I am currently reading Haruki Murakami’s Novelist as a Vocation, and I thought this was an interesting passage. I hope everyone enjoys it.
One bright afternoon in April 1978, I attended a baseball game at Jingu Stadium in downtown Tokyo. It was the Central League season opener, first pitch at one o’clock, the Yakult Swallows against the Hiroshima Carp. I was already a Yakult fan in those days, and the stadium was close to my apartment, so I sometimes popped in to catch a game when I was out for a stroll.
Back then, Yakult was a perennially weak team, with little money and no flashy big-name players. Naturally, they weren’t very popular. Season opener it may have been, but only a few fans were sitting beyond the outfield fence. I stretched out with a beer to watch the game. At the time there were no bleacher seats, just a grassy slope. It was a great feeling. The sky was a sparkling blue, the draft beer was cold as cold could be, and the ball strikingly white against the green field, the first green I had seen in a long time. To fully appreciate a baseball game, you really have to be there in person!
Yakult’s first hitter was Dave Hilton, a rangy newcomer from the United States and a complete unknown. He batted in the leadoff position. The cleanup hitter was Charlie Manuel, who later became famous as the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. Then, though, he was a real stud, a slugger Japanese fans had dubbed, “the Red Demon.”
I think Hirohima’s starting pitcher that day was Satoshi Takahashi. Yakult countered with Takeshi Yasuda. In the bottom of the first inning, Hilton slammed Takahashi’s first pitch into left field for a clean double. The satisfying crack when bat met ball resounded through Jingu Stadium. Scattered applause rose around me. In that instant, and based on no grounds whatsoever, it suddenly struck me: I think I can write a novel.
I can still recall the exact sensation. It was as if something had come fluttering down from the sky and I had caught it cleanly in my hands. I had no idea why it had chanced to fall into my grasp. I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now. Whatever the reason, it had taken place. It was like a revelation. Or maybe “epiphany” is a better word. All I can say is that my life changed drastically and permanently altered in that instant when leadoff hitter Dave Hilton belted that beautiful ringing double at Jingu Stadium.
“To me, the golden era of baseball is whenever you were 12 years old.” –John Thorn
Lazy Sunday. There were men outside my house audibly cutting a tree into pot belly stove-sized pieces and annoying me in the process. The massive tree had fallen in the night, destroying 3 cars, and almost killing a neighbor who was standing nearby, which must have been quite tempting to the tree. She ended up going to the hospital with only minor head wounds and escaping relatively unscathed. What better way was there to toast the cruel, cold universe and its magnificent indifference for a fleshy speck in the cosmos than by cracking open some cheap, tasteless beer, scarfing down some pretzels, and watching a ball game?
Since the latest incarnation of the Oakland Athletics has stumbled through the throes of helplessness and confusion, and could possibly be the worst in team history. (challenging the 1979 team–who went 54-108–a distressing cross to bear) I decided to take a pass on that dumpster fire and sashay down memory lane, instead choosing to embrace a time when a young boy’s love for the game was genuinely all-encompassing and untarnished.The talisman from the past with horrible picture quality and incipiently watched in a room with cheap wood-grain paneling? A’s vs Tigers, May 3rd, 1987.
This was an afternoon game where every fly ball was an adventure with fielders losing their regular big-league swagger and desperately shielding their eyes while staring into the blistering light-blue void…completely helpless. The A’s end up scoring twice–once on a manufactured run that started with a Ron Cey single (“Stan Javier pinch runs for Cey, and The Penguin waddles off the field.”) and the second on a Canseco bomb to left-center that scattered a sea of shirtless, oiled, and clearly intoxicated sunbathers who fell over themselves while inadvertently knocking over their buzzing radios and wax cups of beer.
Well, yours truly has finally been published…actual ink on paper. Albeit, it’s just one short story in an anthology of 100’s, but I’m still pretty excited to have a tangible piece of evidence documenting my madness, and even more elated that I didn’t have to deal with agents or manuscripts–no song and dance–in order for this to be actualized.
Backyards to Ballparks has a simple concept behind it, asking authors, “What is your favorite memory connected to baseball?” The stories are all different, but the heart and soul of the book are the same. What these “distilled snippets” all have in common is that tribute as to why baseball remains the American pastime–how it connects friends, families, and communities. These memories, often more human interest than play-of-game in nature, all have baseball as a setting, but speak to how The Great Game provides joy and anguish, nourishes family traditions, creates friendships, and can profoundly affect the ambrosia of the mind.
“As a friend once said to me about getting old: what a strange thing to happen to a little boy.”–Paul Auster
My grandfather took me to my first baseball game at the tender age of 10. There was no literal hand-holding, strategic explanations, or silver-spoon procurement. That just wasn’t his style. If I wanted to figure out the game I had to do it myself. If I wanted some food, well, here’s some money, and go fetch it. There was Darwinian Law in effect here, and as far as I know, no child had ever been abducted at a baseball game. The law of averages were on my side, as I was left to my own devices, fortuitously discovering a piece to the puzzle while creating soon-to-be-clouded, timeworn memories in that long-ago, uncoddled, and unsupervised foreign land known as the 1980’s.
There was very little small talk and every so often the solitude would be broken by the snap of a Bic lighter touching a Marlboro cigarette. This was a time before the fancy new novelty stadiums with their retractable roof, craft beer, gourmet food, and yuppies making corporate deals in skyboxes. One afternoon a woman was nailed in the head by a foul ball and a group of freedom-loving, scurrying, rat-children (who would hang around the opposing bullpen before games to brutally heckle the starting pitcher while the ushers smiled with approval) gathered around what resembled a murder scene. She was battered and bloodied in the aisle, and it looked as if she had been shot in the forehead. There’s nothing to see here, said her husband.
When I eventually had to go to the bathroom I was astonished as men were herded in like cattle to a room that smelled like beer, cigarettes, and vomit, all the while whipping out their dongs publicly to pee in what can only be described as a “large rectangular sink.” I would rather die than make a side-glance. Your very life depended on staring at that tiny pin fragment of wall in front of you. You had to embrace yourself in the warmth of your own microcosm for a moment before the vigorous shake, shiver, and hasty exit. Never acknowledge another’s hose/existence while in this slippery and pungent world that seemed to encapsulate the sporting event as a proletarian undertaking.
I’m going to miss the Oakland Mausoleum when it’s gone. It’s exactly what I look for in a baseball stadium. A classic feeling, a potent memory, and a working-class nostalgia. A piss trough in a dirty bathroom, hustlers selling unlicensed knockoffs in the parking lot, a hotdog on a stale bun, overpriced Budweiser, the faint smell of marijuana, broken plastic seats, and a field open to the high blue sky and blazing Northern California sun.
What’s a guy gonna do? I went with my normal routine of a quick-paced afternoon walk before stopping at the local rec. center to shoot some hoops. (My follow-through is a bit rusty, but coming along nicely) I knew I only had about 30 minutes to goof around before proceeding to walk the 6 blocks home. Today was Opening Day, and as Jerry Seinfeld so astutely said, “You’re not rooting for players, you’re rooting for laundry.”
And in the end–I’m not convinced that this is a baseball team rather than a Ponzi scheme. A stock portfolio. The “suits” have seemingly crystallized everything I despise about hyper-capitalism and formulated a shabby squad that epitomizes unchecked greed before the inevitable crash. Of course, the fanbase gives a collective yawn, indicating that they’ve been through this routine before.
So, what the hell…let’s put my slavish devotion to the test. You know, sometimes disaster porn can be fun. Is your temperature rising too? Well, buddy–pop a few Xanax, have a drink, and let’s get angry!
I couldn’t look away. I had to indulge and examine how this bunch of ragtag misfits (I am not going to say lovable quite yet) were going to fare against a “pretender” like the Phillies. If I have to be pragmatic with myself, I felt like it was going to take a 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey-like effort to win one of the games in this series–no doubt the only historical reminder of most of these guys’ benign, hardball careers will be represented on a single baseball card that no collector will bother to safeguard in one of those plastic pages, inevitably ending up battered and pissed on by vagrants in a random 7-11 parking lot. Bush leaguers perpetually in flux. Alas! The Phillies come out of the gate with a 4- run lead which felt insurmountable, even in this cheesesteak bloated, Santa-Claus-hating, bandbox.
The human equivalent of a facepalm, Elvis Andrus attempts to pull everything, and I usually just scratch 6-3 on my scorecard before the facade is over. When he finally grounds out to the opposite field, (4-3) A’s fans rejoice. This front office should have known something was amiss when the Rangers implored, “PLEASE take him off our hands….we’ll even pay half his salary!” The second half of that sentence predictably made owner John Fisher’s nipples rock hard as he undoubtedly daydreams about 100-foot yachts and “ladyboys” in stale-sheet-smelling Thai bedrooms amongst other slimy antisocial transgressions only the insanely wealthy seem to enjoy. (Did someone say modern art tax-write-off?)
It’s all about the little things, right? Who am I kidding? There just isn’t anything to be optimistic about unless you’re the owner’s accountant or a naive homer. The only saving grace/mental resolve is knowing that this team (or the league for that matter) isn’t going to pry one filthy nickel from my grubby hands this year or anytime in the foreseeable future.
Are you bored yet? My apologies for being one of those fussy saps that love to shoehorn their unparalleled virtue into any scenario–it appears that this affliction was satisfied (once again, as this primal scream seems to exemplify) by howling into the abstract abyss known as the internet, composing even more agonizing and just plain stupid first-world problems in these supposed apocalyptic times. Sigh…who needs a beer?
I had no misguided delusions of this team winning the division at the beginning of the 2021 season. The past few days I have read various comments comparing Sergio Romo to a white flag, but you’ll see that I wrote on this very blog some months ago that I saw the Romo and Elvis Andrus acquisitions as a white flag with no implications of competing before a single ball was hurled or a single bat was swung.
It was simply lipstick on a pig.
It’s not practical for a team that is tip-toeing the paper-thin line between “good” and “average” to lose two All-Star caliber players (Marcus Semien, Liam Hendricks) and supplant them with two decrepit, below average players who are barely ML caliber. Who was relegated to pick up the slack? Because no one on this roster did–or was even capable–and the numbers to be replaced were insurmountable. The fact that either player stepped on the field wearing pajamas with Oakland stitched on the front was a middle-finger to the fans. A ruse. The same tired and time-honored baseball front office hoax of getting the fans interested by virtue of a recognized player who “did it in the past” rather than the ability to put up numbers for your team today–and the uneducated, fringe fans fall for it…every…single….time.
We as fans are supposed to “trust the process,” but where does a team go with a 29th ranked minor league system and zero ability to sign high profile free agents? Are we as Oakland fans to forever wish upon a star with the likes of Skye Bolt or a myriad of AAAA players? To dig through the trash to find somewhat capable players with obvious flaws and then leave it to management to disguise said flaws? Make no mistake about it, the contention window has closed with this current team, and with the threat of a move to Las Vegas imminent, these are times of high anxiety for fans of the green and gold. We are staring into the void of the baseball universe and having an existential crisis while the front office is trying to prove their craftiness by playing a glamorized version of Strat-O-Matic. Dare I say the Devil Rays have surpassed the A’s at their own game in this respect? A World Series appearance, the best record in the AL, and a stacked minor league system tells me…. hell yes.
Humbled and surpassed at our own Moneyball game as a billionaire con-man (John Fisher and his tasseled loafers can burn in hell) hiding behind the scenes uses the team, the city of Oakland, and MLB in order to extort and develop hundreds of acres of publicly owned land posing as a “stadium project.” In the end, this team we root for is just an asset for real estate development–the franchise itself is entirely immaterial to the bottom line.
These are disparaging times with no foreseeable reprieve.
I remember that day well. I had almost drown while surfing in the hidden cove. The waves took me under and I was thrashing around at the bottom and had no idea which way was up and which way was down. It didn’t matter, as I was being pummeled mercilessly and told myself not to panic or I’d start sucking in water. I suppose there are worse ways to die, but while it’s happening you are never really ready to concede no matter the aesthetic. It’s like a surprise birthday party in all the wrong ways.
There is nothing like the sensory pleasure of falling off a surfboard into the cold Southern California ocean as you tumble under the surface for what seems like an eternity and surface gasping for air. I was reborn as I violently broke the surface–blind luck and another bullet dodged in a moment of equal measure grandeur and folly. I dragged myself across the caramel-hued sand, chest heaving heavily and astonished to still be in one piece as the sky was making that brief transformation that comes every evening at twilight.
“Whats new, pussycat?” I asked, still gasping for air.
My girlfriend had brought the New York Times, a large umbrella, and a few adult beverages. She looked amazing in her bikini, and I was jealous of the sun glistening off her light-brown cocoa skin like a forbidden sanctum while my own pasty coating was sucking up skin cancer like a flophouse on future consignment. My lust was transparent. We were hanging out mere feet away from where Charlton Heston filmed the iconic scene with the Statue of Liberty in Planet of the Apes. It was well known to locals, but you had to climb a small stack of sharp, craggy boulders to enter the VIP room.
“Did you know that most “friendships” are only reciprocal 53 percent of the time?” said the girl as she emerged from stray thoughts and tugged at her top–revealing quite more than a sliver of sun-kissed cleavage.
I sat for a minute quietly thinking about my own life and the relationships that had come and gone–always cutting deceptively dark and deep. 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. Shadows of the past. Funny how that happens–one minute you’re dying, and the next…disastrous self-scrutiny.
“Looks like your favorite player was traded,” she said.
“Those damn dirty apes,” I thought. They went and did the inevitable –so how could I be shocked or angry? “They’ll love him in New York for about, oh, 15 minutes.” (Gray was 15-16 over the lower part of 2 seasons before being exiled to Cincinnati for a package of hot dog buns)
Echoes of the past rumble through my head as I gazed upon the murderous waves crashing in deadly syncopation. I loved to tempt the laws of probability as a reaffirmation of existence. I dragged the surfboard slowly to the water and the previous thoughts disappeared as suddenly as they came. I didn’t like revisiting the past– and the way the waves were looking today, perhaps I didn’t have a future either.
Although much of what I do here is the literary equivalent of digital fish wrap, I recently decided to go a different direction and did a cool and very interesting interview with Matt from Oakland A’s UK. I despise long intros, so I’ll let the interview do the talking…also, do yourself a favor and check out the link above if you get a chance! Enjoy.
1. Let’s start with the genesis of this love affair. How did you discover baseball in a football-obsessed country, and why did you choose the Oakland A’s as your favorite club?
In the late 1990s and early 2000s two MLB games per week were shown live on British TV in the early hours of the morning. As a big sports fan, I thought I would give baseball a shot and so I recorded a game and was hooked straight away, despite not having much of a clue what was going on at first. My first game was in mid-1998 so I lucked into the whole drama of the ‘Run for ‘61’ (slightly tarnished in retrospect!) that season and also quickly gained a healthy dislike of the Yankees due to them being annoyingly good in that period!
I thought it would be more fun to have a team to root for, but had no geographic or family reasons that might pick a team for me, other than not wanting to jump onto the bandwagon of the usual big-name teams. In the end, it came down to the colors. I come from a small city called Norwich and our soccer team plays in yellow and green, so when I saw the A’s green and gold caps that was as good a reason as any.
I’d say I’ve properly been following the A’s since 2005, as that was the first year when MLB.TV was really starting up and I was able to watch or listen to lots of games rather than just reading up about them online. 2005 really isn’t all that long ago, but the way MLB.TV has developed over the years since, and streaming in general, is pretty remarkable. Add on social media and wherever you are in the world you can now feel like part of the fan base. We’ve been incredibly lucky that so many A’s fans have been so welcoming towards us, both online and on visits to the Coliseum, and I think that speaks to the unique spirit that A’s fans have.
2. Considering the time change, you and your crew have to rise at ungodly hours to watch these games. How do you suffer through it?
We are 8 hours ahead of Pacific Time so day-games are our friend! A typical 12.37pm or 1.07pm start in Oakland is 8.37pm/9.07pm here in the UK, and that means most weeks there are at least 2 if not 3 games we can watch live at a convenient time.
The night-games are usually a 2.40am or 3.07am start for us. With the best will in the world, watching those live every day, combined with a full-time job and other commitments, often isn’t feasible. So we don’t tend to watch ‘working week’ night-games live and instead either just settle for watching the highlights or watch the game back ‘as live’ the following day. That’s been made easier over the past 18 months due to Covid lockdowns and the increase home-working where we can have it on in the background!
The other silver lining of the Covid period has been the wide adoption of Zoom calls as a way for us to watch games together despite living apart, in different parts of the UK and also friends out there in the States joining too. That helps to get us through late nights when the game is dragging on a bit.
3. Are you invested in the decision regarding the Oakland City Council and the A’s potentially leaving Oakland?
Definitely. We don’t come from a sporting culture of franchises and the very idea of picking up a team and moving it somewhere else is completely abhorrent to us whoever the team is, let alone the one we love. I know the A’s moved from Philadelphia and KC to get here, but the team has been in Oakland since 1968 so by now I think everyone has the right to consider the A’s as being Oakland’s team. I guess Fisher and Kaval see the Vegas flirting as standard business practice for US franchises, but it’s just the latest kick in the teeth for a fanbase that has been treated terribly for years and deserves so much better.
Clearly the Howard Terminal plan is complicated, but it feels like it has got further along the line than any other plan for a new ballpark in Oakland, so I view it all with cautious optimism. All of us in the AUK group would struggle to follow the team to a new location, especially one out of the Bay Area, so we all desperately hope that everything works out and Fisher and Kaval actually come good on their ‘Rooted In Oakland’ talk.
4. Who are your favorite players and most hated? (Any Jim Johnson hate would be appreciated)
Jim Johnson certainly is on the bad list, with Billy Butler being the other name that comes up most in our discussions of recent flops.
In terms of favorites, I think I loved everything about Coco Crisp, from his name to his batting stance, and he was a rare player who stuck around for quite a while. Cespedes was like a comet who shone with us briefly, but he felt like a star player when he was here, and one who genuinely seemed to enjoy being in Oakland.
Most recently, Marcus Semien and Liam Hendriks were players you had to love because we saw their struggles and how hard they worked to become excellent players, and again both had a lot of respect for the A’s fan base. That made the past off-season really hard, but there are always new players to emerge or existing ones to step up. Right now, my vote would be for ‘the starting rotation’! I love the way that they clearly enjoy being in each other’s company and drive each other on. Here’s hoping they can keep performing as well as they have up to this point.
Reading books is one of the few things that calms my mind for any given length of time as concentrating on a trivial concern for long moments poses some serious headaches and bones of contention. Losing yourself in a novel is a fantastic escape from everyday tedium, and I find myself getting lost in the wordplay and saucy turn of phrase by any writer with significant skills.
Despite my love of books, I had to get rid of some of the collected, messy congestion–artifacts of my bohemian demimonde past. I was sorting through some ancient boxes in a futile attempt to pare down this overflowing library when I found a dusty, dog-eared, second-hand paperback copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five with a coffee stain emblazoned on the cover. This copy also had (amongst the scribbled notes and penciled marginalia) a baseball card tucked inside and I had to take a blindsided pause.
I had dragged this “bookmark” around from mezcal-soaked Tijuana watering holes where the prostitutes would whisper “primo” in my ear in an attempt at extracting a few gringo dollars for an escort, extravagant Palm Springs hotels where I once kissed a model with a zit on her chin in a wooden jacuzzi, and a hash-smoke saturated Barcelona beach where a Muslim kid tried to steal my passport hidden away in a notebook while I was sleeping. It has ceased to be a simple piece of cardboard to be merely used, thrown away, or disregarded; now it is a dear friend full of memories with untold esoteric, rather dodgy, and borderline dangerous anecdotes to share in an era lovingly thought of as my “roaring 30’s.”
I know very little about the player on the card and have certainly never seen him play. Tommy Harper was born in Oak Grove, Louisiana, and was a central figure in the troubled and recently recognized (by the powers that be) racial history of the Red Sox. He had a dignified, but a rather unremarkable career with 8 teams. (not to be shortchanged–he did hit 31 home runs for Milwaukee in 1970, fashioning a trip to the All-Star game.) I find it rather odd that his career was plagued with a lack of playing time by reason that he was a defensive enigma: his career being metaphorically interchangeable with my own life at the time as I bounced around from place to place with no discernible or long term position in this murky, three-ring psychosis-like memoir of continued existence.
Around Fall 2001 I was moving in to a new place with my girlfriend at the time; she was 21, petite, had short red hair, a great sense of humor, loved to eat cheese and watch the X Files. We moved to a studio in a dodgy urban area, but it was ours and we loved it–we were young and still trying to understand the internal world of our hearts and minds among punk rock music, modern art, drugs and used furniture.
One night we were behind our apartment building taking out the trash when we saw a small gray and white cat running around. After chasing the little rascal around for a while, we caught it and decided to adopt him, but we couldn’t decide on a name.
“How about Bip?” I said.
Leon Joseph “Bip” Roberts hadn’t been in the league for a couple of seasons, but at the time was announcing for the local AAA Sacramento River Cats and this predicated the name. Besides, the player Bip was sort of smallish and an underdog who only hit 30 homers in his career. (One for the Oakland A’s!) The cat “Bip” was smallish and an underdog as well. The name stuck. Bip is probably gone now and the relationship is long over, as things tend to do, but the memories will always last.
No word yet as if Bip (the cat) has hit any homers in the Big Leagues.
My middle school science teacher was a die-hard Giants fan. Our class listened to the ’89 NLCS game 5 clincher against the Cubs and Mark Grace on a portable radio while she scored the game on the chalkboard. (do these specimens of archaic learning still exist? and does anyone actually score a game anymore?) I pretended to read about black holes and sun spots while my eyes glossed over, staring at absolutely nothing with a slack-jawed bovine expression, my fingers tracing the hieroglyphs gouged into the wooden desk, blackened by grime. Someone had drawn a heavy metal logo and the words fuck this class on one of the pages next to a supernova. I stared at that primal expression for quite a while. I can’t really explain why.
“Yesterday we explicitly agreed to quietly do our work as long as we could listen to the game,” she said.
We knew that this was a faulty agreement as she was going to listen to the game regardless of whether we agreed to the shoddy terms or not–and besides, some of us weren’t Giants fans. I couldn’t give a toss about the Giants or the wonders of the cosmos at that time as I was more interested in girls and boobs–and not necessarily in that order.
We had spoken about Carney Lansford a few days earlier and his time with the Red Sox. Her boyfriend was a “Southie” from Boston; a second-generation working-class, red-haired Irish Mick from a long line of drunks, thieves, and lowlifes. He had escaped the sludge and went to some long-forgotten East Coast university, and he and his stoner buddies would go to Fenway Park on weekends where they had acquired an affinity for Lansford. Of course, she thought all of this was cute and clever and was terribly pleased by it.
“No offense Mrs. Carpenter, but besides Will Clark, your team just isn’t very likable.Rick Reuschel looks like a fat, middle-aged divorced dad and Scott Garrelts looks like a skinny, nose-picking dork.”
It was true. Both starting pitchers looked like the antithesis of an athlete but resembled the perfect working-class early 20th-century farm boy/sandlot/baseball player. Some fans–probably the nerdy, isolationist type–can get behind that “average joe” persona and root for them passionately, but in the era of super athletes like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders, I would always inexplicably choose the latter over the former.
“Let us not forget that your friend Carney Lansford looks like an accountant,” she said as she swallowed what was supposed to look like aspirin to the general viewer. A few classmates had theorized that she popped Vicodin on occasion because of her seemingly more “relaxed” state as the day wore on. This wasn’t a great choice as it ultimately led to bouts of throwing up in the garbage can.