Monday, April 1, 2013

April 1- Oakland Athletics

Only one time in my 27 years of being a baseball fan have I ever been present for an Opening Day; April 4, 2000 when the Bakersfield Blaze had their season opener at Sam Lynn Ballpark. I want to say they were playing the Lake Elsinore Storm, but I can’t confirm that. I only remember a few details as the game took place 13 years ago, but I was the bat boy for that game.  On Monday, April 1 I was lucky enough to catch my first MLB Opening Day with two of my really good friends Tommy Bentley (@RealTomBentley) and Vanessa Demske (@vdemske), both of whom I met through our experience with the MLB Fan Cave. I had been meaning to get down to Oakland for years to catch Opening Day at the Coliseum, but school and other schedule conflicts always got in the way. This year, having graduated from the University of Oregon, I didn’t have an excuse.

I’ve been an Oakland Athletics fan for sure since May of 1987. My father and brother Adam are both San Francisco Giants fans; however, the first game I ever attended live came on May 23rd when the A’s took on the Baltimore Orioles. I had only been really paying attention to baseball since October of the previous year, so I was still a bit hazy on the rules and what exactly was going on throughout the game. None of my questions seemed to bother my father. Like a lot of dads, as long as the kid has a vested interest in what’s going on, the questions won’t matter. It’s when the kids keep jibber jabbering about all the additions that have nothing to do with the game that cause problems. Every year my father did his best to get us to at least one MLB game a season, which unfortunately meant way more Giants games. No matter. I always had a great time going to Candlestick, except when the fog rolled in at the end of the night. Being cold as a kid sucked. That was, and is, still a consistent difference about the Coliseum; the sun is always shining.

I’ve had this hat since 2007, but I can’t, for the life of me, remember what day I picked it up. I do know that it was some time after my 24th birthday. This hat was first introduced at the start of the 1993 season and has served as the A’s home cap ever since. Now, you’re probably thinking that the A’s have been using this color scheme and cap for much longer. Yes and no. The color scheme, dark green panels with gold bill, first came around in 1973 to compliment one of three uniform styles the A’s wore at home; however, as the years progressed through 1993 the “A’s” logo took on different shapes and styles. Therefore, the particular look for the logo has been in use for the last 20 years, and this year it its 20th birthday. Yay!

Last night was an especially great night despite the fact the Seattle Mariners won 2-0. This marks nine years in a row that the A’s have lost their season opener at home, and based on last year, I’m not too worried. The day started with a ritualistic run to In-N-Out Burger

1. Because we were hungry.

2. Because Tommy is from the Seattle area and hadn’t enjoyed its deliciousness in a number of years.

Then it was off to a convenience store so I could grab my 40 ounce bottle of Mickey’s Fine Malt Liquor which has somehow become a part of my pre-game routine. At the tail end of the 2012 season, including the playoffs, the parking lot over by the Coliseum Bay Area Rapid Transit station didn’t charge for parking, and it served as kind of a secret spot to be able to just park and walk over without worry. This year: $10. I felt pretty bad for suggesting that idea. How was I supposed to know they started charging?

The pre-game action stared in section A4 of the parking lot on the north side of the Coliseum. Van was all ready acquainted with a lot of the right field crew after they met at the World Baseball Classic at AT&T Park, but Tommy hadn’t. And if Tommy was to sit with us in right field, I had to get him on everybody’s good side. It really didn’t take long. Even though almost all A’s fans are Oakland Raiders fans as well, the whole violent stigma that has followed over the years is merely a myth. They’re all good people. After polishing off my Mickey’s we headed to the B lot to meet up with some other friends including Jessica Kleinschmidt (@RedBottomCleats), Wes Crisp (@RFWes), Hailee Miguel (@Hailee_miguel) and Justin Lopez (@GearsOfLopez) who had won tickets from A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson for creating the best sign for the game. After some chatter and photos we headed over to the south side entrance so we could get into section 149 without any problems.

Since the bleacher tickers are general admission trying to get into section 149 has become a bit of a problem after the intense popularity the regular crew stirred up. Even the season ticket holders have to pull rank at times as they’ve clearly been there for years when most people wouldn’t give the A’s the time of day; something I really admire about everyone. The A’s were just finishing up their batting practice session as the Mariners pitchers were taking the field for warm-up. Tommy had met a number of the Mariners players during Fan Fest back in January, as well as during his Top-52 campaign in which he received full support from the Mariners; it’s still a mystery why he didn’t move on. Equipped with his King Felix crown and cape, Tommy shuffled down to the front and hailed to some of the pitchers. Most of them waved and said hey to him, Charlie Furbush, of all people, spotted me and gave me the total bro full-extension finger point hello… which I of course returned. We have a history…

Batting practice for the Mariners was rather entertaining. Michael Morse, one of my favorite players in the league, was hitting absolute bombs during his session. One of which was crushed to dead center and off the grim trim about 25 feet above the wall and could have easily kept going had it not been in the way.

But overall, it was great to be back in the Coliseum. Things of course didn’t end so well the last time I was there as the A’s had unfortunately lost Game five of the American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers, but none of that really seemed to matter as the Tigers celebrated their victory. All of the fans rose to their feet and gave the A’s a standing ovation for all the hard work and dedication they had displayed throughout the 2012 season. That night was the only time I had ever cried when leaving a sporting event. I, and especially my friends, didn’t want the magic to end. Not for our sake, but because last year’s team had been so valiant. Critics and baseball fans alike had counted the A’s out of contention well before the season had started, but none of that seemed to get to the players.

Back on July 18 the A’s invited me to throw out the ceremonial first pitch, something I longed to do since I was a kid. Granted, my desire had always been to take the field for the A’s as a starting second baseman, but my life took a different path after I took a fastball to the nose when I was 16. Regardless of that, I was more than honored to be asked to partake in such a prestigious event in the stadium, and for the team I fell in love with almost 26 years ago. Leading up to that night Josh Reddick had hit me up on Twitter and volunteered to catch for me, a more than kind gesture in response to the All-Star campaign video I had created for him during my time in the Fan Cave:
A lot of my friends on Twitter had been asking me what pitch I was going to throw in the days leading up, and when the idea of a Chad Bradford submarine pitch came into the discussion I knew that was the right thing to do. The day before I practiced for a solid hour, trying to get it locked in. When I was younger I could throw submarine without much issue, but the years without practice had clearly set me back quite a bit. When the moment came, things took a different direction.

I was actually the second person who was going to be throwing out the first pitch. A woman, whose name escapes me, was the first to go. I remember hearing that she was a local Emmy Award-winning news broadcaster, but everything else is lost. She was way more nervous than I was, mostly because she would be throwing to Reddick, her favorite player. She asked me if I wouldn’t mind warming up with her, I obliged needing the practice myself. What I wasn’t expecting was having to do three interviews with a few people on the field before my throw; thus, I wasn’t able to get loose. Jonny Gomes, who I had become acquainted with a few weeks prior in Seattle, came over and chatted it up with me while the first lady took the mound. We both watched in awe as she threw a laser right down Broadway into Reddick’s glove. Gomes then turned to me, nudged my arm and said, “Well… don’t fuck it up.”

Gomes’s words resonated through my head as I took to the mound, making sure to jump over the chalked third baseline on my way (I’m very superstitious). I wasn’t allowed to throw until they finished with my introduction, which was long, but rather touching. BY the time it was time to throw, my mind was firing in all different directions and I just tossed the ball to the plate with little-to-no form. Had there been a right-handed batter in the box, I would have hit them in the thigh. Thus, it was a little outside, but I didn’t throw it over or bounce it. I was relieved. Reddick then popped up to shake my hand and the first words that came out of his mouth were, “I thought you were going to throw submarine.”

I’ve always made sure to wear this hat to any home games I attend, in keeping with the A’s uniform style. For that, I marked it up with the two guys who influenced me the most throughout my 26 years of going to the Coliseum to cheer on my team.

#25- Mark McGwire is still, hands down, my favorite player of all time. During that fateful first game back in 1987 I witnessed him hit his 14th home run on the season off of Mike Boddicker which ended up being one of his record 49 that season as a rookie. That season McGwire also finished with a .289 batting average and 118 RBI, yet he only managed to pull the Rookie of the Year award and finish in sixth place for the AL MVP. Finish in second or third place I could understand as George Bell of the Toronto Blue Jays had won the MVP that year with a .308 average, 47 home runs and 134 RBI. But sixth!? C’mon! It seemed like every game I attended at the Coliseum it was Big Mac’s moment to shine. I think I witnessed 15 of his 583 career home runs at the Coliseum, all of which look all the more magnificent with the Oakland Hills in the backdrop. I never say him play after construction of Mt. Davis, which was probably for the better.

McGwire was the 10th overall pick in the 1984 draft out of USC (as an Oregon grad I really hate USC). He made his debut in 1986, but obviously made his rookie campaign in 1987, as I mentioned above. McGwire’s Major League career with the A’s lasted from 1986- the trade deadline of the 1997 season, which still leaves a bit of sour taste in my mouth especially since he made the AL All-Star team that year. McGwire made nine All-Star Game appearances throughout his Oakland career, won two Silver Slugger awards and won his only Gold Glove of his career at first base in 1990.

No matter what transpired during or after his career, I honestly don’t care. While I know I preach a lot about the purity of the game, the performance enhancing drug discussion is usually one I tend to remove myself from. After all, as a lot of writers and comedians have discussed, “Wouldn’t you take something that you knew would help you make more money?” McGwire was a hero in Oakland to a lot of kids, even with his one World Series ring aside. And that’s all that truly matters.

#16- In my younger years I was a big Jason Giambi fan; however, I never actually witnessed Giambi play in person. I felt I needed to point this out before I start my praise of the man, the myth, the beard.

Reddick is by far one of the coolest guys I ever had the opportunity of meeting last season. He and I first became acquainted while I was in the Fan Cave and I had hit him up on Twitter to let him know I was going to make a video on him. I then (awkwardly) asked him to follow me so I could bounce ideas off of him. He didn’t. Thanks to the trusty internet and the New York Oakland A’s Fan Club we were able to pull our resources and knowledge together to put together one of the best videos I’ve ever created. Once I got it finished and out on the interwebs Reddick approved. Not only that, but Jim Ross, the former voice and talent scout for World Wrestling Entertainment also passed it along.

Last season Reddick hit .242 in his first full season; however, he cranked out 32 homers and 85 RBI, both of which were tops for the A’s. He also had 14 outfield assists, which were tied for second best in the AL. This was one thing that I made sure to tout about in the video I created because most All-Star votes are usually based on offensive prowess. Reddick is the prime definition of a five-tool player. Because of his cannon I was inspired to create a logo and hashtag which I dubbed: #DontRunOnReddick. There is a fair chance you saw these after my video was published…

Clearly without his help, and without his talent, these wouldn’t have been possible. Like Travis Blackley and Gomes, Reddick didn’t have to do any of the things he did, but that, in my eyes, is what takes him from being just a ball player to a superstar. He’s a fan favorite throughout the league, and he’s very social with fans on Twitter and throughout the Oakland community. As for the beard…


Even more, this shot captured by Root Sports at the end of yesterday’s game.

No comments:

Post a Comment