In a long baseball season, there’s always the question of whether any one game matters.
Game 9: Athletics and Red Sox, Wednesday, April 3, 7:08 p.m. first pitch
“You’re in the wrong section man!” Fishing Hat yells.
We are not, for once, in the wrong section. We’re sitting in the Golden Road Landing section on the first level near the left field foul pole. It’s trying to be corporate, with larger standing tables and room to move around and mingle, and it has its own bar, which I have rarely seen open, but judging by the email blast inviting any A’s Access members to just come on down without tickets, it’s not yet packing the seats. And Fishing Hat isn’t yelling at us. He’s yelling at Tim, who is still cheering for his Sox.
“Don’t worry,” I tell Fishing Hat, motioning to my Access badge, showing him how deeply I belong, how Oakland we are, “I’ll make sure he’s well behaved.”
The game is tied 3-3. Fishing Hat sports a hideous yellow A’s bucket hat. He’s a ginger, which interests Tim greatly, but he’s apparently “not cute” and “has horrible taste.”
The inning ends, but Fishing Hat isn’t done with Tim. “Why are you rooting for Boston?”
“I was born and raised in Boston,” Tim says.
This information has no discernible effect. “But why are you here?”
“I live here now.” He pulls out his badge. “I’m an Access Member too. I like the A’s.”
Fishing Hat pulls out his badge, a drawdown, a duel. “Oh yeah?”
“Nice,” Tim says. “Then why don’t you use that to get a discount on a better hat?”
Fishing Hat flushes red, turns his hair blond by comparison. “Oh yeah? Oh yeah? Well I live in Silicon Valley!”
I burst out laughing. Tim is now freeform railing on the guy, still screaming about the hat, his jersey, how he has no taste, but I can’t hear any of it because I’m trying to keep my laughter from bringing up the signature nachos I ate from a Chihuahua-sized plastic A’s helmet.
The obvious/omnipresent/abject hatred for Big Tech in most of the Bay Area aside, the sheer rube-ness of thinking this is some kind of status and authority, in East Oakland, on a Wednesday night, in seats we’d all scurried to like rats, is perfection. I’ve mostly avoided tech bros in my time here, either because I wasn’t rich, didn’t like indoor minigolf or Lime scooters, or was too much like these bros to notice, but Fishing Hat is all I’d hoped he would be. These days Oakland feels the invasion more than most. These techies are smart people, probably even halfway decent people, but they are all characteristically narrow-minded and dismissive of the old worlds they seek to disrupt. The proposed new A’s stadium, with its gondolas from BART, won’t begin the gentrification of West Oakland but complete it. Whatever new edition of Golden Road fuckery they’re pushing there will definitely be full of Fishing Hats wagging their digital dicks and Access badges at each other.
I look up to see that I am not, however, laughing as hard as Fishing Hat’s friend, who is doubled over next to him. He can barely bring himself upright to drag Fishing Hat away from us, down the row, and presumably out of the stadium and back to their voice-activated hover-house that runs on moonlight in Mountain View.
An inning later, the Sox ahead 6-3 with a lead they will not relinquish, an older black couple heads for the exit. Passing, almost in a whisper, the man says, “Silicon Valley, man, shit.”
“Shit,” I say. “Go A’s.”
Game 22: Athletics and Blue Jays, Friday, April 19, 7:07 p.m. first pitch
We are in our actual ticketed section, it’s some sort of student appreciation night, honoring students in science, technology, engineering and math, and we are being heckled by five STEM girls sitting above us. They are probably in middle school, but I’m too afraid to really look.
“Cool hat,” one croons. I take my hat off.
We wave a friend over from a different section. “The players can’t see you up here,” one of the girls singsongs.
We cheer for Matt Chapman’s double that gives us a first inning 1-0 lead. And how can the girls hear us, ten rows up; how are their impressions of our voices so accurate and mocking? That’s science, I guess. And we are admittedly a little too intense for the A’s Dot Racing animation on the screen during an inning break, all of us rooting for a different color. I think Yellow wins, but I can’t be sure because each of our cheers gets echoed back at a higher and more absurd pitch clearly unbecoming of season ticket holders we are. “Oh the tall one wants yellow! “Oh his girlfriend wants green!”
Finally, turning my standing ovation for the merciful end to a four-run Jay’s inning into a stare back up the stands, I glare at them. I say nothing, and I stare as long as I can. They are perplexed, wondering if in my old age I have forgotten where to look or worrying that I have suffered a stroke. They quiet.
“There,” I say, sitting down, cracking my peanuts and knees, “That should do it.”
“What? Do what?” my wife asks.
“I don’t think we’ll be hearing from them again.”
Kate stares at me the way I should be stared at. “You mean, the girls who are here to be honored for their work as inspiring young scientists?” She leans forward and flips my badge around to the back. “Don’t let anyone know I’m here with you.”
It is also Pet Calendar Giveaway Night, and they’ve brought some shelter dogs to the park to be adopted. Superior doesn’t get ten feet into our section before I am petting him, reaching for my wallet, telling his minder that I’ll take him no matter the cost. Kate corrals me, brings me back to the seats. She, too, loves Superior; we talk about whether or not—for the next ten or fifteen years of our lives—we can have a dog. We have spent more time talking about what episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine to watch, but this feels like fate: the dog found us. Of all the dogs, of all the nights, of all the sections. We talk about the cats we have, the kids we might have, and whether or not we can take Superior back on the train or if a Lyft at the stadium will take dogs. We decide that tonight isn’t the night, but we are both struck by how easily it could have been.
An inning later, moving to a different section, we see Superior again, sitting snugly in a bed with the lit field and the crowd cheering behind him. I am weeping uncontrollably. Kate reminds me that he is incredibly cute and points at the line of people ready to meet him. She also reminds me that I have glared at child geniuses tonight. “You still have some work to do,” she says.
The A’s lose, 5-1.
Game 38: Athletics and Reds, Wednesday, May 8, 7:07 p.m. first pitch
Last night, Mike Fiers pitched a no-hitter. It was Teacher Appreciation night, with a really swell giveaway t-shirt, but I felt good not being at the game because I was actually teaching. I was glad to be teaching and glad not to be teaching in Colorado, where a student was killed and eight others injured at a high school two miles from my old house and across the street from the rec center where I took swimming lessons and played little league baseball (the Falcons, then the Rockies; third base; I once accidentally caught a fly ball in the pocket of my uniform). I didn’t get the swell t-shirt that was perfect for all teachers to wear the next time they are shot in their classrooms.
The game was delayed an hour and a half because one of the light towers at the Coliseum wouldn’t work. A delay for teachers on a school night, another kind of darkness on a night where teachers saw some of their students for the last time and saw others behind the barrel of a gun. Again. I’d thought earlier in the day how glad I was that we weren’t seeing Fiers pitch this week; he’d had some rough outings this year and I thought all his good stuff was behind him. I think a lot now about how much of the good stuff is behind us.
Baseball, on nights like last night, on nights like this night too, feels like an artifact sealed off from the world and also its most obvious diary. In a game of so many wins and losses, when just surviving is, for so much of the season, enough, the moments of perfection, or whatever’s nearest to it, feel like signs. Signs that it does not have to be just about survival every day. Last night, Ramón Laureano pulled back a home run from over the wall; Jurickson Profar flew across half the field to make a diving catch. This is a game where a thousand little things can go right in a world where we can’t seem to string together two. A game near perfect on a night anything but.
Tonight, the day after, is another midweek game with a crowd small by even Oakland standards. (When was the last time you walked into one of those vast stadium bathrooms and the motion sensor lights came on?) Fiers comes out of the dugout to get another standing ovation from the crowd. The A’s win, 5-4, in twelve, but we spend most of our time fixing what we can fix. Tim has brought the guy he’s seeing to the game, at least in part to give us a look at him. While he has memorized the statistics for Tim’s favorite player (a little creepy), keeps interrupting us to tell his own stories (that’s my thing), and tells me and Kate “don’t hurry back” when we go for food (so that he can berate Tim for tagging him in an Instagram story or giving him herpes or something), the final decision will come later, when he forgets the t-shirt he bought, with our merch discount, for his mother for Mother’s Day, and Tim returns it to him when they break up.
“He wasn’t right in the ol’ noggin’,” Tim will say, “But he did know an awful lot about Mitch Moreland.”
Game 40: Athletics and Indians, Friday, May 10, 6:37 p.m. first pitch
Biding time between Josh Phegley’s RBI single in the second and Laureano’s monster homer in the sixth, I make an Instagram story with photos of Cleveland fans in the crowd wearing the Chief Wahoo mascot. As a former Michigander, I know people from Ohio are generally awful anyway, but it’s a special kind of icky that makes somebody still wear that bucktoothed racist face as any measure of pride. This is the first season in seventy years that the team will not be wearing Wahoo out onto the field, though the chief continues to be sold as merchandise for fans. It should be no surprise that Wahoo—drawn by a 17-year-old draftsman in 1947—remains popular in a state with one of the lowest native populations and highest percentages of native sports mascots.
Cleveland, by the way, hosts the All Star Game this week.
There are also a million people here (well, 37,000, easily the most of the year). It’s the first fireworks night of the season, and the Coliseum feels jammed. There are huge waits to get into the stadium and lines at every concession; it takes 25 minutes to get a hot dog. We are used to zero minutes wait. We are used to feeling special. We are actually asked for our tickets twice. Is this how baseball is elsewhere? Is this how it’s supposed to be? Is this…where this insane experiment of season tickets-for-all might lead? What a nightmare.
We leave in the seventh inning because we can come back to any game. I tell myself I’m being generous, selfless for those who can’t come back another day—those families desperately shuttling kids to and from the bathrooms and the Stomper Fun Zone, those obsessive fireworks fans/arsonists—so that there are fewer bodies in the way. I almost believe it, but I also know there’s jealousy here. The team isn’t just mine, I know that, but I’m finding it harder to share.
Game 58: Athletics and Astros, Saturday, June 1, 7:07 p.m. first pitch
When Tim and I picked out our tickets—our Access passes allow us into any game as long as we “stay in the Treehouse section,” which we “always do”—we also opted for 24 seated games elsewhere in the park. The first game Tim chose was Pride, and here we are, more than an hour before the first pitch, ripping the game giveaway from the hands of the Coliseum staff. The rainbow A’s fanny packs, complete with plastic unicorn on the zipper, exceed our wildest expectations. That everyone else seems like they are here early and almost everyone we see throughout the game is wearing their pack like a heavyweight championship belt only confirms the cosmic unity of the night as the fog burns off and we all watch a perfect fifty-hour early-summer sunset. (That the Astros and the Rangers are the only two teams in the majors that don’t have a pride night this season seals it.)
On our BART ride in, Tim texted us screenshots of the Athletics’ Instagram account, which on its celebratory pride post was being trolled by “mitchelledgar9” who opined, Leave this shit outta the sport. I go to watch baseball. Not support this shit.
Before reading the A’s response, I knew a little of what to expect. Whatever true genius runs their social media gives.zero.fucks. Last year, Tim posted a photo of us wearing our Oakland hats and Tigers and Red Sox jerseys all at once, and the Athletics responded, Well this is awkward…The A’s regularly troll other teams, and not just because they can. It’s what their fans want, especially now: an unapologetically coastal team that won’t back down, won’t shut up, and can be smart about it.
Mitchelledgar9 quickly fell back on that tried and true last line of defense, spit directly at the Athletics account, So we can expect a Straight night as well?
@mitchelledgar9, the A’s responded, literally every other night. Go A’s!
Tim texted a moment later. And of course, he’s a Yankees fan.
The game goes by so fast—it runs only two-and-a-half hours—but that’s not what I mean. The rag on baseball for many years is that it’s a slow game, that it can be boring, and that the individual games don’t really matter. Purists now add to the mix that it’s become a game of only strikeouts and home runs. Failures and feats. Baseball, we are told, doesn’t keep pace with whatever pace we live now, and this is wrong. Our games should reflect us, not define us.
But if you have the right night, the right people, this doesn’t really feel like a game at all. Tonight everyone is in uniform with their pride fanny packs. We see a five-year-old boy wearing faux-diamond earrings. There are families, people in costume; mascot Stomper does a lap around the field in a golf cart with a drag queen. Disco is on heavy rotation. Rainbow flags stretched over seats or draped from the second and third decks transform this concrete bunker into a better concrete bunker. Someone wearing the most elegant shoes I have ever seen in my life vomits in the stall next to me. Reflection and definition. The A’s will go on to lose this game, one that wasn’t really all that competitive, the ageless Justin Verlander will pass Cy Young on the career strikeout list, and win, lose, strike out, homer, there is room for all this in the stats and on the highlights. It is easy to think that this is what makes baseball eternal. @mitchelledgar9 surely saw in this loss a sign from Straight God. But it’s enough just to be here. To have made it here. One night, every night, your night.