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Bleacher Creatures

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What, no April Fool posts? You guys are slipping.

(Blogger's note: Nico and I crossed paths without me noticing his AFD post. Glad to know someone's on the ball!)

By my rough estimation, I have witnessed- in person- nearly 900 A's games in my lifetime.  I have seen World Series and playoff games, division-clinching contests, the only All-Star Game played in Oakland, record-breakers, no-hitters, triple plays, mustaches, bashes, and payroll slashes.

But this post isn't about how I've been blessed, baseballphorically speaking, it's about one itty-bitty complaint.  And it's not even a complaint but a blemish, on an otherwise veritable field of dreaminess:

I have never caught a baseball during a live game.  Not only that, the chances have come far and few between.  Granted having spent most of my youth and adolescence in the center-field bleachers, opportunities to snare a sphere were a rare occurrence indeed.

Why center field? Well, I'm glad you asked.

It wasn't always that way for the Marquez clan.  In the late 60's and early 70's, we positioned ourselves in right, behind superduperstar Reggie Jackson.  Came a day that our regular centerfielder was ill, so Reggie moved over to take his spot. We moved over with him.

But we never moved back.

To think what I would have missed.  Dwayne Murphy, for starters.  The only six-time Gold Glove recipient in Oakland A's history not named Chavez, Captain Murph oozed a special kind of cool in center, with the brim of his hat pulled way down low (is this a Queen song?) Oh, how we hailed Murphy, full of grace.  While the guy in left stole bases, Dwayne Murphy stole homeruns.  Often.  There was one time in Anaheim, when Brian Downing hit one out over a leaping Murph in center.  The captain came down empty-gloved, head down, as Downing began his trot ‘round the bases.  Suddenly, Murphy popped up and threw the ball that had supposedly cleared the fence back to the infield, as Downing fumed.

Murphy 

There was a special group of guys in those bleachers.  In some ways they raised me.

They were the Bleacher Bums, a collection of pot-smoking hippies in their late 20's, early 30's, who found their way into a ten-year old boy's world.  Dave was sort of the leader- he and his cohorts even got some write-ups in the local papers- and he was easily the loudest.  And man could he hold a note.  "BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO", he'd shout at the opposing team's center-fielder, for more than a decade.  To keep his voice from going out on him, he moistened it with orange juice and vodka, which he kept in an old Aunt Jemima syrup bottle.  There was also Fritz, Kevin, John, and Greg.  Others joined in later but that was the main group.  Fritz' voice was really deep and almost always hoarse.  Kevin hardly did any yelling but had this real squeaky laugh and he'd nod and laugh when one of the other Bums got off a good one.  John was black and not one of the originals and he actually sat in the next section over but he and his booming voice belong in this group.  He actually reminded me of Reggie a little bit.  Greg was the silent one, often coming late and leaving early but he was one of them, no doubt.  And they took to Tonianne and I because we were the only ones nutty enough to watch the A's lose game after game after game and still come back for more.  Dave even took to my sister's tune of "Where were you people in ‘79" when the Billy Ball crowds started to invade our inner circle.  Even after Tonianne got married in ‘83, leaving me to carry the baton, the Bums, Dave and Kevin in particular, would ask how she was doing.

They were hardly original or even terribly witty but they were unrelenting and loud and got on the player's nerves like no hecklers I've ever seen.  Sometimes Dave showed up fashionably late in the bottom of the first inning just so he could yell out behind the opposing center-fielder: "TIME OUT!  TIME OUT!  THERE'S NOBODY IN CENTER FIEEEEELLLLD!"  And you'd look at the other bums, and they'd wipe their brows, thanking the heavens that Dave was there to save the day.  On more than one occasion, I could hear him, ever so faintly, on a radio broadcast.  The guy was unreal.  If a player was having a particularly bad game, Dave delighted in letting the player know just how bad.  "Hey, Fred, you know what you are today?  You're 0-for-3!  Zero! (Others chiming in) Zero! ZEROOOOOO!!"  It was even more fun when the center-fielder went 0-for-the-series.  And even more satisfying when said center-fielder responded with the bird.  Victory for the Bums.  Their favorite targets, in no particular order were, Amos Otis, Fred Lynn, Gorman Thomas (who they dubbed "Pizza Face") and Willie Wilson.  When Wilson was suspended for cocaine use, Dave didn't miss a beat upon the Royal center-fielder's return to action.  As Wilson turned to take first base on what he thought was ball four, only to be returned to home plate by the umpire, Dave belted out, "That's just like you, Willie.  Always trying to get a free base!"  Aside from that low "blow", the Bums usually kept things clean and fun.

As the 80's drew to a close, the Bums' stay in the bleachers was in jeopardy.  Tickets to see Tony La Russa's juggernaut were a hot commodity indeed.  Even I had moved over to the (gasp!) first deck.  But there was still one moment of glory with the least known of the Bleacher Bums in the fall of ‘88.  The night the A's went for the clincher of the American League West crown, their first full-season division title in thirteen years, this ten-year old punk who had turned 21 seemingly overnight, drank beers with Kevin and Greg.  And when the last out was recorded and the playoffs a certainty, two gentlemen who had such an impact on my youth, turned to me and shook my hand.  There were tears in their eyes.  Of joy, definitely, but of sorrow, too.  It was a handshake of triumph and of gratitude, for sticking with the team through some agonizing times.  It was also a handshake of closure, for I would never see the Bums again.  Only on that night, I didn't know it.

Ah, who needs a baseball when you can have moments like these?

What are yours?

A's and Giants stage Game 1 of their annual Bay Bridge Series tonight at 7:15PM. If you're nice, there will be a thread up at that time.