Sunday, March 20, 2011

Oakland = Great Baseball Town

I'd never seen anything like it at a baseball game before.

It was a Friday night game vs. the Angels on Oct. 1, 2004 -- the first of the final three-game series of the season. The A's and Angels had identical 90-69 records in the AL West race. The next three games would decide the season.

This was before tarps covered the third deck, so the Oakland Coliseum was packed with a sellout crowd numbering 47,081. The left-field bleachers were jammed with fired-up A's fans who were not only standing and cheering, they were jumping up and down in unison and chanting "Let's go, Oak-land!"

Here's the best part: The game wouldn't even begin for another 30 minutes.

The electricity at the historic old ballyard was palpable. I had never before witnessed that kind of fan intensity at any game, in any city.

'And they question Oakland as a baseball town,' I said to myself.

What happened next could be taken as a metaphor for the current state of the A's franchise. Mark Mulder, pitching on a bad leg that had torpedoed his stats in the season's second-half, got roughed up by the Angels, and the A's lost the game 10-0. The next day, the bullpen wasted a strong Barry Zito performance and blew an 8th-inning lead. Season over.

Some questioned the decision by then-manager Ken Macha (or was it Billy Beane?) to start the clearly injured Mulder when they had a kid named Joe Blanton ready to go. (Blanton also pitched poorly in relief, but he might have fared better as a starter rather than the unfamiliar role of a reliever.)

Either way, did a franchise known for overachieving on its front-office smarts blow its season on a bad choice made by the front office? Maybe so. We'll never know for sure.

Here's what we do know: Oakland is a great baseball town. See, all throughout the 2004 season, A's owner Steve Schott -- as he did each year since becoming owner in 1995 -- constantly told the press he wanted to move the A's out of Oakland. A lot of fan bases would have revolted and stopped showing up at the ballpark altogether after taking a decade of Schott's verbal abuse. Not Oakland. Instead, the A's drew 2.2 million fans in 2004 and they outdrew some big markets with new stadiums -- impressive considering the deeply flawed A's ownership since '95.

Anyone who had been there on that warm night would not have been surprised. The Oakland fans showed pure-and-concentrated baseball passion, like they do just about every night. It's amazing what kind of electric scene Oakland fans create when they're given just the slightest reason to get excited and the smallest nod of respect.

A's fans are excited about the prospects of a Victory Court ballpark on the Oakland waterfront. They're just waiting for an owner who will show them a hint of the loyalty they've been giving the A's for more than four decades.

Opening night this year is coming soon, on April 1 -- exactly six years and six months since that Mulder game. The kind of fun fan intensity I'm talking about here will be on full display. See you there.

Let's go, Oakland.

No comments:

Post a Comment