finding a place to call home from 2025-27 because their lease in Oakland expires after this season.

Both sides met to discuss a possible extension, and the A’s also are considering Triple-A stadiums in Salt Lake City and Sacramento, California. A's owner John Fisher said the San Francisco Giants' Oracle Park is not an option.

Friday night was the first chance for fans in Las Vegas to see the team since baseball's owners unanimously approved the relocation in November. Temperatures in the mid-50s Fahrenheit combined with a breeze helped limit ticket sales to an announced crowd of 7,938, but a sellout at the 10,000-seat stadium was a possibility for the Saturday afternoon game.

These games, Fisher said, were part of the team's strategy of getting involved in the Las Vegas community. Youth baseball and softball players watched batting practice Friday and met the players. A fan event will precede Saturday's game.

“This is an opportunity for us to introduce ourselves to the fans of Las Vegas,” Fisher said. “I think one of the really inspiring things that's becoming important in thinking about this market is how strong and how passionate the local fan base is. People love baseball in Las Vegas, and I've heard that from everybody.”

Because Las Vegas is the A's Triple-A affiliate, several players have already experienced what it's like to play in this city. The Aviators, who averaged 6,838 fans, were ninth in attendance last season among minor-league teams. In the three prior seasons that were played before fans, Las Vegas either led its league or all of Triple-A in attendance.

“Vegas is an awesome city," said infielder Darrell Hernaiz, who played 60 games here last season. “It has been a big-league town. ... I’ve had a couple people ask me what Vegas is like. I had a great time here in Triple-A.”

Like the hit Neil Diamond song in which he sang about being “caught between two shores,” the team is in an odd spot of still playing for Oakland while management tries to cultivate a fan base in Las Vegas. Players were mostly guarded in their responses about the city, and the roster could be considerably different by the time the move actually occurs.

“I think our group here, obviously, is aware of the future,” manager Mark Kotsay said. “We’re also of the mindset that we’re here in Oakland in 2024 representing Oakland Athletics.”

But many fans in Las Vegas were at least curious about what 2028 could look like.

Naylie Vega, a student at Utah Tech, made the 90-minute drive from St. George, Utah, to see Las Vegas' eventual team.

“I'm a baseball fan, I'm not necessarily an A's fan,” Vega said. “I'm excited Las Vegas is getting a professional team.”

Nancy Spinelli retired to nearby Pahrump about six years ago after spending her entire life in Oakland. She wore an Athletics shirt to support her favorite team.

“I think it's fantastic because it's obvious Oakland hasn't done anything to keep them there,” Spinelli said. “If anything, they've made it more difficult."

She still has a lot of family in the Bay Area.

“I have some relatives that think they need to get out of Oakland,” Spinelli said, "and other relatives have said they feel so deserted.”

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AP freelancer Kirk Kern contributed to this report.

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