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Oakland is on a roll (now if only the A's can pull off a win)

There is no there there. -Gertrude Stein, about

her hometown of Oakland

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Baseball may be what finally, undeniably, irrevocably puts Oakland on the map.

The city that has long played second fiddle to San Francisco's virtuoso, understudy to its leading lady, and ugly stepsister to its Cinderella can now boast of something the glittering metropolis across the Bay can't - a championship ballteam.

Today, as the World Series shifts from Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles to the Oakland Coliseum, city boosters here say this is their chance to show America that Gertrude Stein was wrong. There's something there after all.

To be sure, Oakland has problems: a projected $16.5 million deficit, a murder rate that is among the highest in the country, and a poverty that grips 40 percent of Oakland residents. Not to mention Orel Hershiser's pitching and hitting.

But city officials, residents, local business people - and even San Franciscans - say Oakland has come a long way since the World Series last lit up the Coliseum in 1974. Back then, according to longtime Athletics fans, civic pride was so low and fear of crime was so high that anyone who wanted a ticket could walk up to the box office the day of the game and buy one. This time, however, tickets have been sold out for weeks, and a scalper can get as much as $150 for a lousy bleacher seat.

Oakland is definitely a city that loves its sports teams - even though it has had trouble keeping them. The city loaned the A's $15 million in 1986 to ensure the team would stay put. In addition, Oakland agreed to pay $4 million plus legal fees to the Raiders last week after a futile legal battle to stop the football team from moving to Los Angeles.

Despite the baseball team's poor showing over the weekend, community excitement about the A's is palpable. Downtown department stores have dressed their windows in A's regalia - green and gold jackets, caps, and sweat shirts - for months now. Retail storefronts sport green and gold streamers.

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A big-screen TV is being installed outdoors near Oakland's Jack London Square, a new waterfront retail district, so shoppers won't miss an inning. And a poster of A's heavy hitters Jos'e Canseco and Mark McGwire, nicknamed ``the Bash Brothers,'' is selling like hot cakes.

It's a heady time for a city that has taken its share of bashing over the years. Most city officials, while conceding Oakland has drug and crime problems like most urban centers, say all the negative press is unfair.

``Our librarian has actually done a study of press coverage of Oakland,'' says assistant city manager Craig Kocian. ``It's absolutely true that when a drug-related murder takes place in San Francisco the story appears on Page 6'' of the San Francisco newspapers. ``But when it happens in Oakland, the Page 1 headlines always read something like `Security guard riddled with bullets in Oakland's Acorn Housing Project.'''

To counterbalance Oakland's troubled reputation - and its troubled financial status - the city leadership in this decade has become unabashedly pro-development. During the tenure of Mayor Lionel Wilson, Oakland has invested in downtown revitalization projects and sponsored trips to the city for potential real-estate developers and financiers from as far away as Japan.

Critics, however, say the city is not getting enough of a return on its investment - either in redevelopment or in sports. They argue city dollars would be better spent on improving the lives of citizens in the neighborhoods, especially those areas wracked by crime, drug abuse, and high unemployment.

Nonetheless, Oakland does have something to show for its redevelopment efforts: a posh new Hyatt hotel, a $500 million office-development project at Civic Center, and plans for a $200 million retail mall that are slowly moving ahead after years of stagnation.

But nothing has delighted Oaklanders more than the recent unveiling at the Civic Center of a new public sculpture, entitled ``There!'' Never mind that artist Roslyn Mazzilli is from San Francisco, at least now there's a ``There!'' there.

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