Disturbing news suggests baseball has grown delirious from ill-considered changes made by owners unfamiliar with the game’s history and traditions.
Alarmed, son Lucas and I launched a 250-mile roundtrip journey to Oakland to assess baseball’s health and take its temperature; I’m happy to report a day spent watching a ballgame remains as enjoyable as ever.
But some molar-grinders remain:
Prices for instance. Tickets were $70 purchased through a bewildering online maze that tacked on a $20 per seat surcharge, and $30 (!) for parking.
At the stadium a nonstop avalanche of noise, plus shrieking announcements from a new public address screamer (“Now batting! Jeddd LLOWRRIEEE!!!”) as if introducing a Rolling Stones concert on the pitcher’s mound.
And concessions. Beer is $100 a thimbleful with a $20 recycling fee for the plastic thimble. Hot dogs are $65; mustard, ketchup, napkins, shipping and handling is extra.
Be aware your money is literally no good at the Oakland Coliseum. Everything, as in e-v-e-r-y thing, is paid by credit card or smartphone, despite wording right on your dollar bill that U.S. currency is “legal tender for all debts public and private.” Choose between being a crypto-cyber citizen or starving.
The usual Covid regs are in place about washing hands and keeping your distance, except when jostling about in men’s rooms and concession lines. And “social distancing” is a foreign concept to outdoor tailgate party-people.
We heard the National Anthem while walking across the parking lot and sat down precisely as the first pitch was thrown. Visually, the game is just plain pretty, with seven players defending acres of ball diamond in a shimmering emerald green Sherwin-Williams couldn’t match. Oakland uniforms are wedding cake white and bring a complementary decorative flourish to tubby clouds floating on a bright blue sky.
It was the first game Lucas and I have attended together in about 10 years. Differences? Ubiquitous masks, better seats and the A’s opponent.
There was a time, not long ago, when I bought cheap tix, came mostly to see the visiting Cleveland Indians, and masks were only needed for liquor store holdups. But now it’s an upscale, down-close seat ($70 plus $20 surcharge, remember?) and I’m suddenly a lifelong diehard hardcore Oakland fan. I sported a fresh-off-the-rack A’s cap to prove it. The masks are just kinda semi-optional once you’re in the park.
In addition to my new cap other sartorial marvels were on display, such as the two ladies directly across the aisle. They arrived festooned in A’s gear I couldn’t afford unless I sold all my other clothes. Gaudy? Hoo boy.
Husky lasses in their 70s, they had matching gold satin jackets with every option but a Hemi engine. They wore what Elvis might have worn or Liberace might have designed. Also, matching A’s socks, shirts, hats and, dearest of all, one gal clanked the innings away by tapping a wooden drumstick on an old cow bell. It was a 1970s Monte Moore redux-orama.
Other patrons were in standard t-shirts and shorts, just like Ukiah Walmart. One section over, a pair of cheerful young drunks displayed their enthusiasm for the home team via boisterous shouting and occasionally stood, turned ‘round and led fans and an invisible orchestra in arm-waving “Let’s Go Oakland!” medleys.
The Game: The closer to the field, the quicker and more intense. These are the best players in the world and didn’t get that way without hawk-like concentration, great big speed, strength, and impossible reflexes.
Minnesota’s third baseman, Josh Donaldson, consistently hits the ball harder than anyone I’ve ever seen. At the peak of my quite modest baseball career I would have positioned myself behind the centerfield scoreboard.
The A’s are perennial underpaid overachievers, going head to head and toe to toe with the best in baseball despite always rebuilding for tomorrow while winning today. No other team does it so well, nor is forced to do it so often. It’s in the Oakland DNA.
They trailed much of the afternoon, then scored three runs in extra innings. Major Leaguers commit approximately two errors per hundred plays, and the Twins coughed up both of theirs in the 10th inning along with two walks, gift wrapping a 13-12 win for the A’s. I’ve never known a game to end like that, but I’ve only been watching baseball for 60 or 70 years. It extended the A’s improbable win streak to 11 games.
The Coliseum itself remains pleasantly shabby and utterly out of fashion, the lone survivor from a best-forgotten ‘60s era of multipurpose stadiums. There’s a loose friendly vibe and, Covid aside, there’s always plenty of space for you and your friends to stretch out and take over nearby empty seats and rows.
They hope to replace it with something like PacBell Park, but the decision rests with Oakland’s city council. These cats recently waved bye-bye to both the Oakland Raiders and Golden State Warriors and I’m not betting they won’t go 0-for-3.
Go see the A’s this summer because who knows where they might be in 2023. The current slogan is “Rooted in Oakland” and the owners might even mean it, except we all know that in recent years they’ve tried desperately to move to Las Vegas or San Jose.
Bring a friend. Make sure he’s got a credit card.
(Tom Hine lives, worked and writes in Ukiah, and is assisted by his longtime invisible imaginary playmate, TWK.)