Congratulations to the 2006 Oakland Athletics. I really mean that. Despite the way it all ended; with more of a whimper than a bang, they managed to do something that no Oakland team has been able to do in fourteen years; be one of the four best teams in baseball at the end of a season. That is something to be proud of; and something to celebrate, even if baseball's greatest prize still hangs just out of reach.
But let's be honest. It still hurts. With any great love, there is great risk of heartbreak, and I don't think any of us have really recovered yet. Part of being a fan and falling in love with a team, while investing six solid months in them day in and day out, is the inevitable sense of loss that comes when the relationship is finished. And aside from the December game of musical baseball players at the Winter Meetings, our relationship with the 2006 Oakland Athletics is finished. Our hearts will heal; we'll start to form a relationship with the 2007 A's, and maybe when the wound is not so fresh, we'll look back at this season of successes with warmth and fondness.
For me, the difference this year is the lack of a villain. In the past, we have been knocked out of the playoffs by the slim margin of one final game, which was lost to the evil teams of New York, Boston, and the worst opponent of all--ourselves. This year, it's impossible to point to one play, to one player, and even to one game as the deciding factor in our demise. We flat got beat by Detroit, a wonderful success story in itself, and I really do wish them the best. The Tigers are good for baseball, and it's nice to see some important games being played in a city not named New York. They don't have an obnoxious catch-phrase attached to them (see: The Idiots Who Cowboy Up, or The Piranhas, The Best Lineup Ever, or my favorite, The Perfect Small Ball Squad), they don't have a large payroll; they don't have annoying announcers, they don't really have a superstar, and more than likely, they're going to win the whole thing. And if I had to pick a winner not named the Athletics, they would definitely be in the top five.
And no, for what it's worth, that doesn't make me feel any better right now, but it certainly will make next year easier to tolerate.
Regarding our boys, I want to thank each and every one of them for an exciting, dramatic, incredible season, which will not be soon forgotten, and I want to make special mention of three players who surprised me in the playoffs. First, I think Jay Payton was one of the most underrated postseason players this year. He hit in just about every game; he swung at quality pitches, and he did his part offensively just about every single chance he got. Second, you all know how much I love Milton Bradley, but I don't think anyone can argue that he truly left it all out there on the field yesterday. I have never seen a player try as hard as Milton did to push us further. If it was up to him (and his performance backed this up), we would be playing next week. The third is Huston Street, who I have been so hard on, and for good reason, but I have no argument against him being a big-game pitcher in yesterday's game, despite the walk-off. He deserved better, and for the first time in about three months, I have reason to believe that he'll get another chance.
There's some good hope for 2007. Lots to talk about, and as you all know, AN will be running strong all through the off-season. Mourn the A's, have a good cry, but when you're ready to take on 2007, let's all meet back here for another go-around. And a special thanks to Blez, for creating a community that I consider my family, so much so that I left a birthday party to go say my final goodbyes to the 2006 season on AN last night.
Take heart ANers, the rollercoaster has merely docked in its station temporarily. You know as well as I do, that we'll all climb back in, buckle our seatbelts, and get ready for another ride. And somehow, we wouldn't have it any other way.
And if you're ready for 2007 to start right now, see Nico's post below for a better summary than I can give!
LET'S GO OAK-LAND!