Baseball loves its milestones, yes it does. At the beginning of each season, we are told which players are closing in on magic numbers, and even when they are projected to reach them.
Such is the case in my family. Every year, it's "Who's having the big birthday? Who's getting married? Who's pregnant?" (Though in my family it might be more sensible to ask who's not pregnant).
This year marks the "big birthdays" for three supremely special women in my life: my oldest sister Tonianne (who turns 50 in July), my youngest sister Tricia (40 next week), and my oldest niece Christina (30 in September).
I always thought it was cool that three of the most loyal A's fans in my family are of the female variety; the torch being passed on from one to the next, whose awesomeness comes around once every decade.
From left: sisters Tricia and Tonianne, and niece Christina at her graduation 1997
For Tonianne, who was nine years old when the A's moved to Oakland from Kansas City, her fandom began with Reggie Jackson, even before he turned the baseball world on its ear with 37 homeruns at the All-Star Break in 1969.
"I always told people I would marry him."
And she went to great lengths to show her affection. During the 1974 season, she had Mom crochet a green-and-gold hat for his birthday which she handed to him herself. Reggie told her it was the only gift he got that day, before tossing the hat into the trunk of his car. She also wanted to give Reggie a rabbit's foot, so my brother John air-mailed one to him during a game! The right-fielder had to call time so he could hook the lucky charm to his mitt. Even when she taught me and Tricia to pray, Tonianne found a way to include Mr. Jackson. "God bless Mommy, God Bless Daddy, and while you're at it Lord, maybe you can help Reggie out of his slump tomorrow. You know he doesn't hit Palmer very well."
But it wasn't just Reggie; Tonianne loved all her A's. And for a long time, I really thought they were hers, the way she carried on about them, and most especially the manner in which she defended them. My dad and uncles used to love teasing her after a loss, knowing full well that she was good for a debate, which was usually followed by yelling, crying, and finally, the slamming of her bedroom door.
"I would fight with people. What was I thinking? At school, I always had people telling me that the A's were going down and I'd argue with them. Some were Giants' fans but others were just people who thought they knew everything."
Another incident that demonstrates her deep-rooted loyalty to the A's took place in 1978. The A's were in the middle of a lousy season, in the midst of losing another game. Billy North, the last player remaining from the glory years, was in centerfield, and Tonianne and I were camped out in our usual bleacher seats. Behind us was a group of gentlemen acting anything but gentlemanly; drinking, cussing, and riding Billy North unmercifully. I was watching my sister and I could see the anger in her nineteen year-old body building. And finally she lost it. "Shut up", she screamed in a voice I hardly recognized. The guys, well, they stopped their assault on our center-fielder, and looked at us. And I was pretty certain that we were going to die that day. Thankfully they just laughed and said things like, "Ooh, tough girl." But not another bad word about North.
I honestly think she liked it better when the team sucked because then she could attend games without having to worry about "sharing" the A's with anyone else. She was stubborn; she'd sit out in the freezing cold of a game that the good guys were losing 10-0 in the ninth inning, and she would not budge from her seat until the last out was recorded. Who cares if her little brother might catch pneumonia? Man up, dude. She would yell at fans for leaving early; often to the embarrassment of whoever was at the game with her.
The A's were surely her first love, and it stayed that way until 1983 when she married Michael, who has stood by her, breast cancer and all, for 25 years and counting.
That's the answer my youngest sister gave me when I asked what started her love affair with the A's. With Tonianne, it was Reggie. But at least he was a star! With Tricia, it was Dave McKay. Before she spotted him, her interest in the game was casual at best.
"Yep, I saw him warming up one day and I was like, ‘Ooh, baseball'. After that, the game sort of stuck on me."
But while McKay's playing days were coming to an end, Tricia's time with the A's was only beginning. And she would go where no family member- not even me or Tonianne- had gone before. She and her friend Susan started out in the bleachers with the rest of us before upgrading to first-deck seats.
"I want to say we bought season tickets in '87, the year that the All-Star Game was played here. Susan's mom worked at the concession stands so she gave us rides to the games. We sat in Section 128, Row 1, right behind the A's bullpen, so between sitting there and behind the plate during batting practice, we got to know the players and coaches pretty well. One time Steve McCatty took Susan's math book and acted like he was doing her homework in the bullpen. Even some of the opposing players, like Paul Molitor and Billy Ripken (Cal's younger brother) would remember us from one visit to the next and would say hi to us."
"But it was the pitchers that really took to us, because of where we sat during the games. Steve Ontiveros, Gene Nelson, Todd Burns, Jeff Newman (who was the bullpen coach for a brief period) even Eck; all of them got to know us or at least knew who we were. We got to baking chocolate cookies for them, mainly for Ontiveros or Nelson, but we'd give them to whoever might be passing by after practice. And they would share them with the others."
"We had a good time out there in those seats. We started out with three seats, me, Susan, and her sister. We'd slip sunflower seeds and gummy bears through the cracks in the bullpen, stuff like that and they would give us water and gum. Art Kusnyer (the bullpen coach from 1989-95) was really nice to us. During the winning years, it seemed like every player had some sort of fan club and they would hang their banners in the bleachers. So we decided to start the Art Kusnyer Fan Club and we made shirts that said that. He loved it, and at the end of the year he gave me and Susan official team jackets. By that time, we had a total of five seats, me, Susan, her sister, her mom, and her mom's boyfriend. The year that we set the save record (1988), we made shirts that said ‘The Best Bullpen in Baseball'. Each shirt had one of the pitcher's name and number on the back. I had Gene Nelson; he was my favorite."
Tricia doesn't let the games consume her. She goes, she cheers, she laments, game's over, she goes home, and game's forgotten. She's passionate about her team but it's controlled. She's knowledgeable but she doesn't intimidate you with off-the-wall facts. When she goes to the stadium it's with the sole purpose of watching the game and rooting on the A's. There is no hidden need to be entertained. No Dot Racing for her, thank you. In another words, she's very much like Tonianne. So if you really want to irritate the hell out of her, try sitting behind her while you mispronounce a player's name over and over again. On second thought, please don't. And for God's sake, if you don't know anything about the game, at least pretend to show some interest (quietly). My sister did not spend $25 to listen to you cry and complain about your pathetic love life for three hours.
She was the first in the family to attend Spring Training games, and the first to see the A's play on the road (Anaheim). And she was a steady visitor to Oakland during those days, making memories to last a lifetime. But in 1994, it all came to an end. For a while at least. "I was mad", she said of the strike that prematurely ended the season. "I stopped paying attention after that." Little by little she came back, supporting her A's as they made the slow climb back to respectability and beyond.
I for one appreciate the fact that Tricia sticks up for our little baseball team. Someone has to. Yeah, she's paid her dues and has since passed the season-ticket-holder baton to our goddaughter, Christina, but the Oakland A's are still as much as hers as anyone else's. Which is to say they're in very good hands.
Reggie and Tonianne, Tricia and Dave McKay. Christina and...? Hint: he's not a player.
Here's her story (without the block quotes):
I started going to some games when I was at Sonoma State. Of course, fraternity guys love sports. And being that I grew up in a family where baseball was a religion we practiced regularly, I knew a lot about the game. So that helped me score some serious points with the frat boys. We would watch it on TV somewhere like Paradise Pizza, or attend the games in person.
That was the era of the Big Three. I loved Tim Hudson. Just LOVED him. I think it was partly because he was the smallest of the three, making him kind of an underdog. Or maybe it was because he looked so fierce when he pitched. At the time, I was living with two sorority sisters who I turned into baseball fans (converting friends into fanatics is another Marquez tradition). Katie liked Mulder, and Lori, well we told her to like Zito.
As for me, it was "the boys" who got me back into being a "fan." It gave me a common interest with them. And when I moved from Sonoma State to Corte Madera, it was easier to get back in it since I was closer to Oakland. Plus I was making a whole lot more money, and even my roommate was a huge fan. His dad was a season ticket holder, but he didn't go to every game, so we would go a lot in his place.
But what really got me into it that year, 2002, was...again...a guy. My dad was going with friends from work a lot. This is when $2 Wednesdays were really popular. So they would buy tickets, leave work early, and tailgate. I would join them. Dad knew I was a big fan so he would invite me a lot. That's when I really started to notice Greg. Him and Dad had hung out a lot before, but I was getting to see him so often that I really started to notice him, and really started to like him.
2003 came around and things got a lot hotter for the A's, and for me and Greg, too. We were doing the $2 Wednesday thing again. Then, Greg's season ticket partner upped and moved to Reno, leaving Greg with the remainder of the tickets. When my dad told me this, I casually mentioned, ‘Well, let Greg know that I'm always available if he needs someone to go to the game with.' And he did! So Greg and I were going to games just by ourselves. Plus, this was the second year the A's were giving out Bobbleheads, but it was the first year that people really took notice of them. So me, Greg, Mom, and Dad were going to all of those games too. I had moved back to San Leandro in August of 2003, and I remember that the four of us were going to another Bobblehead game, and my dad had told Greg the day before, ‘Why don't you pick Christina up and you guys can meet us at the game.' I was like, ‘WHAT?!?!' I guess my dad had NO idea I had a crush on this guy.
Me and Greg were there the night the A's clinched the division title. The A's had won, and now we just needed the Mariners to lose. Most of the fans didn't leave the stadium; we were watching the game on the big screen. And then, the Mariners lost, and the place went crazy; people were screaming and celebrating. I turned to Uncle Don and gave him a hug. Then I turned to Greg and gave him a hug. It was the first time I had showed him any affection.
We had already made plans to go to the playoffs together, and had our tickets. We went to Game 1, on October 1st, which happened to be the same night I came back from a trip to New York to visit Katie. That game went twelve innings, and the A's won. It was beautiful. There was no game on October 3rd, but that was the day Greg and I finally admitted to liking each other. That's the day we consider our "dating" anniversary. Unfortunately, we weren't at a game that day, because it would have been all too fitting, but I was just glad it finally happened. We didn't end up going to Game 5, which was brought back home. Greg was actually in Massachusetts for work during that time and I remember him calling me and telling me how much he hated being there. Of course, everywhere he went, there were Boston fans cheering like crazy.
So that started our relationship. Unfortunately, the A's season ended too quickly for us, though we did have our Raider season tickets to enjoy. Plans had already been made to get season tickets for 2004, long before the season ended. I had asked my Uncle Don if he wanted to join us in our plan. I mean, at the time, Greg and I weren't dating, so I wasn't sure a two-ticket plan between the two of us would be the right thing to do (smart girl). So, I ended up getting four tickets, one for me, one for Greg, and two for Uncle Don. Little did I know what was in store for 2004. Opening Night was April 3, 2004, our six-month anniversary. Yes, only a girl would recognize and honor that date. But I felt it had a lot of significance since it was Opening Night. And we had planned on going, and having a huge tailgate, and just having a great time. Well, two days before that I ended up finding out I was pregnant, and Greg and I were going to have a baby. Wow, huh?
That threw our life into fast-forward. We moved in together, bought a house, got engaged, and had a baby on December 3, 2004. Ethan Gregory. He was a fan from the start. We went to a lot of games while I was pregnant, though we missed a lot during the first half due to morning sickness. But as soon as the 2005 season started, Ethan was right there with us for the games. We took him to as many games as we could, so long as the weather was warm enough. His first word was "A's", no joke. He knew how to make a little #1 with his finger and say "A's". And he had a great instinct for the game. He always knew when to clap, even at seven months old. It was unbelievable.
Greg and I got married in April 2006. The A's weren't home that weekend, or we would have had our rehearsal dinner at a game (again, no joke). We did have the A's present all throughout our wedding. The colors were - you got it, green and gold. (Though it wasn't the Kelly green and it was more of a soft yellow.) My garter was made of A's logo material. Our favors were beer koozies because we figured they would be great for tailgates. And our table numbers were A's jerseys with the players names and numbers on them, and the seating cards were made to look like game tickets. What can I say, we are A's fans.
So yeah, my "re-introduction" to the A's started because of guys. I admit that. But it's always been genuine and real. I am a HUGE A's fan. And I just feel very lucky to have found someone who loves them as much as I do. And I know my family appreciates it too.
So how about it, AN girls? What or who did it for you? What got your fandom started, and what took it from casual observer to full-fledged fanatic?