In many ways, 2013 ended for Bay Area sports fans in the same way 2012 did. Stanford went to the Rose Bowl, just as they did last year, (though this time they lost). The Raiders are taking stock after a 4-12 season, just as they did last year. The 49ers are headed for the postseason, just as they did last year – of course, eventually reaching, and losing, the Super Bowl. A’s fans are enjoying their second consecutive AL West championship, cursing, once again, the name of Justin Verlander, and counting the days until February 14 when pitchers and catchers report.
And now for something completely different: the San Francisco Giants followed up their 2012 championship, the second in three years, with an unmemorable 2013, tied for third place in their division. At least Giants fans won’t have Barry Zito starts to agonize over any more.
The San Jose Sharks and the Golden State Warriors also made it to the postseason in 2013. The San Jose Earthquakes weren’t so fortunate on the field, although the devotion of their fans continued strong. The World Baseball Classic went off smoothly in San Francisco, introducing new audiences to the term honkbal. A tragic death marred the America’s Cup, but the race ended with a classic comeback story.
2013 also brought new attention to the issue of football players affected by concussions and head injuries – a story KQED has been reporting on since at least 2000, when the late Kathy McAnally filed this story for NPR about 49er quarterback Steve Young. This year, local journalists Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada published “League of Denial,” a book and companion Frontline documentary; California schools took more precautions; and the NFL settled a lawsuit with some retired players and their families. Baseball is also stepping up player protections.
For me, the most consistently engaging story of 2013 in Northern California sports was the battle to keep the Kings NBA franchise in Sacramento. From the shock felt by Kings fans in January when team owners announced its sale to a group that would move it to Seattle, to the elation when the NBA officially declared the relocation threat over, it had more drama, emotion, and suspense than most sports teams generate in an entire season. Under new ownership led by Bay Area tech mogul Vivek Ranadive, the Kings are looking to capture first-time fans in India and are experiencing the largest attendance boost in the league. Plans for a new downtown arena continue, despite an ongoing attempt to force a June 2014 ballot measure on the city’s financial contributions to it.
That’s far from the only sports facility story that made headlines in 2013, and they will certainly do the same in 2014. The city of San Jose decided to move its fight to take the A’s from Oakland into the courtroom in June. While most of it has been dismissed, some charges will likely be refiled in state court. The lawsuit also revealed that Major League Baseball turned down the A’s relocation request, though it’s not clear whether that applied only to a specific plan or the whole notion of the move south. Oakland fans took heart from renewed attention and new developers for Coliseum City, which could house new venues for the A’s, Raiders, and Warriors, along with a new proposal for a waterfront stadium in Oakland. The Warriors ownership, though, continues to be more interested in relocating to San Francisco and their own waterfront jewel.
Construction continued on Levi’s Stadium, the new home of the 49ers in Santa Clara; it’s touted as the greenest in the NFL. The team and its fans bid an emotional farewell to Candlestick Park a few days ago, evoking memories of the 1989 World Series game postponed by the Loma Prieta earthquake. And San Jose’s ‘Quakes…the soccer team, not the seismic event… are building their new stadium in the South Bay as well, although it won’t be ready in time for the 2014 season opener.