When it’s getting down to it, you have your friends and you have your enemies and you have the fucking Astros and Yankees. And Mark.
Game 122: Athletics and Astros, Thursday, August 15, 7:07 p.m. first pitch
This is the start of the deep playoff push, when baseball stops being just baseball, only a little bit and in all the best ways. Now, we’re watching the scoreboard, checking on the Indians, the Rays, the Twins. Today, we get to the stadium and the massive third-and-a-half deck, nicknamed Mount Davis for former Raiders owner and all around venomous skin-sack Al Davis who built it, blotting out the beautiful view of the Oakland hills, has been cleared of its protective covering. This hasn’t happened in years. In a week, the Athletics are hosting the Giants and are expecting a sellout. A sellout. In Oakland. Things are happening.
In the sixth inning, I go for last beers at the bar near our regular spot, put down a twenty, pull out my Access badge, and wait for change. The bartender turns to me empty-handed. “I have the discount. These are only five dollars each.” I say with the overwhelming assurance of someone who can’t believe what’s happening.
“Sorry,” he says. “I didn’t see your pass in time.”
“Well here it is.”
“It’s too late.”
“Yeah, there’s nothing I can do.”
“Sir, this is my twenty-second game this season. This has never happened,” I say with the indignation of someone who’s been here for every game since the move from Kansas City in 1968.
“Oh well,” he shrugs.
If there’s one thing I hate, if there’s one thing that flips my switch, it’s an unearned, dickish shrug. I smile. At this point in the ridiculously cheap season, the cost is immaterial. Two games from now, our adored regular bartender will make the same mistake and correct it in fifteen seconds. I am also missing a precious half-inning against a division rival in a playoff push. None of this matters. Mark doesn’t know how quickly the game can change. I ask, “What’s your name?”
“Well I HOPE YOUR PARENTS ARE PROUD OF YOU MARK.”
On schoolyard autopilot, Mark echoes, “I hope your parents are proud of YOU!”
I wonder if they are. I think they are. Maybe they are. In this moment, they are probably not. “Oh very good, Mark.”
Tim has arrived just in time. “Ohhhhh dear,” he says. Like a coach trying to do everything he can to get between his ejected player and the umpire, sweat-and-spit, hat brim-to-brim close without making physical contact, Tim tries to usher me away.
Mark, to his characteristic discredit, stammers and looks down at his hands, which finally reminds him where he is. “Yeah, you get out of my bar!”
“Your bar?” I definitely do not yell. “I’ve never seen you here before.”
Tim is almost chest-bumping me out. Because we are professionals, we manage this without spilling any beer. A roar goes up in the crowd that is definitely for me and my struggle for justice.
“Nice going, Mark! Great work, Mark!” I say with absolutely no sarcasm, not waving my badge in his face. “See you around, Mark!”
We get back to our seats and Tim is beaming.
“I really showed him,” I say. “Fucking Mark.”
We have not seen Mark for the rest of the season, confirming my steadfast belief that he was either a criminal masquerading as an employee or an employee who was immediately fired once his conduct towards an Access Member and celebrated Hobart columnist was discovered.
“No, you didn’t show him. Not at all,” Tim says. “I’m just glad for once it wasn’t me.”
The A’s win, 7-6. Tim has become the model citizen and I’ve become the venomous skin-sack sports owner we’ve always wanted to be.
Game 124: Athletics and Astros, Saturday, August 17, 1:06 p.m. first pitch
We have a full crew: Tim, Tim’s “friend” Evan, Kate, Kate’s best friends Abby and Mer, Mer’s brand new husband Edu. Mer and Abby are both Bay natives. Mer now lives in Madrid. Abby lives in Guinea Bissau. They’re here for Mer’s wedding. She and Edu exchanged vows, split in Spanish and English, a whole Madridian contingent on hand, at Lake Merritt in Oakland. Two Spaniards went on to vomit at a bar in downtown and were told never to return. Whether this means the bar, Oakland, or America was unclear.
Evan, newly faced with this collection of genuinely unwell people, is ever the good sport, but says he’s “not a big baseball fan.” This is Edu’s first baseball game ever. He has been learning the rules all week, watching on TV. I ask him what he is most looking forward to.
“The finger,” he says.
I tell him he will certainly get that in Oakland.
Mer shakes her head. “No, the big foam finger.”
We buy him one. He waves it in celebration; he’s a quick study, and there’s plenty to cheer for. He waves it for the Jumbotron, he waves it to get a corndog. “Is it corn…or is it beef?” he asks. Neither and both is our consensus. America’s greatest invention.
We couldn’t have a better game. The A’s get five runs in the third and never give up the lead. Kate’s other friend Randi, recently engaged to Kyle, a diehard Astros fan, joins us halfway through. Kyle is not pleased.
“The Astros are a great team,” I tell him. “I don’t know if anyone will beat them in the playoffs.”
Kyle readjusts his 2017 World Series Champions hat. “So why aren’t they winning?”
They aren’t, and the A’s will go on to win today and the series. It’s glorious, save for the fact that the A’s need to play a perfect game every day. Can they win three games out of five in October? Four out of seven? I want to stay in this moment, see only this team and these people we’ve gathered from all over the world, but the summer isn’t young.
I’m on my way back from the bathroom when I run into the A’s president in the hallway. He’s talking to another fan, and there’s one staff-type behind him, but he’s otherwise unencumbered.
In the briefest lull in their conversation, I jab in my hand and tell him how much I’m enjoying the season, the team, and being a season ticket holder. He greets me kindly, the other fan spins out of orbit and into the recesses of the chicken tenders line, and it’s almost enough to miss the president glancing down at my badge. Treehouse Access. We are nowhere near the Treehouse. I’m a “Season ticket holder” in bright yellow quotes.
“We just wanted to make it a really fan-friendly experience,” he says.
“You have,” I fawn. “It is.”
He’s in PR mode now, but he’s good at it. “We just want to make sure families have a great time when they come out to the ballpark.”
I nod, as though I’m here with my family, instead of Spain-bound newlyweds, Tim’s “friend” feeling us all out, a fucking Astros fan, and Abby, savoring every bite of her Gilroy Garlic sliders before her return to West Africa. The president shakes my hand and thanks me for my support, which, as I’m sure he’s aware, is the single reason why the A’s are so good this season. Then he’s off, talking to some other stupid idiot with a Treehouse badge.
His was an assumption, of course, that a guy my age would have brought his little urchins to a Saturday afternoon game, and I don’t mind. And though I can hear the Reading Rainbow song playing as I think it, right now this is my family. This whole season we’ve brought people to the ballpark who have never been to a game before. We’ve used it to vet three different significant others. We’ve brought parents and dogs and poets. As my wife is fond of saying, baseball can just be an outdoor picnic with a game in the background. And she knows baseball. The good days are not forgetting it’s there, it’s making your own story alongside the game. So I am a baseball parent, and in every good family, that means you take care of the rest.
After the most baseball thing about baseball, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” to which Edu knows all the words, I check in with him and what’s most confusing about the game.
“The balls,” he says. “That everyone in the stands just gets to keep them.”
Edu’s not alone. The commentators for the Red Sox-Yankees series in London this year remarked how the in-stadium announcers kept reminding Wembley fans that they did not need to return their souvenirs to the field. With Ken Burns meets Louis Armstrong meets Abraham Lincoln American certainty, I tell him the average life of a Major League baseball is three pitches. (The actual answer is between six and eight.)
But Edu’s not listening, and neither is Mer. “It’s Stomper!” she screams. “Edu has to meet Stomper!”
I literally push Edu down the stairs toward the tubby elephant mascot. It’s a sea of five-year-olds and us. Edu is by far the most excited. The picture we have is of Edu and Stomper, both with their hands raised, Stomper’s fluffy costume paw and Edu’s foam finger the same size. It’s cartoonish and warm, like the whole day, the way you’d draw up if you already knew the sunset ending.
Game 126: Athletics and Yankees, Tuesday, August 20, 7:07 p.m. first pitch
My first game by myself this season. How can baseball be as good to watch alone as with everyone who can tolerate being your friend? Maybe even better tonight so that I can focus all my energy on hating the Yankees and nobody else has to share a cell at Santa Rita with me.
But the fans are making that hard. The pinstriped nerd couple on BART are so lab-created that it’s embarrassing to despise them.
The nerd to the nerdette: “I’ll minimize my criticism of you saying it’s hot if you minimize your criticism of me not going outside.”
Harder still to hate the Yankees because the A’s are kicking their collective ass. Matt Olson and Mark Canha hit back-to-back homers and the A’s never trail again.
But easier, frankly, because there was a six-month span where I was a Yankees fan. Blame it on a girl, of course, and the brainwashing of young love. Like all former cult victims, my deprogramming snapped me way, way back, but suffice to say being a Yankees fan was like eating scallops for every meal and blaming the ocean for the gout.
But hardest when the helmet nacho diarrhea hits in the top of the sixth. I hear an Olson single and a Canha double—these two again!—from the stall. It’s actually a very pleasant way to lose your stomach. I’m the only one in there and the motion-sensor lights go out. It’s dark, and all I can hear is the game. I could sit here forever and I almost need to. This is Oakland overindulgence: enough nachos for a month and a protective hat for your inevitable fall off the toilet. I get back out on the field for a Piscotty single that plates two with the help of a Cameron Maybin error. The A’s win, 6-2, and they will sweep the series, reminding all the New York transplants of the nonsensical fuckery of living in the most beautiful place in the country while still cheering for the team whose mascot is Pizza Rat. The Yankees belong at the bottom of the ocean; I don’t care which.
Game 129: Athletics and Giants, Saturday, August 24, 6:07 p.m. first pitch
There are 53,000 people at this game. By some miracle, we are able to keep the seats we randomly choose at the start. The whole stadium sounds different with people in it. Not just the noise, their voices, the groans and cheers, but the sound off bodies, all of it fuller and filling the space.
There have been advertisements for this two-game series for weeks: the Battle of the Bay. The teams split the first pair in San Francisco, and there’s a tension here, a sibling rivalry, unforgotten grudges and debts to be paid, but first they’re paying respect to the teams of the 1989 World Series on this 30th anniversary. The series is most famous for the Loma Prieta earthquake that struck thirty minutes before the first pitch of Game Three. The quake collapsed part of the Bay Bridge and the Cypress Viaduct on 880, killing a total of 63 people. The series is less famous for the A’s sweep of the Giants, lost in most histories, because of course, San Francisco makes the earthquake all about them. And it’s not even that Oakland challenges its position as the younger child; the city rarely tries to poke its head out of the shadow of the Salesforce Tower. Oakland’s game is the long-term game.
And boy, are the Giants fans leaning in tonight. They’re late, dickish, befuddled by BART; they’re demanding to sit in their purchased seats and are convinced they’re going to be stabbed—and they might be, by me, but not by anyone actually from Oakland. They shit talk the spattered concrete and rusted fencing and bemoan our basic hot dogs and nacho helmets. (Ok, they’re right about the nachos.) We say nothing, even to the huge tech group in front of us that keeps screaming, on a loop, for some ungodly reason, “Butt-SCRATCHAAAA!” Oakland wins by picking its battles, by bending its rents and borrowing its basketball teams and building new bridges, but never breaking. The A’s are up 4-2 after the seventh but give up eight runs in the eighth to lose. Tomorrow, they will lose. So not these battles, not this series, but over time, and maybe this season. My friend Russ has said it for years. All you can ask of your team is to be in it until the end. The A’s are in it. The Giants aren’t. The A’s, Oakland, have always done something with nothing. The Giants, San Francisco, are surprisingly comfortable doing nothing with everything.
So we sit. We are quiet. We say nothing. Not that we’re being good hosts, and not that we’ve given up. We’re biding our time, we’ll outlast you. In fifty years, when six trillionaires are the only residents of San Francisco, I’ll be bringing my kids and their kids to the Coliseum and we’ll sweep the next Bay World Series too. We’ll be out of that shadow when the next quake drops the Salesforce flat along Market Street. We’re not going anywhere.
Game 48: Athletics at Tigers, Sunday, May 19, 10:10 a.m. Eastern first pitch and Friday, September 6, 5:15 p.m. Pacific
In May, before any Democratic debates, before the Raptors won the NBA Championship, before the summer slate of mass shootings got into full swing, and before the Tigers were truly the worst team in baseball, the A’s and Tiggies were rained out during the bottom of the seventh inning in Detroit. The only feasible makeup date was almost four months later in September, when the Tigers would travel to California for a three-game away series. This happens—not often, but it does happen—and at least this time around, it was the most magical thing I’ve seen in baseball.
The regular game starts at 7:07, but the makeup’s at 5:15. We’re there early, of course, and on the thin wraparound screens in the stadium bowl, the graphic says Welcome to
the Coliseum Comerica Park. The Jumbotron says it too, with the whirling Old English D. Our mascot Stomper holds up a sign asking for an A’s autograph, saying he drove 2,400 miles to Detroit to get one. They play the pump-up video for the Tigers on the big screen (Nothing Stops Detroit! Motor City! Since 1901!), and we hear the walk-up music for all of the Tigers’ batters, which, for the first time, I realize only home fans get to hear. The whole thing is lovely. I don’t know how much of this was requested by the Tigers or required by MLB rules. I suspect very little, and it’s made that much better because the effort that’s gone into his home-away-from-home two innings not really being for the Tigers, or for their fans—it’s for A’s fans to make the most of this weirdness.
And this is also still Oakland. As I open my bag at security, they search every compartment. “Gotta find your keys,” the guard says, “and make sure they can’t be made into a weapon.”
Russ has flown in for the series—to bask in the glow of his adopted A’s while flagellating himself for the misery that is his beloved Tigers—and we’re wearing our Tigers hats along with some A’s gear, and a guy a few rows below us asks if we’re from Michigan.
Yes, I say. Russ is a lifelong Michigander and I was there for a brief formative period.
He tells us he’s from the Mitten too, but now lives in Reno. (There’s a story there, and I’m sure it’s terrifying.) He pumps his fist in the air. “This is the closest home game I could get!”
The game “begins” the A’s ahead 5-3 and the Tigers’ Jordy Mercer at bat, the count 2-2 from May. The first pitch from Liam Hendriks is a strike, and a strikeout. A one-pitch strikeout. The A’s go on to hit another homer from Chad Pinder and win the game, 7-3, which also gives them their longest winning streak of the season, almost four months back. They change their uniforms from away to home for the second game—kelly green, because it’s Green Friday, their own home tradition.
“My parents would love this,” Russ says, meaning his parents and anyone else who is tired enough to want anything a little more charming and surprising. This feels like a moment out of time, a bit like this whole season, where the experience of the game could retroactively embrace its most memorable self: funnier, weirder, warmer, more welcoming. Your parents’ game or their parents’ game made new again. “Mine too,” I say. “Mine too.”