Pre-Occupied with Oakland Baseball
After getting swept by the lowly Mariners at Coors Field last week, the Rockies have few chances left to salvage any dignity against their interleague foes from the AL West. When the Oakland A’s come to Denver in a couple weeks, we better be ready for another scrappy series and pull out a sweep of our own.
Hey, it’s possible, right? The A’s aren’t that good. Are they?
The Oakland A’s have been the focus of a lot of publicity over the past year, though none of it for their inspired on-field play so far this season.
First, the film Moneyball came out to (mostly) gushing reviews, earning a few Oscar nominations, and gaining A’s GM Billy Beane some additional notoriety.
Second, the acquisition of Cuban youtube sensation Yoenis Cespedes excited the Oakland faithful almost as much as hearing they’d also snatched Seth Smith away from the Rockies.
But the third, and most alarming piece of publicity, has been all the talk and rumors of the A’s being moved out of Oakland – hushed dealings between big league baseball barons behind closed doors – with absolutely no consideration or concern for the fans of this historically fascinating club or for the people living and working in Oakland.
Founded in 1901 as the Philadelphia Ahtletics, the team won five World Series titles under infamous owner/manager Connie Mack. Then, in 1955, the team left for Kansas City and kept the Athletics name. After thirteen seasons of underwhelming baseball, the team was then moved to Oakland for the 1968 season. Almost immediately, the A’s rediscovered dynastic success, winning three World Series championships in a row (1972, 73, 74).
And yet, despite the success of their early 70’s longhaired heroes – a group of mustachioed malcontents and seasoned scrappers – fan attendance was almost as disconcerting then as it is now. Even when yet another A’s dynasty burst onto the scene in the late 80’s (winning the 1989 World Series), large sections of the upper deck were closed off due to low turnouts.
And while looking at this old Sports Illustrated magazine special (from 1991) on “Baseball’s 20 Greatest Teams of All-Time,” both the 1974 and 1989 A’s make the cut, reminding me that a rich history of baseball greatness comes from Oakland, which perhaps few fans truly appreciate.
With our baseball tour continuing on from San Francisco to Oakland, we arrived a couple hours early to take in the stadium scene. Anne and I played catch with our old friend Tony “Matches” Bednar in the parking lot under the hazy, late afternoon sun on this 4/20 Friday afternoon. The one, and possibly only, nice thing about Oakland County Coliseum is the pre-game tailgating. Kids and crazy people toss the baseball around the asphalt expanse while the beer-drinking locals grill up bratwurst and burgers in the massive, half-empty lot – where the $18 parking fee is twice the price of a decent ticket to the game.
Moseying our way to the box office, we asked if there were any special ticket deals for under $15 – a question we’d thrown out at all the other ballparks in jest – but here in Oakland we finally got the answer we were looking for:
Yes, the Value Deck.
For $12 each, we could get third-deck seats right behind home plate (same spot as the Giants game a couple days before), which included $6 worth of vouchers for concessions or merchandise, a Rollie Fingers mustache-on-a-stick, a free t-shirt, a Kurt Suzuki “fat head” wall cling, an “Authentic A’s Fan” sign, and the chance to have a free baseball card photo taken of us all in costume.
Something about the ugly and empty concrete coliseum, combined with the showering of goofy promo materials upon we Value Deck fans, made it one of the funniest baseball experiences of all-time.
Anne noticed the family in front of us (a dad, his son, and daughter) sitting in miserable silence the entire game; dad with his headphones on, the kids (both under 12) stuffing their faces with hot dogs, nachos, giant sodas, ice cream, and candy, oblivious to the game going on below. At some point, the little boy couldn’t get his food voucher to work (hot dog number two), so he asked his dad to help, but was instead met with a scornful stare and orders to go try again. He failed, so the dad got really pissed off and marched down the stairs to get that damned hot dog while the kids looked frightened and sad. The dad returned much later with a beer for himself, no hot dog, and no explanation.
Anne said it was one of the saddest things she’d ever seen at a game. These kids will one day think back to this formative event of American childhood — going with their dad to see the A’s game — and shudder.
The quality of baseball didn’t help matters much: ex-Colorado ace Ubaldo Jimenez – pitching for the visiting Indians – was wild, of course, but effectively so. He walked five, but only surrendered two runs in six innings to get the win,
Indians 4 – Athletics 3
Jimenez: 6IP, 6H, 2R, 2ER, 5BB, 3K
The entertaining Cespedes went 3/3 off Ubie, and Josh Reddick took him yard in the 3rd inning, but the rest of the A’s couldn’t do much – including former Rockie Seth Smith, who was 0/4 stranding four runners. It looked like Ubie tried to hit him with his first pitch, as it sailed high and tight on Smith, sending him scampering out of the batter’s box. Intentional or not, it got me thinking that Jimenez was still dwelling on his days with Colorado, and that we’ll never again see that magical version of Ubie who went an incredible 15-1 to start the 2010 season for the Rockies.
It then dawned on me that Oakland fans, like the family in front of us, might never see another baseball game period – in their city, ever again.
Is there a future for Oakland A’s fans?
Unlike the Rockies (now the worst team in baseball), the A’s and their opponents for the day, the Cleveland Indians, have both had a difficult time getting fans in the seats, despite playing over .500 for much of the season.
The Indians are at the top of the AL Central standings, but also at the bottom of the league in fan attendance. Their closer, Chris Perez, recently called the fans out for not coming to their beautiful ballpark (and for booing him when they do), then challenged them by offering three pairs of free tickets to every home game.
Even this kind of limited communication between the players and fans is seldom seen these days where athletes and spectators have become more distanced from each other than ever before. Unlike the intimate old ballparks of Wrigley and Fenway, the fans in O.co, for example, sit so far away from the diamond – trapped as it is in this gridiron coliseum (where there’s tons of foul territory) – that one can’t help but feel detached from the game in an unusual way. Not to mention, again, the entire third deck (except the Value seats) is perpetually covered in a gigantic tarp, preventing anyone from sitting there.
Moving the A’s out of Oakland is now a real concern. With a move to Freemont, CA receiving no public support, the idea was dropped in 2009 and a search for a new location commenced. Oakland fans fear their baseball team may be taken from them and moved to San Jose by as early as next year.
But within a week after we saw this game, several signs emerged pointing in the right direction.
Recent cries from the streets and via the Internet, proclaiming the death knell for Occupy Oakland and the birth of the Oakland Commune, have sent minor shockwaves through the Bay Area. The ground once again trembles beneath the town, ready for change. Alterations of a seismic proportion appear to be imminent out here in Oakland, for baseball fans and occupy activists alike.
Perhaps the most unique tremors of change will come when these two divergent groups can come together, pool their interests, and cooperate on a common project…
Occupy the Oakland A’s, before it’s too late.
For the first five weeks of the season, Kevin Kroh will be traveling across the country — from big city stadiums, to small town sandlots — chattering with baseball fans all over the nation on everything from the cold, hard facts of the stat sheet, to the utopian fantasies of community ownership models. With his trusty audio recorder and baseball-loving girlfriend at his side, he’ll be posting unique perspectives from around the horn, and bringing it all back home to the Rockies in this year’s “Pro Baseball Partnership Tour: cross-country conversations in the Year of the Fan.”