Day one: How did I get here?
Welcome to the Coliseum. My first time, so I thought I’d go early andtake it all in. On a normal day, that might have meant indulging in theatmosphere, wandering through the crowds, haggling with scalpers for aticket… but today’s game was an exhibition, so nobody much botheredto show up, let alone show up early.
Which is bizarre to me, since we haven’t had a chance to see the A’splay in Oakland for several months, and all the stars are in town readyto enoy one of their final tune-ups of the year.
Added to which, good seats are easy to get (I paid $30, but I wasseated RIGHT behind home plate - barely 50 feet from where the actionhappens), the weather had turned from rain into beautiful sun, andopening day was sold out. Why wouldn’t you turn up to a day like that?
Anyways, the Coliseum is huge, and though it’s clear when you’resitting there that you’re in a football stadium, the new tarps on theupper deck really give the place a baseball atmosphere. The remindersof A’s history are writ large - The World Series winning years arethere, as are the retired numbers of Rollie Fingers, Catfish Hunter,Reggie Jackson and Dennis Eckersly, and as you’re rolling up to theballpark, the stylized ‘Athletics’ can be seen for miles.
Some complain that the closing of the upper deck took their favoritespot away and that it’s just a money grab designed to make ticketsscarce, and thus worth more. I call bullshit on that - the crowd ismore intimate, the seats more filled, and you can still get tickets foras little as $10 in the bleachers, and other seats that used to cost$18 are now just $14. There are few places you can enjoy the MajorLeague experience for that price, period.
My first stop was the A’s store - of course - and as I looked over theshirts (very cool to see ‘Thomas’ on the back of a stack of A’sshirts), I wondered which one I should buy. My first inclination was toget a Zito shirt, but just as I was looking for an XL, a guy wearing aJT Snow Giants shirt walked past the window and it dawned on me… Idon’t wanna be THAT guy.
You know the type, the guy that has a name on his back that plays forsomeone else. They guy wearing the ‘Hudson’ Oakland shirt or the‘Nomar’ Red Sox jersey. Heck, I’m sure someone, somewhere, has aTerrence Long Athletics jersey in the back of their closet.
And let’s face it, Zito will be either a free agent in 2007, or he’llbe playing for someone who could pay him what he’s worth. I can’t seehim sticking around in Oakland, so I went with #40 - Rich Harden. Who,now that I think of it, should have been my first choice, being as he’sa British Columbia guy and all, and played for the Vancouver Canadians at one point.
I walked out to my seat, and bam, the explosion hit me. If you’ve neverwalked into a major league ballpark, you’ve not experienced theexplosion. It’s what happens when you walk through the cold, darktunnels of the concourse, then walk up a couple of stairs, and BAM,you’re hit with the green, green grass, the picture perfect dirt of thediamond, and the sheer enormity of a big, beautiful ballpark.
The Coliseum has less bam than, say, Wrigley Field or Safeco Field, butthere’s definite bammage. And that bammage increases by a factor of tenwhen Frank Thomas walks by you in an A’s shirt.
Thegame didn’t start as it should have, with Esteban Loaiza giving up asolo dinger to right in the 1st inning, which caused several jerkyGiants fans in front of me to start jumping up and down, high-fiving,and turning to taunt the A’s fans, most of which just looked at themlike they had two heads. They didn’t have much to celebrate after thatpoint, however, as Giants phenom (that means he’s less than 32 yearsold) Matt Cain got lit up by the A’s offense.
CF Mark Kotsay drew a four-pitch walk to open things up, which broughtformer Vancouver Canadian Nick Swisher to the plate, and Swish did notkeep the home fans waiting, cranking a long bomb out of the park withmuch style and much strength. Maybe it’s just me, but Swisher lookslike he bulked a little in the off-season, which hasn’t slowed hisconversational abilities any.
Bobby Crosby followed that with a double down the 3rd base line, whichbrought up Eric Chavez. And Chah-vez cuh-ranked. A’s up 4-1.
The Giants offense didn’t get through the line-up until the 3rd inning,with the normally strike-happy Loaiza seemingly content with flyballsand pop flies. At the other end, Cain was notching up K’s at a fastrate, but any Giant fan that would be relishing in that was missing avery important point; The reason cain was getting K’s was because hewas hanging fastballs out over the plate. That’s fine if the hittermisses, but if he doesn’t, you get what Frank Thomas got in the 4thinning, where the ball was simply tattooed into left field and kept ongoing until it hit seats.
Loaiza, meanwhile, was working his way though a strong outing. Pop,fly, pop, pop, fly, grounder, fly, grounder, fly, fly, fly, fly… ifnot for his opening K on Randy Winn, you’d think Loaiza was throwingsoftballs. And, in fact, a lot of the time he was. 72mph pitches, 76mphpitches, the occasional high 80’s drifter, nothing looked unhittable,yet very little was hit.
Cain, meanwhile, was racking up K’s as Oakland hitters smalled bloodenough to swing away rather than look for the walk. Cain will be a goodpitcher if he can get something to go ‘unstraight’ once in a while. Butif he’s at all reliant on his bullpen, he’s going to be in trouble.
Jeff Fassero, who is older than the Golden Gate Bridge, gave up a 4-0walk to Crosby, then a run scoring double to Chavez, then a run scoringsingle up the middle to Bobby Kilety, who never looked comfortable atthe plate all day. After the game, A’s coach Ken Macha would announceKielty was going to Triple A for a week to allow Oakland to carry anextra pitcher in case of predicted rain, but if what I saw of Kieltyhas been carrying through the spring, he looks like he’s in a terriblefunk right now, and may well be in the minors for longer than heexpects.
Loaiza got himself out of a 2-on, 1-out situation in the 6th, and infact looked so good that even when he was taken out to give CaptainKirk Saarloos a run, he threw another 25 or so pitches in the bullpenjust to get a good workout.
The bottom of the 7th, for A’s fans, was great fun. A double for Kotsayto the right center field wall, a double down the 1st base line forSwisher driving in a run, a double past Bonds to the center left fieldwall for Antonio Perez, then another double for super-sub John Baker…3 runs scored, 10-1 A’s.
The Giants fans were not quiet, however, for any time Barry Bonds cameup to bat, they insisted on responding to the A’s fans’ boos (and theywere some LOUD boos) with middle fingers, genuflecting bows, and thesame old excuses we’ve heard and ridiculed many times. My altercationwith one particularly dumb ass Giants fan was outlined yesterday, andthough some have said I was too hard on the guy, you really had to bethere to know how inordinately stupid some of these guys are.
Not every Giants fan is a dumb ass, however, as I heard several of themactually boo their man. I have to say, if Mark McGwire showed up at theColiseum, I’d boo him with everything I have, ditto Giambi, dittoCanseco, so when I mock a Giants fan for bowing to Bonds like he’s God,it’s because making excuses for Bonds is just about the least classymove I can imagine if you actually care about the game of baseball.It’s like spitting on the Babe Ruth plaque at Yankee Stadium, or saying"what’s the big deal about Bill King" - it just demonstrats an utterlack of class at every level.
Anyways, Bonds blew all day. He blew at the plate, he blew in thefield, he blew just walking out to his spot in the outfield. And I’llsay this - he didn’t show anything more than a light jog at any pointthrough the entire game. He hit the ball, he was halfway to the dugoutbefore it was caught. He got grounders into left, he jogged after themthen fumbled the ball, then tossed softly to third. He lollygagged outinto the field so slowly he actually delayed the game twice. Not onetime did I see him sprint. Not once.
And that tells you what Barry Bonds thinks of the game of baseball.
The only other notable thing in the game was how bad Armando Benitezwas in closing for the Giants. He gave up a 4-0 walk to Kielty (whichKielty looked very relieved by), then singles to Scutaro and Melhuse toload the bases, when who should come out to take a swing?
Richie ‘AA’ Robnett.
Robnett is highly respected by the A’s, and was in town and available,so they brought him out for the game, and when the A’s were 10-2 infront, I guess they figured it might be worth it to give the kid aswing.
Vancouver fans will remember Robnett as having the body of an adonis,to the point where the Canadians had no pants that would actually fithim, leading to him having to spend a game standing up, to keep thepants from splitting.
To make do, the team cut the sides of his pants and sewed a strip offabric onto each leg, to widen them to the point where he couldactually get them on and bend over once ina while. And that’s what hewore for the rest of the season.
Since then, he’s become better known as a kid with huge power and noplate patience, so when Benitez got him in an 0-2 situation, I wasworried. But that’s when something weird happened - Richie Robnett grewup.
Inside and low, Robnett leaves it.
Next pitch high, Robnett leaves it.
Nibble at the corner, Robnett watches it called a ball.
And the 3-2 pitch, Robnett saw it, centred in on it, and slammed itdeep into center field. Going… going… going… drops just at thefoot of the wall and bounces out for a 2-run scoring ground rule double.
2004 Vancouver Canadians represent!
Interesting thing to note - a pair of Giants ‘fans’ that were seatednext to me showed up in the top of the 6th inning, apparently convincedthe rain wouldn’t turn up after all, sat for half an inning to seeBonds ground out, then left to get food. They turned up again in thetop of the 8th, as Bonds was on deck, talked about how people are justjealous of his success with this whole steroid thing, then booed whenthe guy hitting in front of him grounded out, thus robbing them of achance of seeing Bonds this inning.
They begrudgingly sat for the 9th, then as soon as Bonds flew out, onesaid to the other "we can go at any time," and they duly left.
$30 per ticket and they watched barely an inning and a half. And you wonder why I hate Giants fans. Oakland wins 14-3.
Next morning, I decide to go have breakfast in the hotel cafe, andfigured ‘why bother cleaning myself up, it’s only breakfast’. Hair allover the place, wrinkled shirt on, and I’m greeted with dozens of thehottest women you’ve ever seen. Not just hot women, these were thekinds of women where you find yourself muttering things like "you havegot to be f…" just a little too loud.
Turns out I was right in the middle of the tryouts for the Oakland Raiderettes.
Now, I’m all for looking, but this was just too much to handle in mysleep deprived, not looking smooth state. I immersed nyself in an awfulbreakfast, sneaking the occasional glance out the window at kicks sohigh I feel like I’m now intimately acquainted with the standard ofOakland’s gynaecalogical industry.
I don’t drive. People are often surprised by that, but I’ve alwayslived in cities where you can get a bus or train from your front doorto wherever you need to go, so a license has never really beennecessary. In Sydney, the transit system is so good that they didn’tallow people to drive to any of the 2000 Summer Olympic events. InVancouver, it’s so good that I can get just about anywhere in town frommy front door, within half an hour, without setting foot in a cab.
All of which makes a trip to California a bit daunting. After all, thisis the state where, if you need to get to your bathroom, you get in thecar and drive there. It’s the state that made Arnold Schwarzenegger,who bought the first commercially available Hummer, and has sincebought several more, is Governor. It’s the state where automanufacturers actually bought up most of the transit services in thepre-war days and ran them out of business to encourage people to buycars.
So when I decided next morning to go check out Fremont, the potentialfuture home of the A’s, and zip across to Palo Alto into the bargain,it wasn’t a case of just renting a car and driving, I had to findalternate means.
Now, this is an adventure I always try to take when I’m in a new city.From the interstate, every city looks the same, but when you get offthose big roads and see where people actually live, you see the realcity. I’ve traveled across the US, Japan, and Canada on everything fromthe Greyhound bus to the Bullet Train, and seen things you’d never seefrom 30,000 feet up.
Getting to Fremont was easy - the Bay Area Rapid Transit system (orBART) goes right from the Coliseum to Fremont without missing a beat.And Fremont’s a nice part of the world. It’s not San Jose, but you cansee it from there, and there’s plenty of room to go building newstadiums and a surrounding retail village. If the Athletics do movethere, it’s going to be a little like the situation in Arlington Texas,where most of the people going to the ballpark will be undertaking acommute to do so, and I’m not sure that’s a primo situation, but thestatus quo isn’t either.
From there I took a bus across to Palo Alto (mostly for work reasons),but if you’re ever in the area, I’d recommend stopping by for a look.It’s at the opposite end of the bay from Oakland, and the opposite endof the world in wealth and charm. This is the home of StanfordUniversity, and like most Ivy League cities, there are a lot of folkswho stick around after their studies are over, which brings a lot ofnice neighborhoods, a lot of smiles and nods from people you pass inthe street, a lot of spoiled teenage kids with cellphones, and a lot ofdowntown stores that would be quaint if not for the outrageouslyexpensive labels seen in the front windows.
If you want Palo Alto summed up in a sentence, the local cinema wasn’tshowing Big Momma’s House 2 and Slither, it was showing Meet Me in StLouis and The Bandwagon. Fred Astaire rules, apparently.
A bus from there and I found the CalTrain line - an odd double-deckertransport system where the upper level features a big long hole in thefloor so you can see the people downstairs. What’s really weird aboutthat is the hole is so big, you only have room for one seat on eachside of it. Why on earth anyone would think that’s a good idea isbeyond me, but I’m sure there are plenty of ‘downshirt’ enthusiasts wholooooooooooove sitting upstairs.
Taking the CalTrain to the Millbrae BART station, the landscape soonchanges, and space out country homes become wall-to-wall terrace-stylehousing that looks like rice paddies with roofs. You couldn’t fitanother house in this part of the world without going underground orputting it on stilts - every inch is used. I don’t recall seeing atree, just miles and miles of connected roofs, rolling up and downhills as if the hills aren’t even there.
The BART isn’t great for sightseeing once you’re in town as it headsunderground and you only see the inside of stations, but it’s fast,it’s simple, it’s clean and it’s easy for a foreigner to figure outwhere to go, how to get there, and how to buy a ticket. Other citiesshould take note.
A shuttle back to the hotel and I’d just travled the circumference ofthe entire Bay Area without actually turning an ignition key, and allfor less than $10. Good deal.
Day three: Opening Day against the Yankees… if the rain holds off.