We unload off of the BART train like a herd of cattle and enter the dingy station with a mixture of part excitement and part bovine expression. The afternoon glaze was the perfect California day in the mind’s eye of a dreamer from Detroit during a December snowstorm. Shorts and tank top weather. We cross the bridge en masse and in the distance a towering block of cement surrounded by barbed wire looms. This place doesn’t look like anything the Romans would build and is more akin to the prison Tim Robbin’s innocent and charmingly rebellious accountant had to face in the Shawshank Redemption. There are musicians trying to make a quick buck, and “vendors” wearing dashikis hawking unlicensed merchandise for both the working class parents who can’t afford the “real” thing and the renegade who has a predilection for quirky hand-screened memorabilia; both the former and latter seeming to be a Oakland tradition harking back to the radical, working class pamphlets of the late 1960’s. This is the embroidery of the Oakland Coliseum.
The conversations that rise above the herd can be astounding.
“Elvis didn’t steal black music, man. Music belongs to everybody.”
“Drinking decaf is like being shot by a government death squad.”
“What did people do before the internet?”
“I’m not sure why he didn’t come to work today. I had a low-grade hangover and I showed up.”
Marijuana smoke fills the air and an older couple complains loudly. Obviously the signals between the generations are irrevocably jammed and covered with goo. It makes me feel good, however, when I curl up to read a book at night knowing that people have some sort of right to use a substance that has been worshiped, degraded and used as racist propaganda,”media poisoned” and finally seen as medicinal and taxed throughout its modern existence in the social structure.
We have come here to see the flawed product known as the Oakland A’s: a team with a menagerie of flawed cast-offs, miscreants, and starry-eyed, fresh-faced youngsters.
When the June heat swooned and the losses mounted we were more hypersensitive to the terrible ownership than ever before and perhaps even felt ill about our place as fans. 11,000 and change entered the turnstiles this afternoon, perhaps echoing that disconcerting mood. On this day, however, baby-faced rookie Jharel Cotton dazzled the Halos by pitching a two hit gem through 6 in his ML debut–the only blemish being a home run by C.J. Cron, one of those modern-day, perpetually uninspiring and average hitting first baseman. Cotton left to a standing ovation, walking along the freshly painted football lines and doffing his cap. Sure, this was a lineup with the notable absences of Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, but it was also a feather in the cap of the downtrodden, a feast in a month of famine for the homeless and forgotten.
There is nothing like the sensory pleasure of falling off a surfboard into the cold Southern California ocean as you tumble under a wave unmercifully for what seems like an eternity and surface gasping for air. I dragged myself across the sand, chest heaving heavily and amazed to still be in one piece.
“Did you know that most “friendships” are only reciprocal 53 percent of the time?”
A friend had brought the New York Times, a large umbrella and a bottle of vodka. She was definitely not going into the water and apparently this article had caught her attention.
“Hmmm…is this a modern phenomenon?” I asked, still gasping for air.
“I’d say yes, considering it was a modern study.”
I sat for a minute quietly thinking about my own life and the relationships that had come and gone. I supposed that I had never seen any sort of friendship as “forever” because of my own abandonment by my father. Because of this thought, and the anxiety of the inevitable, perhaps I never put the time or the effort into friendships that I should have. I simply exhausted all avenues and then quietly moved on with little care.
“Looks like your favorite player was traded,” she said.
Those bastards, I thought, they went and did it. Well, at least he went to the Dodgers. They’ll love him
here in Los Angeles.
Echoes of the past rumble through my head as I stared at the waves crash in deadly syncopation. I dragged
the surfboard slowly to the water and the thoughts disappeared as suddenly as they came. I didn’t like
re-visiting the past–and the way the waves were looking today perhaps I didn’t have a future either.
I watched an A’s game for the first time in over a month yesterday; valiantly attempting to push aside the oozing slime of human conduct from leaking into my baseball brain. Why, you ask? Well, let me put it simply: in the past 25 years income has gone down for 18-35 year olds and student loan debt is at an all time high. We had 3 trillion in bailout money, income inequality and the homeless problem are greater than ever and the general public at large feels scammed by the political system. We, as a country are facing a financial and social crisis and sometimes all we have is a few leisurely hours of escape watching the game that we love–and as Oakland fans even THAT was taken away.
We as A’s fans have been reduced to watching a downsized and dispossessed baseball team. Our hopes are pulverized, our ambitions starved because of despicable ownership, led by Lew Wolff, who have no interest in giving us respite from the social ills that I have spoken about above. This is not only an inferior product, but one molded by the hands of the elite in order to maximize profit. They laugh all the way to the bank while we blindly pledge allegiance. You can see this as holier-than-thou ballyhoo or an insidious prediction on our future, nevertheless I leave you with the immortal words of Joe Strummer, singer of The Clash as a message to Athletics’ ownership, “Go straight to hell, boy.”
In case you haven’t noticed lately, some girls are all about that “dad bod”. I hadn’t heard about this body type until my roommate mentioned it. She was attracted to guys she claimed had the beer belly. After observing the guys she found attractive, I came to understand this body type well and was able to identify it. The dad bod is a nice balance between a beer gut and working out. The dad bod says, “I go to the gym occasionally, but I also drink a lot of beer on the weekends and enjoy eating eight slices of pizza at a time.” It’s not an overweight guy, but it isn’t one with washboard abs either.
Matt Stairs was a fan favorite in Oakland and made no apologies for his love for pounding beers and baseballs–the Canadian hit 122 home runs in 5 seasons with the Athletics. A veritable beer keg in motion; Stairs is best known as a pinch hitter, designated hitter, and corner outfielder, but he actually played every position except pitcher, catcher, and shortstop at some point. He also has the most pinch-hit home runs in MLB history. Edgar Allen Poe could have been speaking of Stairs when he wrote this poem in the late 19th century:
Filled with mingled cream and amber,
I will drain that glass again.
Such hilarious visions clamber
Through the chamber of my brain.
Quaintest thoughts, queerest fancies
Come to life and fade away.
What care I how time advances;
I am drinking ale today.
I see him almost everyday hanging out in front of the taco stand. He is an old man, probably around 70 years old with a funky sort of style. Today he is wearing gold crushed velvet pants and a fluorescent orange cowboy hat. When I first saw him I thought he was homeless, but his wardrobe is much too vast for that to be true. He defies authority and that is a beautiful thing.
“That Oakland ball-club has been kicking the Giants ass,” he said.
I was a little taken aback–I had never spoken to the man besides a “hey” or a slight nod of the head. I suppose he had seen me wearing the green and gold on numerous occasions. Apparently I wasn’t the only person that noticed small details.
“Sure has,” I said and gave him a smile.
Sure, the A’s still have a terrible record of 35-44; but we made the Giants look foolish in a 4 game series and I can take respite in that.
“Little things seem nothing, but they give peace, like those meadow flowers which individually seem odorless but all together perfume the air.”–Georges Bernanos
I had what can be called a perfect summer evening last night: I watched Star Wars on a 60 foot screen on top of a 6 story building with the stars twinkling brightly above while drinking a wicked batch of sauvignon blanc.
These are the kind of nights that summer is supposed to represent: everyone is dressed casually and comfortably as they enjoyed a night out with friends and family and no cares in the world at that moment. After the movie my acquaintance and I returned to her house for some champagne and a light snack of falafel balls. The great ball of fires close vicinity to the Earth couldn’t ruin this perfect evening and perhaps even enlightened it with its creamy layers of cosmic beauty.
We had small talk for a moment about science fiction novels before “the acquaintance” slides in a DVD of Easy Rider and comments, “Boy, your baseball team sure does stink this year; it must be difficult to find things to write about on that blog of yours.”
“I’m not hypersensitive to it. Perhaps I’ve even given up–which makes me enjoy watching the fiasco all the more. It’s not as if I’m pulling my hair out; there is a sense of calm in losing. Now I know how Cubs fans felt all those years.”
“I find that hard to believe,” she said as she softly tossed her cat off the couch. “Ughh, don’t ever buy anything that eats.”
“Besides, why would I care so deeply about a bunch of millionaires running around in pajamas when I can think about how insignificant my own life is relative to a world that is filled with injustice?”
“I think a lot of the experience of being an adult is: what am I even complaining about?”
“Exactly. So I can be positive and talk about how Danny Valencia and Khris Davis are absolutely raking this season. And Daniel Mengden is a pretty exciting rookie.”
“I have no idea what you are talking about.”
“Neither do I,” I said as the opening credits to Easy Rider spread across the screen. I really do like Dennis Hopper in this movie I thought.
Say what you want about Mr. Jackson and his brash attitude and high strikeout rates, yet without my grandfathers’ fondness for the man I would have never found my love for the game of baseball and the Oakland Athletics.
This page before you would have never existed.
To me Reggie was ALWAYS a legend, and a mystifying one at that since he was retiring just as I was learning to love and appreciate the game. He was a Ruthian figure; and honored by someone who I loved– which made me open my eyes to try to figure out just what made this guy so special.
When my grandfather died I watched from a distance, sadly, as his children argued and bickered over his possessions. I decided then, because of their behavior, that I didn’t need an earthly remembrance of this man who was the biggest father-figure in my life. A couple of months later my grandmother came to me and handed me an autographed Reggie Jackson ball. I knew it well as it had once had the most prominent spot in the case where he kept his baseball memorabilia. It was the gem of the collection.
“I saved this for you,” she said. “grandpa would have wanted you to have it.”
I love when the baseball existentialists come together to sing their anthems of praise about the serene rhythms and mystic qualities of the game. It gives me a warm feeling. And as much as I love and adore the game, sometimes I feel as if these are all illusions because of a time and an innocence that I miss and cherish — and that I’ll never see again.
The California summer heat wave is about to begin; and long-time readers of this blog know that in the past I have complained about my own lack of air-conditioning because of the fact that I live in a 1940’s Los Angeles-style bungalow. My living room bakes my brain to the point of running out of curses and heat metaphors. Perspiration drips down my back as I stare at the wall like a lunatic in a daze.
This situation is not incongruous to the happy-go-lucky children that I see on the television–enjoying summer, running around frantically with friends , drinking Kool Aid and tumbling down water slides while staring at girls in bikinis. I drink a dozen ice-cold Coronas (no where near Wade Boggs’ record of 64 beers on one flight) before sleep and intoxication throws me into a dream state of delirium. I dream of a distinguished-looking woman opening her mouth slowly to reveal something white on her tongue.
This Freudian heat wave intermingling with the Oakland A’s current status as basement dwellers has made the beginning of summer seem like Dante’s Inferno; specifically the first circle: limbo.
The team has terrible starting pitching, terrible defense, and with Josh Reddick and Khris Davis sidelined by injuries–a terrible lineup. That is the furthest you can be for a recipe of success. Chris Coghlan was such a stinker that he was traded back to the Cubs. Jesse Hahn couldn’t retire a little leaguer. Yonder Alonso couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat. Billy Butler smells worse than a shipping crate filled with skunks having a farting contest.
Around 1993-1995 I completely lost interest in baseball. Being in my early 20’s my childhood interests waned, as they tend to do, and in my delusional mind my new interests were a bit more sophisticated and engaging. My interests in music were blossoming into a near obsession as I joined a garage band; and I was also delving into the literary and modern art worlds–doing my duty as a young person trying to “figure it all out.” As much as I loved to scan the box scores, I just didn’t have time anymore with my band-mates, job, and girlfriend needing my immediate and rapt attention.
F. Scott Fitzgerald thought that one of his pals had invested too much time writing about baseball. “A boys game,” Fitzgerald said, “with no more possibilities in it than a boy could master, a game bounded by walls which kept out novelty or danger, change or adventure.”
I couldn’t stomach Fitzgerald’s stuffy writing and disagreed vehemently with this statement. (I valued Descartes opinions much more, and wasn’t his vocation to think about thinking?…the absolute essence of the game) So after reading the classics : Genet, Hemingway, Hesse, Volmann, Fante, Auster, I decided one day through a haze of smoke that baseball was indeed a cerebral sport more suited to a literary rather than pictorial culture and returned to it for the ’96 season. The A’s were still the same pile of dung that i had flushed 3 years earlier finishing 3rd in the West with a 78-84 record, but the game was interesting to me again, even fun.
This was to be Mark McGwire’s last full year with the “Elephants” (his trade the next year was devastating and truly the end of my childhood) and he finished with 52 homers. This was also Jason Giambi’s first full year and he finished with a pathetic (for that time) 20 round-trippers. I attribute this to youth and the lack of steroids–a reputation that would turn out to haunt both players. Terry Steinbach was typically solid behind the dish; and a fan favorite with a funny name, Geronimo Berroa was coming into his own. There was also a curious player, Ernie Young, who hit 19 homers that season, never to hit more than 5 in any other season in his career.
As I enjoyed another season of watching my lovable losers, I had decided that baseball not only doesn’t acknowledge the passage of time, it ignores it. Then began my post-adolescent and lifelong obsession with the game that has taken over my daily existence with mind-boggling statistics and an even stranger anomalistic visual affair. I find that the more I know about this game, the less I know about this game. It keeps unfolding in ways I could never imagine.
On January 26, 2010, Ben Sheets agreed to a one year, $10 million with an additional $2 million in incentives, contract with the Oakland Athletics. “Ok,” I thought, “he was hurt last year and this is his comeback.” I knew Ben was injury prone as he had just undergone Tommy John surgery the year before and sat out the entire 2009 season to rehab. It seemed at the time a high risk/reward signing, but I put it out of my mind because of the fact that I had other things to do. You see, it was my day off and I was supposed to meet a nice young lady for some beers and some games of pool at one of those newly opened, posh “gastropubs”. The date goes fine, we drink some nice brews, play some pool and I nod my head at all the crucial moments. Everything is going great until we step out on the back patio to smoke a joint… and then it hits me. Didn’t I see this guy pitch in the minor leagues?
I can hear the readers screaming, “this guy is having a great time with this woman and he’s thinking about a fucking baseball player!” Well yes, I was, and even worse…I was thinking about the ex-girlfriend that had accompanied me to a baseball game. This is date suicide, I know, but bear with me–all of the thoughts below were fully compartmentalized within two minutes or so. (and it’s not as if it’s an epic, Homer-like story) That’s only about 3-4 head nods and a couple “mmm hmmm’s.”
It’s 1999. I had been wanting to go to a California League game for quite a while. Stockton, Ca. was the closest city to where I was living so it was the logical choice. The Stockton Ports were an (A) team for the Milwaukee Brewers, and I had a little rooting interest for the “Brew Crew;” I thought they were a scrappy, fun bunch. My girlfriend and I hop on the freeway and drive an half an hour south of Sacramento to the murderous, unemployed shit-heap known as Stockton.
Billy Hebert Field was in a sketchy neighborhood in the middle of a park. It was a bit old and had metal bleachers down the third/first base lines. The ballpark had opened in 1953, yet supposedly the land that was/is the field has been used for baseball since the late 19th century, and as legend says, the exact location where the poem “Casey at the bat” had taken place. We grab our beers and peanuts and sit on the third base line. The crowd is sparse, yet I’m enjoying myself.
Minor league games tend to have wacky promotions, yet this one was right out of the Bill Veeck hand book. The PA announcer tells the crowd that so and so from the opposing team would be the game’s “beer batter.” This meant that every time the batter in question struck out beer would be half off for 10 minutes. On the mound for the Ports that day was their newly signed “bonus baby,” Ben Sheets. Sheets proceeded to strike out the “beer batter” 4 times; and since there was barely a crowd, I would slowly walk to the concession stand and get a few beers for half off. The first few times were novelty, and then as the innings went by and the suds kicked in it became a sort of a right of passage and celebration of this young man’s talent. I was “three SHEETS to the wind” by the end of the game.
Times have changed. The Ports moved into a new, modern ballpark in 2005, leaving Billy Hebert unattended. They are now an affiliate of the Oakland A’s. Ben Sheets retired in 2012. He couldn’t shake off the injury bug that had hampered his career. I don’t speak to either woman anymore in this story. We had great times, yet that rolling stone keeps on moving. This isn’t a special story….it’s just another baseball fan’s testament, and a story that will all too soon fade away.