There’s always last season
Game 39: Athletics and Twins, Tuesday, May 17, 6:40 p.m. first pitch
“I like these old ballparks. I mean, they’re terrible now, but there’s something about them that none of the new ones have. I don’t mean like, history—though yeah, sure—but something else. Honesty, maybe. They are straightforward. Still about the game and not about a corporate retreat or hot tub in the outfield. No distractions. I’ve been to stadiums all over the country and even the old ones that they’ve renovated start to lose that…whatever. There’s just no going back.”
It’s my first solo game of the year, and it is probably Kevin’s tenth from the way he talks about his travels around the country and up the coast, catching games wherever he can while he’s on business. I’ve never met Kevin before, I never figure out where he’s from—the Midwest, somewhere—and I never know the glorious business that lets him hop from park to park. But, as is always the magic, we meet in the Treehouse an hour before the game starts because there is no one else there. Even the players are off the field, and we’re left to stare at the Coliseum itself. He’s a sport to put up with my ramblings on the minutiae of the Athletics’ saga to stay in Oakland and build their new stadium, but Kevin, a stranger, has it right: no matter what happens, this hideous, cat-controlled monstrosity is truly the last of its kind.
I try to repay Kevin’s patience by explaining exactly how he can sneak down to seats close to the field. He’s bought above where we are now, and he’s counting on his guile, charm, and a crudely photoshopped screenshot ticket to sit lower and lower. I tell him this is like encountering another cheap seats Jedi, a warrior from a forgotten age, back when the Coliseum was its best wide-open self and not the police state it has become.
“You’re only here for one game?” I ask and he nods. “That’s your biggest advantage. So what if you get thrown out or made to move?” I look down at my seat for the game, and just for a second think about inviting him over. “I can’t do that. I’m in for the long haul, however long that is. I’m stuck.”
I wish him luck and watch him until he’s halfway around the bowl. There’s something about a chance encounter, especially in baseball, where you don’t want to know too much.
In the seventh inning, as the A’s break a 2-2 tie with three runs they will not relinquish, a foul ball dribbles through the good seats. I think maybe Kevin is the one that grabs it. But that’s just me wishing, which tonight is just the way I want it.
Game 55: Athletics and Red Sox, Saturday, June 4, 1:07p.m. first pitch
No matter how good or bad our team, no matter the state of the stadium or the world, we always have to see the Red Sox when they are in town. It’s part of Tim’s contract to appear in this column, courtesy of Paul Revere Talent Management™ and Dunkin’ Donuts of Western Maine.
I’ve already had to suffer a 7-2 loss last night which was not as close as the score suggests. Today, because we’re sans partners and it’s the commemoration of the A’s 1972 World Series championship, we’re up close to see all of the famous faces from the golden age of Athletics baseball. There’s Vida Blue and Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers still rolling that mustache, and Series MVP Gene Tenace. They are driven out on classic Thunderbirds and wear their beautiful yellow 70s jerseys. They all have that stiff old-athlete walk, these bodies that magnificently overstretched the mark in their prime now snapping back. But the trophy. To see it so close is to realize that all of us here, save for a few old men, might never get closer. And as if to show us exactly how far away we are today, the fans are given a celebratory yellow plastic cup, sponsored by 7 Up—no doubt because we could use the lithium it used to contain—and the team loses 8-0, managing only four hits.
Sitting close also means that we are enveloped by Sox fans, whose largesse here is nothing compared to what they’d be paying at Fenway or any other park run by humans. Behind us is a mother and father with a six-month-old—their third kid—who sleeps through the entire game. That they are Sox fans with a behaving baby already makes me want to kill them, but when the man opens his mouth, the deal is sealed. This Beantown Brawler complains, he insults the A’s players, he notes after each run how much our best pitcher Paul Blackburn’s ERA is going up. He says repeatedly how shitty the Coliseum is and how “back in Boston” any one of 247 things that occur this afternoon would be better/tougher/drunker. But the final straw is when he starts a one-man chant for the “Las Vegas Athletics” in innings three and six.
I say nothing because his wife and child are there, and because Tim probably agrees with half of what he’s saying. So I spend the bulk of this hapless affair shrinking into the darkest basements of my heart, variously wondering: how heavy an unconscious man is; at what distance does the human skeleton shatter and is that distance higher or lower that the top deck of the Oakland Coliseum; is Boston at risk of sea level rise and if so is climate change really that bad; how much blood really turns a sock red if that sock is not Curt Schilling’s and there are batteries in that sock as it is swung at a head that is not the head of a sleeping child who will probably soon thrive in a single-parent household.
I might have spiraled all the way to the faultline—which Boston does not have, thank you very much—except for two moments of light.
In the late innings, when Beantown Brawler goes for more beer, his wife jolts out of her seat. “I am so so so sorry about him,” she says, almost crying. “He can be such an asshole.”
We, of course, almost fall over ourselves trying to reassure her that it is no problem. He’s not an asshole! He probably doesn’t even have an asshole. Though she seems relieved, and Tim can now, for one calendar year, proclaim the inherent decency of most Bostonians, our abdication from the truth will not solve this relationship long term. She’s on kid #3, and I wonder how much anyone can take of the Brawler without him needing at least one sock battery to the head.
There is also a father and son in front of us, Sox fans too, and at the beginning of the game I overhear dad saying that if they’re lucky, they might get a ball today. I lean in and promise that they will. As the players finish warmup tosses before the bottom of the sixth, I send the kid over at the perfect moment to get a ball rolled down the top of the dugout to him. For a moment, for this kid, I’m far more magic than his own father, which appropriately crushes the man’s soul. In this section, parenting is predator and prey, and I’ve survived the hell behind me and solved the universe in front of me without any lithium, so where the fuck is my trophy.
Game 66: Athletics and Royals, Friday, June 17, 6:41 p.m. first pitch
It’s Pride Night, one of our favorite games of the year, and not just because Kate and I make it onto the Jumbotron in our sweet purple A’s pride giveaway hats. Tim and Evan aren’t with us—they’re proposing to each other in Europe, how selfish—so it’s our job to stand up for all joy and against all injustice everywhere.
The genuine diversity of the crowd at A’s games is one of its great strengths—as I’ve said, one lost in a move to Vegas or Nashville or Portland—but tonight it’s the solidarity that astounds. Everyone’s wearing their pride hats, and not just because they’re free. I stand behind one of the stadium gates watching the fans already wearing their own A’s hats take them off and put on tonight’s uniform. Yes, it’s the Bay Area. Yes, it’s just one night. But there are currently no gay players in the majors, at least five members of the Tampa Rays recently refused to wear the pride patch on their uniforms, and one team—the fucking Texas Rangers—have never had a Pride Night. So, we’ll keep wearing our hats.
I get to chatting with an older white guy in front of us who is out to the game with a bunch of older white guy friends (all wearing their hats, of course). He brings up the new stadium and tells me how disappointed he is with the A’s treatment of their fans. I agree, and he tells me they had to come tonight but this might be his last game ever. (Maybe this isn’t just a group of friends?)
“It’s all corporate, it’s all greed,” Pride Hat says. “I’ve been a fan for decades, and if this is how it’s going to be, they might as well move.”
I’ve heard versions of this for months, online and in the stadium. For a while, my response was some Stockholm syndrome combination of I’d rather have something than nothing and this is how the world works. Today, it’s different.
“I get it,” I say. “But I’ve got a son who’s a year-and-a-half old, and I want him to grow up with baseball. With teams like this. He’s not going to know what it was like before. I don’t know how I say that because it’s worse for you or worse for me, he doesn’t get any. And I sure as hell am not going to subject him to the Giants.”
Pride Hat shakes his head. “But I’ve been coming here for years…” He doesn’t seem willing or able to finish the thought.
I think about the old guys at the ’72 celebration. The photos of a Coliseum I never saw, before Mount Davis, when the outfield rolled back onto the East Bay hills, greener and emptier then. Tim texts at that moment from England, where it’s 4 a.m., to say that he thinks the hats are even better than the pride fanny packs from three years ago. Ours currently sits across Milo’s stroller holding wipes.
“I’m sure you have,” I say finally. “Too bad.”
Pride Hat is going to say something else, because he’s an old white man and you have to, but now it’s the seventh inning stretch, and we sing together, because that’s also what we have to do.
Game 68: Athletics and Royals, Sunday, June 19, 1:07p.m. first pitch
It’s Father’s Day, and I’m celebrating by keeping my son at home. While I love the six miles we track through the stadium and using Milo as a cudgel in arguments with strangers, to actually watch the game and rethread the dozen neurons I have left seems a better deal for the both of us. Plus, it’s unfair to parade around a kid so objectively cute when the other parents have to suffer their bumbling buggy dirt shrews while pretending to love them.
A boy about Milo’s age/size is sitting in front of us with his mother, father, two grandparents, and an aunt, and they need every one on that team to manage the kid. The parents are much younger than me and Kate, and I feel a much stronger connection to the weariness and beer consumption of the elderly duo.
Have your kids young, I want to tell Fellow Dad, before you know any better. Instead, I say, “We left our maniac at home.”
Fellow Dad overacts surprise in front of the family. “Well, we just thought in the spirit, of, you know, the day…” It is his dad, clearly, who almost rolls his eyes.
“It’s Father’s Day,” I say. “Not Kid’s Day.” Grandpa takes an approving gurgle of Bud Light.
I do FaceTime my dad during the later innings—he’s somehow hard at work in retirement, at his desk, with two pairs of glasses present—and unbidden he pulls out all the Greatest Dad Hits: the weather, how bad the team is, the realignment of college football, yard work, an Article from The Internet, the weather. It is always reassuring, its own time capsule.
When Sean Murphy hits a three-run homer to finally clinch the victory, only the fourth I’ve seen all year and obviously a present to me and me alone, the A’s with no game tomorrow are double winners. I think about the true beauty of the day: I’m able to make fun of my son and my dad at the same time, confident that neither of them is doing the same to me. Surely, this is the way it lasts forever.
Game 70: Athletics and Mariners, Wednesday, June 22, 6:40 p.m. first pitch
It’s my first game with my friend Kyle, who is a new and bright-eyed resident of the Bay Area. He’s a deeply nice and smart person, full of baseball experience and knowledge, and we have a great time. He is also, unfortunately, a Houston Astros fan, which means he’s worse than seeping Chernobyl wastewater, frozen and cupped into snowcones for the children at the orphanage who won a contest to find the most nails under their beds.
But to his great credit, not only does he buy his first A’s hat, his years of suffering the Astros when they were epically, tankingly bad makes him a stalwart companion during these dark days at the Coliseum.
“I went to a charity bowling thing years ago in Houston and one of the players tried to get me to go out to a strip club with him the next night,” Kyle says. “Which was a Tuesday.”
The A’s lose 9-0 to a deeply mediocre Seattle team, but somehow it doesn’t suck the air out of the stadium like it did before. Hell, I’ll do way more than cheat and steal signs if it helps the A’s rise up from this to win the Series. I don’t even teach on Tuesdays.
We also have a Problem Fan, the first I can remember in my years of coming to games. He rants and raves around our section; what drugs he’s on and if they would be fun at a tenth the dose is a topic of conversation. That he wears a ratty Seattle Supersonics singlet, displays an artful number of lost teeth when he screams at the players or creepily tells his life story to a bunch of teenage boys who will think twice before sitting so far away from their families, all the while speaking with a voice that sounds like a bumper being dragged down the street should not surprise. He does, however, have a ticket, which apparently is all that matters these days. But in true Oakland form, since he’s not actually hurting anyone and is surprisingly polite when asked to sit down and shut up, he survives unejected for nine innings, the rest of us tolerating but not acquiescing to his bullshit.
That vibe is tested over the next couple of weeks. On the next homestand, for the 4th of July fireworks game, a thrilling 5-1 win over the Blue Jays that I watch from my parents’ house in Colorado, six fans from the largest crowd of the season are hit by bullet fragments falling from the sky. The national headlines, naturally, make it read like gunfire within the stadium, which it’s not. It’s “celebratory” gunfire from perhaps a mile away that somehow falls inside. These are fans and families who come to these fireworks nights to sit on perfect outfield grass and avoid the unofficial explosions throughout the city. During the next series, some of the diehards in the outfield unfurl a banner of a uterus giving two middle fingers with F-OFF written underneath in protest of the end of Roe. Coliseum staff eject them when they refuse to put it away, but the uproar afterward—you barely have any fans, these are the best fans, and this is the stand you’re going to take?—produces a quiet compromise that remains publicly mysterious.
* * *
The Oakland Athletics won only five games in the month of June. They are currently the worst team in baseball. Even worse, they are within striking distance of setting the all-time record for home losing futility.
But they did have two very big wins. A crucial Bay commission removed the port priority designation at Howard Terminal. Without it (and surely, without me waiting two hours on Zoom to provide my own crucial comment) the stadium project would have died. The Oakland City Council also refused to put a lazy, polluter-backed “advisory” vote on the ballot, which would have delayed any progress by months.
It all sounds—and frequently is—dull and exhausting. Fortunately, it’s also terrifying and stressful. Each vote is somehow pitched as an “elimination game” or some degree of metaphorical travel around the bases toward the home plate of not-leaving.
I’m not old enough to know all of the places this team or this city have been and how much better it was back then. But I’m not just passing through. I’m staying. I know exactly where I am now, a lean 15 games out of the wild card with plenty of calendar alerts to take vitamins and pester journalists and beg elected officials. I have mortgaged optimism about where we’re going next, even if that looks like something I don’t quite recognize, something not just built for me, because I can’t—I won’t—give it up.
Outside, this might be known as middle age. Here, it’s July.