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The fine art of heckling

Trading barbs (and chairs) with the opposition.

No bueno.
No bueno.
D. Ross Cameron - AP

On September 13th, 2004, the A's were in first place in the midst of a hotly contested AL West pennant race. The Texas Rangers were in third, five games back.

The A's bullpen was in the midst of blowing a lead. They allowed the Rangers to come back and tie it in the top of the 9th on an Alfonso Soriano home run. Suddenly, at what should have been a happy moment for the Rangers' players, the Rangers bullpen and bench cleared. But they didn't run towards they A's, they bee-lined it to the visitors' bullpen.

A man named Craig Bueno had been heckling some of the relievers.  That's normal. What was unusual was that the Rangers relievers didn't ignore him and go about their business; they started talking back. They were going at him and the others in that area. Whatever he said, it rankled Rangers' rookie reliever Frank Francisco. Francisco grabbed the ball boy's chair and hurled it at Bueno, a batallion chief for the Hayward Fire Dept. However, he missed Bueno and instead hit another man and Bueno's wife, Jennifer. Pandemonium ensued.

This was all while the Rangers should have been focused on the on-field action; they desperately needed that game to stay in the playoff hunt and had just tied it up in dramatic fashion. All the momentum was on their side. Following the chair throw and the ensuing long delay, the Rangers predictably failed to score again. The A's pulled out the game in the 10th to maintain their division lead and bury the Rangers even farther back.

I've been to many games, have seen fans say all kinds of stuff, but Craig Bueno did something that a fan can only dream of. He got the player to throw away the game.

While that was an extreme example, it served to reinforce the belief among fans that what they say can get in a player's head, that the only way they can truly affect the outcome of the game is cheering as loudly as possible for their team, and getting under the skin of the other team.

When I got season tickets (finally) in 2011 (apparently knowing Bob Geren was coming back for his 5th year was what inspired me to make this leap), there was no hesitation in deciding where to sit. I wanted to follow in the footsteps of the great Craig Bueno and get seats near the visitor's bullpen.  That was of course the best way to maximize my impact as a fan. On those Tuesday nights with a generous attendance of 10,000, every fan needs to multiply their impact.

When heckling, I recommend following a couple of simple guidelines:

  1. Don't swear. There are lots of families, and even your typical fan (myself included) doesn't want to hear a barrage of swearing at a ballgame. It's a bad look. We're there to have a good time.
  2. Try to be original and funny. Not all of us are Nico, batting 1.000 on the puns, so you can be forgiven for going to some old standbys. It doesn't have to be a comedy routine. But it's good to make an effort to mix in something innovative between the "you suck"s.

There are exceptions to those as well.  Look, this is heckling. Laying down hard and fast rules for childish taunting of the opposition doesn't make sense. For example, if it's Matt Garza, have at him. If it's a guy who threw at your star player intentionally, the gloves are off. But generally you want to be family friendly.

I've had some fun moments from the visitor's bullpen. The highlight of it all was pouring on Jose Valverde (Papa Grande) in Game 4 of the 2012 ALDS. Me and my crew were railing on him, coming with "Walk off time!" and "You're gonna blow it."  One fan hilariously sprinted down 20 rows to the third row and yelled "you suck Valverde! You suck you suck you suck Valverde it's over you suck you suck" etc. It was funny because of the run forward, and the yelling at the speed of an auctioneer. He knew the ushers would send him back to the seat so he had to get 5 minutes worth of heckling into about 20 seconds.

Of course, we were closer up and were able to continue. With the nervous moment, we put everything we had into it. Of course we called him potato (the translation of his nickname) and continued with the "Walk off" chants. Not really A+ material, but what we lacked in originality we made up for in volume. The game was on the line and we had to give it everything we had. I am sure Valverde did not have a pleasant time warming up. If even for a second he was thinking "Those sh*t-ass A's fans" in his head instead of focusing on his plan to get Donaldson out, we already won.

You all know how that ended.

Another great moment was in the 19-inning game, April 30, 2013. The A's were down but mounting their 9th-inning comeback. Ernesto Frieri hurriedly got up in the ‘pen.

Sometimes the stupidest remarks are the funniest. Everyone just started calling him Blownesto Bloweri. They just kept chanting "Blownesto." Yeah, it's dumb. But for some reason it is really fun to say. Say it out loud. Blownesto! Of course it morphed into Blownasty, Ernasto, etc. along a natural evolutionary path. I remember as he turned to the mound, I yelled, "Cespedes is gonna crush you!" And he did, blasting a double off the wall and helping to send the A's to an eventual victory.

You may remember my multi-sport doubleheader story. Well, when we were at the Phoenix Suns game, we were giving Elton Brand a hard time, telling him to "hang it up," "retire," etc. There was hardly anyone there so he heard us. Funnily enough, when we got back from the trip, the first team the Golden State Warriors played was the Atlanta Hawks. And there was Brand again. When he heard the same chants, he looked around incredulously, half smiling, half bewildered.  I was too far away for him to pick me out of the crowd, but I'm certain he was thinking this guy followed me from Phoenix just to heckle me?

The RF Bleacher crew has some good ones. Some of the opposing right fielders almost have a relationship with them at this point, or at least an understanding.  They have taken it to another level at times in terms of creativity.

For example, they had a Josh Hamilton "Appreciation" Night, where they gave Josh some Butterfinger candy bars in honor of the "He dropped it!" moment in Game 162. Josh has been coming here for a long time, and he knows they are just fans having a good time and trying to help their team win. They've probably told him he sucks 10,000 times and yet he was able to laugh along with them that night. The younger players, well, they hopefully learn quickly. Dayan Viciedo had a harsh introduction to the RF crew last week as he was noticeably frazzled by the constant chanting of "Daaaaayaan, Daaaaayaan!"

A couple of weeks back, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon walked out to talk to the ump to challenge a safe/out call at first base. But of course he didn't actually come out to challenge it, he came out to delay to see if he should challenge it. I started yelling "CHALLENGE! CHALLENGE IT!" in an obviously funny way. There were a lot of kids around and I could see they wanted in on that action, so I threw ‘em a bone. I called Lloyd a chicken for not challenging. A well-calculated childish insult. The kids ran with it, making chicken noises and having a good ole time. Everyone was laughing. And Lloyd had to walk back to the dugout with his tail feathers between his legs (at least I thought so in the view of my A's colored glasses).

Back in last year's ALDS game 5, in a predictable beatdown by Verlander, I told Jose Veras that "you'll always be an Astro to me!" Fans giggled, but Veras almost doubled over laughing and gave me props. It added some comedy to the tragedy that was unfolding. Also, it was good to know that even the players can appreciate a good Astros joke.

Even when the A's are getting blown out, sometimes coming up with some funny things to razz a reliever is all that's needed to keep the fans laughing and enjoying the game despite the losing effort.  That's where the humor comes in. At one time in a 6 or 7 run blowout we had a lot of fun with Tanner Scheppers. There were various pockets of fans around the bullpen just making funny plays on his name. Everyone was giving each other props when they came up with some good ones. It was nice to see fans not taking a blowout against a division rival too seriously.

To be a great heckler, you don't need to sit in the bleachers, the bullpen or even in the lower bowl. Maybe the players won't hear what you have to say, but if you come up with something funny, the fans will laugh. And that's good enough, because if it's entertaining the fans, we all win.

Sometimes, though, fans are just annoying. Witness the end of that aforementioned Mariners game. Fernando Rodney was warming up with his douchey sideways hat. Totally fair game, of course. Let him have it. But these guys kept yelling self-righteous unfunny b.s. such as "you're a f***ing disgrace to baseball! Turn your cap around you [p.o.s.]!" Then one of the guys started making noises like kids make to make fun of mentally handicapped kids. They did this over and over. Somehow his friends thought he was the funniest guy on the planet, and a couple other guys did too. They all joined in and made it a miserable time for all the fans and the players, security staff, ushers, everyone (meanwhile Johnson gave up four runs and Rodney sat back down). They were the disgrace to baseball, not Rodney. Whatever you do, don't be those guys.

It's unclear what Craig Bueno said, but David Rinetti, A's stadium operations chief, said he did nothing wrong and Wikipedia agrees. Rangers reliever Doug Brocail seemed to think a comment was a reference to his stillborn child which may have started the fracas. I think that at least one person would have confirmed that if it indeed was the case; from the reports it sounded like that was just weighing heavy on Brocail's mind and he misheard it, but after he misheard it he riled up the rest of the bullpen against the fans.

The exact words that were said may never be revealed. Regardless, nearly three years later, Jennifer Bueno got a nice check and a public apology out of the incident. Sure, she broke her nose, but the Buenos won out in the end. Well done, fan hero. Well done.