AS TALKS of moving his team to Fremont might be heating up, Oakland A's co-owner Lew Wolff visited the Fremont area Tuesday, making his pitch to Union City pupils that learning unlike baseball is a year-round endeavor.
Wolff and his daughter Kari read baseball-themed children's books to nearly 130 first- and second-graders while taking part in the team's pro-literacy Home Run Readers Program at Pioneer Elementary School.
The Wolffs also congratulated the pupils, each wearing an A's cap and green-and-gold T-shirt, for completing their individual reading goals in the literacy program, which the A's started for Bay Area schools in 1996.
"All learning programs are important, but reading is the key," Wolff said. "You're lost without it."
The A's owner was less affirmative, however, while fielding questions about the team's most pressing off-field issue: where and how the team is planning to build a new baseball-only ballpark.
Wolff, who became team co-owner with John Fisher almost a year ago, has said the A's need a new home to replace McAfee Coliseum in Oakland.where the A's have played since 1968. Speculation on their new home's future location has ranged from Oakland to sites in Fremont and San Jose.
Might Fremont be ready to take the lead?
Fremont City Manager Fred Diaz said last week that the A's have discussed the possibility of building a stadium in Fremont, asserting that odds had improved from once being "1 in 1,000" to now being "1 in 20 or 1 in 10.
When asked Tuesday afternoon, Diaz said that Fremont and the A's have shared a dialogue for at least the past four months and the team's interest recently shifted from "casual" to "serious."
"We want to stay in Alameda County," Wolff said Tuesday when asked about a possible move to Fremont. "(Diaz) is outstanding because he's interested in figuring out how something can happen, instead of telling you a thousand reasons why they can't happen."
Wolff did not comment on specific Fremont sites, but added, "The welcome we've had in Fremont has been outstanding."
Diaz said he is cautiously optimistic. However, regarding the price of ballpark construction, and even lesser costs related to traffic and public safety, Diaz cautioned that "from our staff perspective, the city simply doesn't have the money (to contribute)."
But Fremont does have available land to offer.
Property by the Pacific Commons shopping center adjacent to Interstate 880 is the Fremont site the A's "have asked the most questions about," Diaz said. Still, Diaz warned that the complicated stadium project is in the very early stages and that "the devil is in the details."
Back at Pioneer Elementary School on Tuesday, the Wolffs warmly greeted the schoolchildren, who asked them trivia questions and sang baseball-themed songs for the owner.
School Principal Joanne Stanley said the team's appearance at the 676-pupil school shows that having Major League Baseball as part of the East Bay's cultural fabric supersedes wins and losses.
"It's about them being a part of our lives," said Stanley, wearing a white Athletics jersey bearing pitcher Barry Zito's name and number. "They're our team."