Love Is Blind - my weird love story with the A's

[This is a fairly random post. I’m not really discussing the Oakland A’s current team, and for a big part of it I’m not even talking about baseball, but football (soccer), I just felt like sharing it and thought of making it a fanpost. If not appropriate, I could move it elsewhere. Well, here it goes…]

6th December 2009, Maracanã Stadium, Rio de Janeiro.

So far it had been a lifetime hearing of past achievements, of great teams I never watched due to the unfortunate fact I was born in the late 80’s – to be more precise, born in 1987, a year in which Flamengo, the football club my entire family support, were Brazilian champions for the 4th time. They would add another national trophy to the gallery in 1992 but little Diego (that is me, by the way) was a little bit too young to remember anything.

So in 6th December 2009, 17 years after the last bit of national glory, there I was in the stands of the historic Maracanã stadium, a place that felt like a second home, alongside friends and a multitude of strangers who, in sharing similar quantities of joy and fear, were like a huge extension of myself – a whole crowd desperate for the pride and glory of being once again the best.

Gremio, our opponents that afternoon, scored first, and all my fears turned into desperation. But I wouldn’t be telling that story if it didn’t have a happy ending, and Flamengo would scored twice to win the game and the Brazilian championship for the 6th time after 17 years of waiting.

When the referee blew the final whistle, a sudden rush of the happiest emotions a man can feel materialized as tears came running down my face. There I was, a Flamengo supporter, born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, being a witness to the greatest chapter of the history of the club with the biggest fanbase in the country that a whole generation of fans ever had the chance to watch.

26th February 2012, Wembley Stadium, London.

Out of all the trophies Liverpool Football Club ever won in their history (and they won a LOT of them), it must be hard to find many won in an easy way – apparently the club simply refuses to win it easily, even (or especially) if the ‘favorites’ tag is on them. That was again the case in the Carling Cup Final of this year, in which the 5-times European Champions LFC faced Cardiff City, a Welsh team playing in the Championship, England’s 2nd division.

Again I found myself seeing the opponents score first, Cardiff 1-0. However when Liverpool equalized in the 2nd half and scored again in extra time, everybody thought that game was finished. Well, everybody but Cardiff… they were having none of that, and scored again in the dying moments of extra time to take it to penalties. I’m not entirely sure about how familiar people on AN are with football, but it doesn’t get any more dramatic than penalty shootouts.

I did my part. I did my thing - I never watch my team(s) taking penalties. So I closed my eyes every time a Liverpool player ran to the ball, and kept my eyes wide open and cursed in every languages I knew when Cardiff were taking their penalties. It worked. Despite missing the first two penalty kicks, Liverpool still won the trophy: Carling Cup champions 2012!

A smaller trophy in the history of a great club, but one badly needed in a time of rebuilding – as I heard saying in England, success breeds success. You could see in the faces of every fan in Red inside the stadium that it wasn’t "just" the Carling Cup, but an important step in the road of getting back to greatness. A very important step indeed.

So I found myself again surrounded by glory, but this time I wasn’t among my own people, but in a different country, speaking another language, taking part in a party some of them probably thought I shouldn’t. It reminded me of friends back home who took me for an idiot for having the trouble of going to another continent to watch "someone else’s team" play in a final. Well, "someone’s else’s team" my arse. I am a Liverpool FC fan.

I don’t suffer of any identity crisis, I don’t try to pretend I’m a scouser (that’s how they call the people of Liverpool), I’m not even 100% fluent in English… I just love the club with a passion. And that is independent of any labels – I fell in love with a club by reading about its history, and watching them write new glorious chapters, over 10 years ago. And even though the general opinion might be that you need some geographic attachment to a club to be a "true fan" (whatever that concept means), I just couldn’t care less. I am a Liverpool FC Fan from Brazil.

Happily most of the people who are actually classified as "true fans" appreciate my support and this is the very reason I got my hands in a Carling Cup Final ticket. I would never have the money to do so by buying with touts, but a friend from a LFC forum gave up going to the game to give me his ticket and the chance of seeing the Reds in a cup final. "I’ve seen them in cup finals before", he said, "I want you to experience that as well". How cool is that? I did experience the joy of a cup final, and it is a memory I’ll hold close to my heart for as long as I live.

24th July 2012, Rogers Centre, Toronto (and my bedroom, Rio de Janeiro).

The National Pastime, isn't it? Not my nation, though! If identity crisis talk arise regarding football, what about the USA’s pastime and the North American league (MLB) with less following in my country? Well, you can imagine the kind of stuff I hear about that. (I’m guilty of instigating the reaction though, for I keep posting baseball stuff on facebook even though only 1 of my friends actually watch it).

At least there are no Brazilian baseball teams to follow, so I don’t need to hear the "you can’t have two teams in different countries" argument. But it still takes some weirdness to turn a Brazilian into a baseball fan. You know, this is the game supposed to be incredibly boring, a perfect fit for fat and stupid Americans eating their hamburgers while they watch the game… nearly as boring as cricket, they say, although nothing can be worse than a game that lasts 5 days. Okay.

I probably repeated that notion at some point of my life. I’ve always been an avid sports fan, football (soccer) in particular since it’s Brazil’s national game, but I’ve also been following the NBA since the days of Stockton and Malone (yes, I’m a Jazz fan). That’s ok though. Brazil have won world championships in basketball, and we have our own professional championship. We’re used to the game. But baseball? Get real, is that even a sport? Pff…

How did I come to like the sport?, you could be wondering (if you’ve bothered reading this far)… well, my profession led me to it. Being graduated in Economics at University, I soon began to work, which made me realized that, as much as I liked Economic theory, numbers, fiscal policy, growth rate and etcetera, I loved sports more. To be a happier person, I should work with sports – that would be perfect. What about mixing Economics and sports, then? That’s what I tried to do, reading as much about the subject as I could. And the more I read, the more I saw references to that famous, intelligent book that was not only a great sports story, but most of all brilliant business writing – yeah, you got it, I’m talking about Moneyball.

So I bought the book. And for a long while, that was it. Months after buying I still hadn’t touched it… until FSG (Henry, Werner and co) bought Liverpool Football Club. Suddenly every football blogger thought he knew all about Moneyball and how those guys from Boston would apply it to LFC, and the misconception that Moneyball is simply about using statistics started to show its face everywhere. I work with statistics, deal with price indexes and regressions on a daily basis… maybe I should give that book a chance. And so I did.

To my surprise, Moneyball was a lot more than just the use of statistics. It was a beautiful story of fighting the odds, in using market inefficiencies in your favor. A slap in the face of Economics theory, HA! Perfect markets, rational agents, they say… not entirely true in Wall Street, certainly not in sports, where emotions take an even higher place. I was totally sold to Oakland A’s from the start, and even though I considered the idea of following the Blue Jays (a very good friend of mine is Canadian and a Blue Jays fan), deep inside I knew there was only one option. So it was settled: I was an Oakland A’s fan, waiting for the baseball season to start.

It was easy to get hooked in what I would call "baseball’s culture", starting by the value given to its traditions (even the stupid traditions, such as the Cubs curse, haha!) and its long history; the weird notion of how what appears to be a totally anti-commercial idea of a 162-games season can be extremely successful; and more importantly the ‘high average’ of intelligence from baseball fans, willing to discuss statistics and concepts that are aliens to nearly 95% of football (soccer) fans. The fact Oakland A’s were the frontrunners in the re-thinking of the sport, in refuting prejudices and questioning the basis that supported the deep rooted beliefs of the people in the game make it all the more special. Coerced by need (lack of money), of course, but it still takes a Socratic attitude to run away from mediocrity (sorry, I forgot to mention I love philosophy).

I was still a bit afraid that I could not like watching the sport as much as I liked reading about it. But as soon as I understood the sport I found the tension that was missing before because I didn't really know what was happening and all the possibilities from an specific play. Getting a account helped, too!

So I took that long just to say that last night, when I found myself jumping in celebration for a 3-run single by Cespy, I thought of how awkward a scene that was… (a Brazilian guy watching baseball? A Brazilian guy watching baseball and celebrating the win of a Californian team in Canada? Are you serious?!) ... and realized I truly don’t give a f**k. I love baseball and I love the A’s. LET'S GO OAKLAND! Let's keep on defying odds and believe in ourselves.

I just have one final problem: I need to watch the A's live at the Colliseum. I don’t know when it will happen, but I make a promise for all AN to see that, if this weird great season go on to be even greater and make the World Series, I’ll find a way to watch one of the WS games in Oakland. I still have no idea of how, of where I would find the money to do that, of what I would say at work, and the odds are against the A’s anyway, but I wouldn’t miss that chance. (Putting my word here will force me not to miss the chance, that’s the idea!)

[Sorry for the ridiculously long post. I’ll understand if not many people bother to read, I was just having a lazy day and wanted to share some experiences and views of sport]

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