Tuesday morning I found myself arriving at work both excited and downcast. I knew why I was excited: because the anticipation of a playoff game includes an unmistakable blend of "hoprehension"--the mixture that is equal parts "hope" and "apprehension". Why was I subdued? After six months and 162 games of leaning with every pitch trying to will my A's into the playoffs, 10:00am starts were about to force me to miss the unmissable, to "check-in" on the radio what I would normally catch, scrutinize, and lean with, pitch by pitch, with my own eyes. Now the most important game of all was about to start, and I was about to miss the experience, and settle for just catching the results.
I listened as best I could, on and off between various tasks. I heard the tail end of a caught stealing in the 1st and then discovered that we had done the throwing out...I learned from Gameday that we had scored two in the 2nd off of Santana...I actually heard most of the 4th inning...and so on, until lunch recess. Finally, lunch recess, where I figured I could openly bring my transistor radio out to the eating area and listen, for 45 minutes straight, while I played the role of someone on yard duty. This was as good as it was going to get, which is why I went to lunch recess glad for the score, now 2-1 A's, but still oddly subdued.
It was the bottom of the 7th when I turned my radio on, playing it softly while 6th, 7th, and 8th graders congregated in their various groups and started eating. Cole, a 6th grader wearing an A's hat, was the first to notice the radio. "Is that the game? What's the score? Turn it up!" "Yes, 2-1 A's in the 7th, ok!" I replied, as "Sully," also an A's fan, cheered the score and spread word, at gossip speed, that the A's were winning and Nico had a radio. Soon I had a mob of 6th graders around me, yelling "Turn it up!" because they were unable to hear, mostly because they were yelling "Turn it up!" (I love kids!) When Cole asked who was up, and I said "Punto" he relayed the info to his peers, "Nick Punto's up!" I thought, "He knows Punto's first name; that's a real fan." Turns out a lot of the kids followed the A's, and baseball, even more than I had realized.
With every strike Zito threw, a cheer erupted, louder than you could ever get at the Metrodome, where they may have 50,000 fans but they don't have a dozen middle school boys. When Kendall almost picked off Bartlett, the groan was so strong it reverberated into the next pitch. When Zito got out of the inning, fervent speculation began about whether it would be Zito, or Duchscherer, or Street, in the 9th. Then, when the A's came to bat, the kids started the chant: "LET'S GO, OAK-LAND! (bum pum, bum pum pum), LET'S GO, OAK-LAND!..." When recess started, one of the picnic tables became KYCY-central, right down to the last pitch--which came exactly one minute before the bell would ring to send everyone to class (including me to teach). Word spread, at middle school speed and volume, to the classmates and teachers who didn't care: Game 1 was in the bag! The playground was abuzz with excitement and celebration, victory dances and high fives.
It was magical because not only had the A's won a game they were supposed to lose, but something even more improbable had happened: I had backed into having the full experience of the playoff atmosphere. It was awesome. Thanks, boys!
Danny Haren vs. Brad Radke Friday at 1:00pm PDT. LET'S GO, OAK-LAND!...