Tuesday, August 8, 2017
It’s a weird way to voluntarily spend a few hours of your weeknight, when you have to get up early the next day, especially if you have a family, work, Netflix, and/or a bed.
The die hards. Deciding, of your own accord, to spend time and money to sit outside for a few hours on a chilly, gray night, hopping a train and disembarking at an industrial wasteland that would not look out of place in the former East Germany.
I arrive late and there’s no one else out here, other than two security guards, who must have been tasked to clear out the bacon-wrapped hot dog vendors, buskers of questionable quality, beggars, purveyors of affordable bootleg merchandise, ticket scalpers and independent beer salesmen. It’s a ghost town and razor wire. Other than lights and banners hanging in the distance, and the apparently new speakers installed blaring the game’s radio broadcast outside of the venue, there’s little indication that this is a sports stadium, let alone one with a storied history.
I head in to the entrance. I am the only one coming in. The metal detector goes off, loudly, as I pass through. Nobody bothers following up on the machine’s urgent wail. I show my ticket and head in. Apparently there is at least one place in America that no one cares if a bearded brown man sets off a metal detector.
Navigating the cement maze, the field bursts into view. The bright, vibrant field pops out in the gray bowl and sea of empty seats. Official records say that about 12,000 folks bought tickets to this game. Substantially less attended to see Yonder Alonso’s return to Oakland in a Seattle uniform, after just two days away. Sitting on the first base line by the visitor’s bullpen, I tell him to come back after the season. Later I razz him for missing an easy pop up.
Pleasantly, the A’s are leading after 3 innings. Not that the outcome really matters in any outside, objective sense of the word “matters.” One could say that the outcome of any game doesn’t matter at all, but we’re among a subset of people that care about baseball, so to hell with perspective. Amongst those people are people like me, and you, who actually really care whether this last place team wins a late-season Tuesday night matchup against the Seattle Mariners.
The A’s are going nowhere this year. Although this is a fully accepted fact, I still want the A’s to win, because, well, it’s more fun than losing. The Mariners have a rare chance to potentially enter into a one game playoff, and to them and their fans, tonight is of great import. Everyone ahead of them in the mediocre wild card race has already lost.
In the crowd nearby is a Mariners fan. It’s his birthday, and he came by himself. He is on multiple medications and by all accounts has a difficult life. He is bitter, and a little sad about it, but it is his birthday and he gets to watch his favorite team, eventually from the front row as he froggers up to better seats. From the looks and sounds of it, that favorite team is a disproportionate source of stress and joy. I know all this because he was talking on the phone, to his mother, loud enough to hear, while sitting by himself at the game. It’s baseball, and it’s empty enough where it doesn’t seem weird to have a multiple-inning phone conversation.
I decide to find some food, which ends up costing me all of $5 for a giant size bowl of mac and cheese, or more accurately mac and processed cheese food. Jalapenos are complimentary and plentiful, a charming feature in a place that lacks charm. The free sauerkraut of yesteryear is long gone.
I avoid my typical stop at the food trucks today, sheepish to see the faces of the owner-operators who thought it would be a good idea to try and sell food at this event. Plus, you can’t even get food from a truck for $5. There are pros and cons to this decision, as the Coliseum recently ranked 27th out of 30 MLB stadiums in food safety. Today, my wallet defeats my stomach. Tomorrow, come what may.
Meanwhile, slowly, but surely, the A’s blow their substantial lead. Errors pile up and the Mariners tie the game. I make a pit stop. I have my choice of troughs. I live the elementary school dream come true of a trough all to myself.
For some reason, at this point, I decide to peruse the team merchandise store. What kind of psychotic fool looks for items to purchase at that moment? But, I thought, everything might be on clearance at this point. Who wants this gear anyway? And maybe they rolled out a Matt Chapman jersey (they did not, and there was not a way to purchase a Matt Chapman road gray jersey on the A’s website that day either, and of course that was shortly after he screwed up a very routine play that put the eventual tying run on second base, but that’s beside the point). Alas, nothing was on clearance except some Sonny Gray merchandise, some very very ugly neon fitted caps, and an unconscionable number of Trevor Plouffe shirts.
A trio of ladies sitting behind me breaks out into an acapella rendition of “Despacito.” The only word they know is “Des…Pa…Ci…To…” They fill in the Spanish lines in between with random gibberish syllables until it circles back to that familiar word. An inning later, the stadium PA operator plays the actual “Despacito” song but only one of the women was at her seat, and the rendition was not repeated. The absentees were chastised upon their return.
My sister and I take time to catch up and chit chat. One Mariner fan with an Eric Wedge shirsey (is the guy related to him or something?) is standing up and yelling and trash talking. By rule, visiting Mariners fans are not allowed to be that enthusiastic. It’s unbecoming of a team that has not seen the postseason since 2001, and overall not in keeping with the glacial nature of M’s-A’s matchups. He’s out of place.
Of course, the game goes to extra innings, which nobody wanted. There’s an audible groan when the A’s don’t do anything in the 9th. A fan holds up a sign that says “we want pie.” The camera finds this enthusiastic elderly woman who decided to stick it out through extra innings with a sign prepared for just this occasion. It’s pretty much just die hards, a few Mariners fans and some folks that got free tickets in attendance tonight. I think most of the players’ families are sitting this one out.
Pie is looking unlikely, as the sub-.200 #9 hitter with exactly 1 home run to his name this year hit a homer in the 10th.
They flash a video montage of walk-offs spliced with John Belushi’s Animal House speech. This is intended to get the ‘crowd’, as it were, hyped up for the comeback in the bottom half. However, every walkoff is tinged with pain, like Coco’s incredible Game 4 walkoff in the 2012 playoffs (which brings memories of pure elation, however with a subtle reminder that the team was mowed down unceremoniously by Verlander the next day, and intentionally broken up a mere 1.5 years later). The hype video trends further toward the depressing side, as the second-to-last clip was a Yonder Alonso walk-off hit from earlier this year. The guy is on the field watching this video of his triumphant moment for the A’s, while wearing the other team’s uniform.
The A’s get two on but can’t find a way to close the deal, and we slowly trudge out. I’m not complaining. Despite the loss, no regrets. I leave, thinking, there is no logical explanation I could give to anyone as to why I was here tonight, really why thousands of other people were here tonight, or why I am coming back on Sunday, and thousands of other people will be here on Sunday. I think, acknowledging the potential for bias, but ultimately concluding that this is the objective truth: The A’s are lucky to have us.
Hopefully they’ll reciprocate.