Whenever a reporter calls me for an interview lately one question that always comes up is, "How many games do you attend a year?" I always feel bad because my answer never feels hardcore enough. Last year, I attended about 10 games total in person. That's down from the 20-30 games I used to go to before I had my daughter.
I want to get to more, but it isn't always easy (or cheap) to get to games. The traffic issues from 80 to 580 to 880 are ridiculously bad and seem to be getting worse by the day. They're even horrid on the weekend. The train is erratic and the one that leaves from Sacramento leaves around 9 a.m. and doesn't get back until around 7 or 8 p.m. I'd love to take the train because it would give me a chance to write, read or listen to my MP3 player. But it's just not realistic to have a game take me nearly 12 hours to attend.
So while I feel so many of your pain when it comes to the A's leaving Oakland, I also feel like it won't really change my experience that much. There will still be traffic and it will still be hard to attend a 1 p.m. game when my daughter goes down for her daily nap at 12:30 p.m. And 7 p.m. games? Forget it since my daughter usually goes down for the night around 8:30 p.m.
Still, attending an A's game live is the most amazing experience. They're selling a drug that I need. Not all of them have been ones to remember until your dying day, but I have been to several games that have been ones I'll tell my daughter's children about someday.
As I thought about the A's moving, I thought now would be as good a time as any to think back and recall some of those most memorable games I attended in person.
3. Giambi's 1,000th Career Hit: The third best game I ever attended happened to be first A's game I ever attended at the Coliseum. I had recently moved to Northern California from Pennsylvania and I decided I wanted to see the place where Canseco hit all those home runs many moons ago. My buddy had some tickets and we went. It was August 12, 2001. The game was a beauty...the very best that baseball had to offer. In large part, AN exists today because of that game because I had really only been a casual A's fan. An A's fan from afar. But that game turned me onto baseball in a way that I never believed possible.
It was Mark Mulder versus Mike Mussina and both pitchers were pretty dominant. Mussina struck out nine and Mulder was in unbelievable complete-game dominance form. The A's had won 10 in a row coming into the game. It was a nail-biting, edge of your seat experience, even sitting way back in the now closed third deck. Then Chavez and Tejada went back to back and set the stage for Giambi to hit the shot that rocked my world and changed my fundamental involvement in baseball. The game that I found plodding and way too deliberate in my youth suddenly became a strategic battle, but also a thinking man's game in a way that my beloved hockey could never be. The fact that Giambi was able to outthink the Yankees and hit a curve ball on a 3-2 pitch for a game-winning home run helped propel me into the fanatic nutcase you see here every day.
2. AN Day 2006: AN Day has a three-year legacy at this point and while they've all been really fun social events, none might ever compare to the jump up and down joy that Milton Bradley brought for us on July 30, 2006 when he took BJ Ryan deep for an improbably A's victory. But it wasn't just about the game for me. It was also about the fact that Billy Beane and Ken Korach took time out of their schedules to meet with us, the most hardcore of the hardcore. Beane faced a firing squad of questions in regards to him possibly moving Barry Zito at the deadline because many, including yours truly, felt like dealing Zito was the way to go. Again, I'm glad Beane doesn't listen to the fans when he makes decisions.
But the game itself was a see saw battle. The A's were leading 3-1 going into the 8th when Kiko Calero gave up a run and Huston Street had to come on early to try and close the game out. That usually meant some bad news this year and it did because in the ninth, the Blue Jays scored three more runs off Street to give them a 5-3 lead.
Here was the best part of it:
Kotsay got ahead 3-1 against Ryan and then proceeded to foul off seven straight pitches -- all fastballs.
"He's an aggressive lefty," Kotsay said of Ryan. "He throws a lot of fastballs. He uses his breaking balls when he gets ahead and I got ahead of him. He didn't give in and I wasn't going to give in either. It was a great battle if it went either way."
That Kotsay at-bat led to me leaning over to Dylan, an AN old-timer, and say, Bradley is going to win it right here. It was fun, frustrating, pulse-pounding and exhilerating all in one. In other words, the lovable muppets doing what they do best.
1. The Walk-Off Bunt: I had been to the most nailbiting of playoff games in the past. The Yankees series...the game when Zito pitched a gem and the other Giambi failed to slide, but this one was one where the good guys came out in front. And they came out in front in the most improbable of ways. A bunt single from a player who had about as much speed as Rosie O'Donnell with Star Jones strapped to her back. And he did it with TWO outs nonetheless.
The game lasted 12 innings of tension, including a blown save from Ricardo Rincon (SHOCKER!), and featured Tim Hudson and Pedro Martinez squaring off. But Hudson and Martinez were distant memories by the time Hernandez worked his magic on Derek Lowe. I remember sitting in section 314 I believe and being right underneath the Pepsi sign. The bunt unfolded like slow motion in a movie. I never thought I'd ever actually see something in front of me slow down for dramatic effect, but apparently your mind can play tricks on you during an especially intense moment.
I saw Eric Chavez rushing home and I was already jumping in the aisle. My wife was yelling with joy as well while simultaneously telling me to stop jumping on the top of the stairs (I don't know how she does that). She was afraid I was going to go tumbling down the stairs. But this was a game in which everyone was ecstatic. Strangers were hugging in the parking lot and people were high fiving all around the stadium.
It was a memory that will stick with me until my dying day not only because it was the most improbable ending to a game, but because I remember the sheer unchained joy I felt. It's a joy that you feel way too few times in your life when you just feel like you can't stop smiling no matter how hard you tried. It's sheer bliss and it's like a drug. It's also what will always keep me coming back to live baseball. Even if it happens to be in Fremont, the traffic is unbearable and the parking situation is outrageously expensive. Watching the game on TV is great and you get to see replays clearly and whatnot, but nothing can replace that utter euphoria of an A's win. Especially ones like the ones I listed above.
I imagine many of you have better stories about live games than me because many of you have lived near the Coliseum a lot longer. So by all means, share your stories.