Ballpark attendance isn’t one of the pressing issues of our times. Yet, as a fan who has always watched the numbers — I think the last time the Chicago Cubs drew less than 1 million fans, which used to be some kind of yardstick of, well, something, was 1966, and it made an impression — the story of Major League Baseball in Oakland is perversely fascinating. I won’t go into all the reasons right now the home team, the Athletics, are such a lousy draw. But a lousy draw they are. Tuesday night games are especially lightly attended, and given recent trends, I figured that maybe 5,000 people would show up for the unmesmerizing non-spectacle of the A’s playing the recently very dreadful Baltimore Orioles. But my expectations had been set a little too high. The reported attendance was 3,748, perhaps the smallest crowd I’ve been a part of in more than 40 years of attending games at the Coliseum. Those who made it to the ballpark did get to spread out and enjoy a beautiful evening, pictured above, and see the home team win, if that’s what they were hoping for.
In just 10 hours or so, the A’s and Tigers will be back on the field, this time in Detroit, to continue their playoff series. It hardly seems possible, because Saturday night’s game in Oakland, the game the A’s won 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth, barely seems over. The epic tension of the game, the pitching, the crazy enthusiasm of the crowd (yeah, the Coliseum looks great with those third-deck tarps taken off and all those seats filled with fans), and the A’s finally breaking through to get a run home. Anyway, that’s all I’m going to say on the matter for now. Here’s Kate’s scorecard for Game 2–Tigers up above, A’s below (click the pages for bigger images).
I have come to that time of life–or maybe it’s a passing phase–where I really like the apparent extra hour of sleep you get when you turn the clocks back in the autumn. Those sixty extra minutes in bed seem like forever, the luxury coming when you finally climb out of the sack and it’s still kind of early (or at least not noon). The business of turning the clock ahead and “losing” that time–gee, whoever said the forty-seven-hour weekend was a good idea. Yeah, I know it all balances out, and that an hour is an hour, and that the seasonal turning of clocks ahead and back doesn’t add a single minute to our time on Earth, and it doesn’t take a single minute away. (The foregoing rumination is probably triggered by the feeling that, man, do I have a hard time getting the prescribed x number of hours of sleep that researchers say I need to be a healthy, happy, organism.)
Here’s another sign of the turning of the seasons: baseball. Last year, we got kind of involved with the A’s again after years of distance born partly the team’s indifferent performance on the field and partly from disgust with an owner who seemed to be doing everything possible to alienate the team’s fans in advance of moving the team to somewhere else. But last year was really fun. The team dragged along below .500 for the first couple of months of the season, and then with a bunch of rookie pitchers and an unbelievable run of clutching hitting, they started winning and didn’t stop until they ran into the Tigers in the playoffs.
Our enthusiasm was such that we sprung for partial season tickets this year. The team sent them this week. When you buy tickets that way, you generally get a specially printed batch that features pictures of the team’s stars. We got those this year, packaged in a little bit of extra swag–a very cool A’s lunch box. We’re ready for opening day.
It’s been years since I paid more than passing attention to baseball, but it happened again this summer. It was a purely selfish thing: the teams that I had followed most avidly, the Cubs and the Athletics, had become perennial disappointments. In the case of the Cubs, they’re deserving objects of ridicule and a model of how weirdly wrong a franchise can go: since they play in a “destination” ballpark, the home nine’s wretched performance on the field has no bearing on the organization’s ability to pack the stands game in and game out.
The A’s case is different. Heck, there’s a book and movie out there that explains the general manager’s technique of finding undervalued talent, and he is well known for putting together a roster of kids and cast-offs who win more games than anyone would expect. A less celebrated side of the A’s way of doing baseball is that very few players get to stick around long enough for the fans to get attached to them. Do the A’s have a standout first baseman or shortstop or pitcher? You know that when they’re eligible for free agency, they’ll be gone. So the cast of characters change and change and change, and while the teams the A’s have fielded the past few seasons may have made some sort of economic sense–at least from the standpoint of an owner who wants to take the team to a new city and seems utterly uninterested in investing a dime, or more than a dime–the results have been a little dispiriting for the casual fan and unlikely to win any new converts.
The A’s ballpark, the Oakland Coliseum, has become the opposite of a baseball shrine. The limitations of a multi-purpose stadium were built into the place, but it had its graceful points if you were willing to see them. The park featured a beautiful view to the Oakland Hills to the east (though yes, right in the center of the vista was a working rock quarry). Back in the ’90s, the city and county made a deal to get the Raiders to come back, and part of the deal was to remodel the stadium. The result was a grossly ill-proportioned concrete monstrosity that bans the view of anything that might soothe the eye. So, regular outings to the Coliseum is a hard sell to anyone who’s not already a convinced follower of the local teams.
This season? Well, this season was certainly different. The A’s, with the usual collection of odd parts, played their first 61 games in the expected fashion. On June 10, the team was 26-35. From that point on, they won more games than any team in the major leagues, going 68-33. Wow, was that fun to see. And so by August–did I hear someone say, “Fair-weather fan”?–I started going out to see what was happening out at the Coliseum.
That’s all by way of saying that an NPR sports show, “Only A Game,” was looking for a story on Bay Area postseason baseball (the Giants are in the playoffs, too, if anyone is wondering). The story will air tomorrow (
I’ll put up a link when I see one audio is embedded below). And just for the exercise of showing what a radio script looks like, I’m including that below (including the speculative host intro). Here it is:
Major League Baseball’s post-season continues this weekend … with the San Francisco Giants returning home to play the St. Louis Cardinals tomorrow in their National League Championship Series. The Giants go into Game Six against the defending champions … hoping to get back to the World Series … and reclaim the crown they won two years ago.
Across the Bay from the Giants’ sparkling ballpark … another team made the playoffs this year. Dan Brekke of NPR member station KQED reports on the surprising Oakland Athletics … a franchise that battles the best in the American League … and sometimes its own fans.
Back in early June … this is the last thing an A’s fan would have expected to hear … as the year wound down.
Ambi 1/Glen Kuiper game call:
Swing and a miss! He struck him out! And the Oakland Athletics are going to the postseason! Un-be-lievable!:10
The A’s turned a mediocre spring into a summer of conquest. Their roster of unknowns, re-treads, and rookies ended the regular season by sweeping past the Texas Rangers to steal the American League West Division title.
And then … on to the playoffs.
Ambi: Let’s go Oakland chanting.
(Play two or three reps, then end abruptly)
But … before we continue with that feel-good story, a word about Oakland, the A’s … and Bay Area baseball.
The A’s owner … developer Lew Wolff … is determined to take the team to San Jose … build a new stadium … and sell luxury boxes to the Silicon Valley super-rich.
So … a lot of A’s fans aren’t crazy about Lew Wolff. There’s little love lost for the Giants, either, who seem to have everything the Athletics don’t: a beautiful waterfront stadium, a sell-out every game, and money to go out and buy top-level talent.
Something else the Giants have: the territorial rights to Wolff’s coveted new home in San Jose. So far, they’ve blocked the move.
So for now … Oakland fans and Wolff are stuck with each other … in a historic but hideously remodeled ballpark … that ranks near the bottom of the major leagues in attendance.
Ambi 2 or 3:
Let’s go Oakland ambi(in clear for two or three reps, then under)
But all that seemed to change … as the A’s made the playoffs … and came home to play the Detroit Tigers on October 9th.
The Oakland Coliseum was packed … and loud
Ambi 4: Crowd roar
But even then … lots of customers were unhappy with management. With fans begging for tickets … the team left 10-thousand upper-deck seats covered with tarps … and off-limits.The A’s explained they wanted to maintain an “intimate” feeling at the game. For fans … it was just another sign that the organization doesn’t care about them.
Cut 1: “Brad from Santa Cruz”
They probably wouldn’t sell it out and it would look weird. But I agree, that’s a pretty lame reason [… internal edit …]Let’s let the people watch some baseball, know what I mean? :08
Cut 2: “Essence Harden”
EH: It’s completely insane.[…internal edit …]. I understand that during the normal season there might not be enough to fill up those seats. But this game sold out almost immediately, and the idea of having those tarps on there still is completely horrible to the tons and tons of A’s fans that would love to have seats right now.
DB: And why do you think they didn’t open it?
EH: I think Lew Wolff hates us so much. I don’t know why. :20
A’s management did relent … announcing it would open the upper-deck seats … for the league championship and World Series.
That was before the A’s ran into Justin Verlander in the deciding game of their divisional series match-up with the Tigers. He pitched a shutout … and it turned out the tarps could stay on all winter. Some fans complained Wolff had jinxed the team … by finally agreeing to open the upper deck.
But the fans … and the surprising team they had come out to cheer … had a final moment together.
As the Tigers celebrated on the infield … the Coliseum crowd gave the Athletics one last ovation.
Ambi 5: Out on “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” ambi? (Not sure the song pops enough).
For Only A Game, I’m Dan Brekke in San Francisco.
First of October, last day of the baseball season. Not really the last last day — two rounds of playoffs and a non-global World Series are still to come. But in reality and emotionally for most teams and most fans, Sunday was it. It’s a great occasion for musing on the changes of season and of life. Let’s skip that; Roger Angell and by now about fifty-one other diamond prose slingers have been there and done that. Besides, I went to just one game all year (the A’s cuffed the upstart Tigers). But I’ll indulge in a couple of pictures that come to mind:
–Fan Appreciation Day, Oakland Coliseum, 1983 or ’84 or ’85: The last Saturday of the season. I went with Kate. We sat in the second of the three decks on the third-base side. I don’t remember who the A’s played or what the outcome was. But the park had that look it only gets at the tail end of the year, the afternoon light coming in at an odd low angle. It being Oakland, the game was sparsely attended, as it should have been, the A’s having descended into a stretch of mediocre years. What I remember, though: Seagulls, crowds of them, all over the field and the stands long before the game was over.
–Last day of the season, Oakland Coliseum, 1986: Kate and I were going to go to the last game of the year with out friends Robin and Jim, who were and are the most faithful A’s fans we’ve ever known. Something came up that I thought I had to do, so Kate went with them to the game; I was going to drive down whenever my work, whatever it was, was done. I had the game on from time to time, and realized as it progressed that the A’s pitcher, Curt Young, had not given up a hit. Around the sixth inning, I left for the game, now aware that Young was pitching a perfect game. Now I started to worry: I had waited so long to go to the game that now I was going to miss a piece of baseball history. While I was on the freeway, the game went into the 7th. Young got one out, then two; he had retired the first 20 batters in a row. I’d be in time to see the end of it; the 21st batter came up (by looking it up, I know it was Kevin Seitzer and the game was against the Kansas City Royals). He hit an infield grounder and beat the throw to first for a hit. I was simultaneously crushed and relieved; too bad about the perfect game, bu at least now I hadn’t missed one (Seitzer turned out to be the only base runner Young allowed that day). I got to my seat in the top of the 8th.
Enough of the glory of my times. One team I follow, the A’s, is going to the playoffs; they’re playing the Minnesota Twins, a team they’ve had real problems with the last four or five years, so I don’t have big hopes.
My other team is the Cubs. That’s a legacy of having grown up in the Chicago area, having gone to my first game at their park and maturing as a fan, if that’s what fans do, just at the time their good late ’60s team came along. That’s ancient history, though, and by now I don’t have a single atom of sentimentality left for them. They’re just a bad team, no more cute or colorful or loveable or worthy of some special loyalty than, say, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. They’re so bad, they even fail to excel in failure. They did manage to lose 96 games this year, more than any other team in their league. But the mark of a colossally bad team is to lose 100 games; the Royals and Devil Rays managed to achieve that, but the Cubs fell short.
The horror show the Cubs put on has no apparent effect on fans’ willingness to pay to watch. The team drew a full house Sunday, as they did nearly every game. More than 3 million people attended their games this year. The explanation has got to be that the score doesn’t matter any more; the old park, the red brick, the ivy on the walls, the big centerfield scoreboard, the Old Style and franks and Frosty Malts, have become a draw in themselves.
Maybe It’s a little like visiting the U.S. Capitol or the White House. The scoundrels and miscreants in residence today matter less than having an idea what the places were built for and knowing that once, they were home to a Jefferson or a Lincoln or an FDR. Still, I think I liked baseball better when people just stopped coming out to the park when the team stunk. Tickets were easier. And that autumn light, a sparse crowd and a big flock of seagulls seem like the perfect sendoff for a failed season.
One more Bill King story. A friend writes:
My all-time Bill King story was from last summer on a slow day while the team was in Kansas City. (Are there ever any “fast” days there?). The Royals brought out an obscure relief pitcher named Burgos. Bill King’s comment was “Well, he may be the only Burgos in baseball…the only Burgos I recall was Raphael Frübeck de Burgos, a Spanish conductor who used to appear frequently with orchestras around the country.”
Not likely to hear a comment like that from Ken Korach, as much as we like him.
Listening to the A’s game tonight (they lost, and having lost three out of four they’re close to officially cooled off from their long, long run). Sammy Sosa was up for the Orioles, and announcer Ken Korach observed that with the Cubs last year, he was 2 for 9 against the A’s. Then he said to Bill King, who’s been doing the A’s games since 1981 (before that, he did Oakland Raiders and Golden State Warriors games, and was the best play-by-play announcer I’ve ever heard in both football and basketball; he started as a broadcaster in Pekin, Illinois, in the late ’40s, one-time home of the Chinks (the nickname of the Pekin High teams) and late Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen. …)
How easily I digress.
Then Korach said to King, speaking of the A’s interleague series against the Cubs last year, “But you wouldn’t remember that, Bill.” King hates interleague play, period. He said something like, “No, no I wouldn’t. They play those games and then they go into the dustbin of history.” Korach: “Dustbin of history — I like that.” I was thinking, how many baseball announcers out there are quoting — who? Marx? no, Trotsky — and how many people are making the connection? I’ll bet, but do nothing to back up my wager, which will involve neither doughnuts nor dollars that King knows just where the phrase comes from.
And that concludes this broadcasting day.
A couple years ago I told my colleague (and San Francisco Giants fan) Endo that a perfect day for me as a baseball fan would go like this: A’s win, Cubs win, Giants lose. Yeah, that’s the bitterly unhappy level to which my rooting interest in baseball has fallen: I take what passes for glee when a team loses (for now at least I won’t go into the twisted psychohistory behind my dark feelings for the San Francisco nine).
Given my leanings, this week has been special: The A’s started it on an epic roll. The aspiring-to-mediocrity Cubs entertained the mediocrity-would-be-an-improvement Giants for three games at the cute little loser’s paradise at Clark and Addison. The results for the first part of the week: Ecstasy. Agony. Ecstasy again. (Translation: On Monday, the A’s won and the Cubs beat the Giants — which is actually a little spite bonus on my definition of perfection; on Tuesday, the results were reversed; on Wednesday, they swung back the other way).
Now the Giants have left Chicago, and their losses will bring only a normal helping of sour satisfaction (though the way the Giants’ division is going, they could win it if they can get back to .500). The Cubs — well, they’ll dance around the .500 mark for the rest of the season and pack the house all the way to the end; neither wins nor losses will surprise or disappoint much; only three years till the centennial of their last World Series championship — it would be a shame to wipe out that streak before it hits 100. And the A’s: Hey, they’re actually fun to follow, especially after their horrible start this year, and anything they can do from here on in will be both pleasing and surprising.
The Infospigot household, plus special guest (and friend of Thom) Jane, took in the Oakland Athletics home opener tonight. The final score found the hometown nine at a steep deficit to the visiting Toronto Blue Jays, a result that left the 44,000 witnesses chilled and uncharmed. (Just a second and I’ll be done with what I believe is a bad Roger Angell impression.) But the team has 80 more home games to play, so hope abounds.
I’ll say this, though: Everything was close to OK before the umpire went and wrecked things by saying “play ball.”
The A’s stadium, which now goes by the name of McAfee Coliseum or something like that, is impersonally massive since its reconstruction a few years ago to accommodate the East Bay’s professional football team. The main charm the big concrete bowl had before the remodeling was a view over the top of the outfield bleachers to the Oakland Hills. There’s still just a sliver of that vista visible from the cheap third-deck seats (ours came with an unadvertised obstructed view), and the evening sunlight on the ridge — even with a hillside stripped by a gravel quarry — is always striking. Just before the anthems were played — Canadian first, then ours — I noticed a couple of big birds soaring just over the rim of the stadium to our left. I thought they were turkey vultures at first silhouetted glance — an addition to the pigeons, California gulls, and barn swallows that claim the Coliseum as home roost — but as we kept looking, we realized they were red-tailed hawks. Both swayed and wheeled around a light tower on the third-base side of the stadium, and both eventually settled onto the white-painted grating of a workers’ platform at the base of the lights.
Then the anthems. Even though a Canadian guy I met in Ireland in 1973 pointed out that “O Canada” is a militarist hymn (“Listen to what they’re saying — ‘O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.’ On guard!”), I’ve always liked it, and Kate and I sang the few words we knew. Then a singer started into “The Star-Spangled Banner,” a performance punctuated by loud fireworks. We sang along to that, too, despite my dislike of the current manifestation of our flag and patriotism cult.
But while we sang, both Kate and I kept scanning the sky around the stadium. Roy Steele, the public address announcer, alerted the crowd to expect a flyover from a pair of FA-18 jets from Lemoore Naval Air Station in the Central Valley (here’s a question: How much do those flyovers cost, and who pays?) when the anthem was done. Somewhere in the song’s last few bars, Kate said, “There they are.” And off to the southeast, a couple of tiny shapes trailing smoke headed for the rim of the stadium opposite us — heading straight for us, in other words. I said, “Stay way up there, you two.” There was just a dull roar till they climbed into the west behind us, then we were engulfed in a prolonged peal of thunder. I love seeing the big, fast planes. Too bad we can’t put them on permanent amusement duty.
Then the game started, and things went downhill from there. At least until the postgame scrambled eggs back here in Berkeley.