Since 2009, no stadium has seen less baseball fans than the McAfee / Oakland County / Overstock.com / O.co Coliseum. The majority of Major League Baseball teams get at least two million fans through the gates every year. The Oakland Athletics have not seen two million fans in the regular season since 2005.
Those numbers might sound like I'm heading towards talking about an attendance problem or a money problem or even a stadium problem. I'm not. I'm here to tell you about Oakland's heckling problem.
Contrary to what some might think, a "heckling problem" is not a problem with too many hecklers. It is quite the opposite. A heckling problem is where you have few to no people jeering at any given game. The A's don't just have a heckling problem; they have a heckling epidemic.
Since moving here last summer, I had a couple of unique experiences while heckling at the O.co Coliseum. On Breast Cancer Awareness Day, as the game neared its end, I had a nice older lady tap me on the shoulder. I figured she was going to tell me to quiet down after I heckled as hard as I could the entire game. Instead, all she said was, "That was some great heckling. I haven't heard it that good since back at Yankee Stadium." I was with friends and it was one of the proudest moments of my life.
Then, about a month later, another home fan, heckled me, for teasing a Rangers hitter during his home-run trot. The "home" fan called me an idiot and reminded me these players were millionaires. I then explained to him that heckling is what fans were for, and that he could heckle me all he wanted. I heckled as loud as I could against the other team for the rest of the game and watched him leave in the 7th inning of a close game, as I had seen him do a few before. If a fan isn't even going to stay in front row seats for the entire game, why not just watch it at home? Why get mad at me for enjoying myself? I was with my family and wasn't saying anything inappropriate or rude, so all he did was make a fool of himself.
It is not about the number of fans, or how loud the fans cheer. Most fans cheer or boo depending on the appropriate situation (or scoreboard instructions in some stadiums). It is usually the hecklers and the really enthusiastic fans that stand out and make the difference. Especially in our near empty stadium, where the players are more likely to hear the jeers, fans make a huge difference. Without the hecklers, out of hand games can become dull and monotone. A good heckler can keep fans entertained, and continue to assure the A's players that the home crowd is still behind them.
A lot of fans come out to the game to sit back and relax, which is fine. If every fan just "hangs out" though, the home team doesn't have any advantage. When players talk about how hard it is to play at Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park, they aren't talking about the dimensions or infield grass. What makes certain stadiums more difficult to play in is usually their fans. When "home" fans cheer for the away team, it gives out-of-towners the confidence they need to win on the road. In a close game, when every out counts, getting the batter off his game can make all the difference.
Don't get me wrong. I don't endorse jeering with reckless abandon. Nor do I believe profanity or comments about race, religion or family should enter into heckling (though there are many fans that seem to). If a fan does some research, it's not that hard to find out interesting tidbits about the opposing players. Favorite songs or foods, career lowlights, and especially current statistics can be used against players. If all else fails, schoolyard taunts are the way to go. "Pitcher got a big butt," never gets old.
Some people are too embarrassed to heckle or don't know what to say or how to say it. The A's have some of the best and most loyal outfield and upper deck fans in all of baseball. We have flag wavers, drummers, and all sorts of great zany fans. For the infield fans to be so quiet is almost a knock on our fantastic upper level fans. We owe it to them to distract the hitters and pitchers as much as they do. Those banners and instruments are great at messing with the opposing team. If the fans around home plate would cheer just as hard, we could have the whole stadium in on it! It doesn't help that sometimes the fullest infield section is the one right above the away dugout, which is always filled with opposing fans.
It doesn't take a lot to become a great heckler. A little pregame effort and some witty comments are all that's needed. Even if you are in the upper decks, a lot of times the stadium is so empty, I think the players can hear everything yelled their way. If a few more A's fans at each game started in on the opponent, many times, other fans jump in. Nothing is better than having a bunch of fans all screaming insults, right when a guy is trying to make a big pitch.
I know our Oakland A's are rebuilding and times are tough. A lot of times, it can still be worth it to come out to O.co Coliseum if the atmosphere is fun and the games are competitive. Swinging even one game in the Athletics' favor could be all the team needs to start another 20-game win streak!
So, come out and support the Oakland A's in 2012. Cheer, jeer, boo and, especially heckle, as hard as you can and who knows, we can make it a season to remember!
You can follow me on Twitter @justplainaj