My somewhat unhealthy dedication to our beloved A’s began in 2004 at age 11. I’d been a fan before that, but not in the obsessive way that would begin that year. The first three years were kind to me, with 2004 and 2005 being winning, contending seasons, and 2006 culminating in a playoff appearance. I remember being in eighth grade that October. A friend and I ate lunch in our history teacher’s classroom two days in a row so we could listen to the ALDS on our teacher’s radio. We paced back and forth between rows of desks in nervous anticipation while eating our sandwiches, and as we listened, we witnessed something we’d learned just didn’t happen - the A’s were on their way to winning an ALDS. On the day of Game 3, a perfect storm of events led to me getting out of school early - I had a fever, I lived a short walking distance from my school, and my mom was substituting for my last class of the day. Naturally, I went home and watched the A’s finish off the Twins, with Marco’s double pretty much sealing the deal. To this day, no one believes me when I tell them I really did feel sick, not even my mom.
I was lucky enough to be able to attend Game 2 of that ALCS with my dad, and we saw a hell of a game. They lost, obviously, with Big Frank leaving the bases loaded with two outs, down by three in the bottom of the ninth on a pitch that he just missed rocketing out of the ballpark for what would have been a walk off grand slam. But still, it was a hell of a game and the atmosphere in the Coliseum that night was like nothing I’d ever experienced before, and it only further reinforced my already intense fandom.
Fast forward to 2013. I’d been gifted a partial season ticket plan by my grandfather as a late Christmas present, and upon my return from studying abroad in England that June, I began my most attended season yet. I often went alone, something I hadn’t done to that point. I thought at first that was going to be something of a lonely experience, but I found that attending games alone let me enjoy them the way I wanted to enjoy them. I score games when I attend, so I was able to focus more on that than before, which helped me get better and form my own personal scoring style, and I also learned how to watch the game in a smarter way, as I could be alone with my thoughts. That being said, since my tickets were in the general admission bleachers, I was always able to bring someone else along and sit with them, which I often did. Any combination of friends was on the table, though I mostly went with my long time game day partner, my dad. All told, I was at the Coliseum for 30 games that year, including the entirety of the last home stand and all three home ALDS games. That final home stand began on a Monday, and I’d had my wisdom teeth pulled the Friday prior. I wasn’t 100%, but nothing was going to stop me from attending every game on a home stand for the first time. I didn’t know when, or if, I’d have that kind of free time on my hands ever again. If ever I did, it probably wasn’t going to be until retirement, and I wasn’t willing to wait that long. So I did it.
I remember during the first game of that series I was occupying what had become my usual spot in left field (somewhere in the first three rows, usually more towards center field than the left field foul pole, one section over from all the real diehard left field regulars). It was the bottom of the sixth and the A’s were down 3-2. Everyone’s favorite player, Alberto Callaspo, was sent up to pinch hit for some people’s actual favorite player, Eric Sogard. Callaspo swung at a 3-1 fastball and hit a high line drive in my direction me. I knew it was at me. I knew as soon as he hit it that this was the moment I’d been waiting for my entire fandom - I had a chance to catch a home run. There was nobody sitting directly to my left or my right. The ball was hit low enough that nobody behind me could reach down from behind to snatch it away. It was all mine. With glove on one hand and scorebook in the other, I stood up. I took a step to my left. I reached out when the ball got closer. It was coming in hot. Too hot. I wasn’t ready, but it wasn’t slowing down just for me. I reached out further, glove open, awaiting my prize. I heard it hit my glove before I felt it deflect off of it. I watched it all the way in, I swear, just like I’d been taught years earlier in little league - "watch the ball all the way into your glove." I must have underestimated how fast it was coming in and mistimed my squeeze. Or something. But after I heard it hit the glove, I looked frantically into the empty webbing and then behind me to see if the ball was still attainable. It wasn’t. I was absolutely furious with myself for missing what was obviously my ball to catch. I turned around to see some other guy with it, celebrating with his friends with my ball. I slammed my glove down onto the empty seat next to me in frustration. I was at that game alone, thankfully, so no one had to deal with me in the direct aftermath. I was not a happy person. The guy sitting three seats down from me looked at me and apologized for my misfortune. I could tell he understood why I was so upset, given how sure a catch that was. The A’s won that game, thankfully, and when I got home I went to check the highlights. There I was, as clear as day on TV, missing that catch. You can even see my glove-slamming as well if you watch the guy in the green jacket in the first row. Yup, that’s me.
The playoffs were an entirely different beast. Gone were my regular seats in left field. Gone was the happy atmosphere that accompanied that glorious final homes tand. What replaced it was a high drama, high intensity atmosphere that was, again, unlike anything I’d ever experienced. It was different than the ALCS in 2006 and it was different than Game 3 of the 2012 ALDS, which I also attended. The A’s weren’t the underdogs this time, or at least it didn’t feel like they were.
They lost Game 1 on the three runs Bartolo surrendered in the first inning, but Cespedes’ home run later in the game produced the loudest noise level I’d ever heard at the Coliseum, and it was incredible. The following night I went back to the ballpark with my dad for Game 2. The night before, my friend and I had underestimated the traffic from Santa Cruz (where we went to school) to the ballpark, and how long the lines would be to get into the Coliseum. I’d grown used to just walking right in for games that weren’t even half sold out. Because of our miscalculations, we missed some of the first inning. This time, my dad and I arrived long before first pitch, so we were able to take in the game in its entirety. Good thing, too, because Game 2 was the single greatest game I have ever witnessed in person. I don’t need to remind anybody of this recent history, as Sonny out-dueled Verlander and the Tigers for eight scoreless innings before the A’s finally broke through in the ninth, with Vogt sending everyone home happy. I remember how nervous I was about that game going into it. They needed to win. I knew they could win. But that feeling of inevitable doom that accompanies every A’s playoff appearance, no matter how well it seems to be going, was unshakable. You know something is going to go wrong. You don’t know what it is, when it will happen, or why, but you know it’s going to happen. It’s a helpless feeling and the fact that it feels inevitable can make the playoffs feel futile at times. So when Vogt singled to send Cespedes home and end the game 1-0, I yelled, I cheered, I threw my hands up into the air, I jumped up and down, I high-fived my dad, and I cried. They were tears of joy and relief. It felt like nothing was going to stop us after that. I was elated, relieved, and dumbfounded. The breath was taken away from me in that moment of happiness and the tears came out of nowhere. It is the best memory of my baseball fandom thus far, and I think about it every time Sonny takes the mound and every time I see Vogt at the plate.
Like all A’s seasons from two years before I was born until now, however, this one ended in disappointment. The A’s returned home five days later to face the Tigers in a Game 5. Seth Smith came up as the tying run in the bottom of the ninth with two on and two out, the A’s down 3-0. I thought back to that ALCS Game 2 I was at with my dad seven years earlier, when Big Frank came all too close to winning the game. I thought back to just the previous October, when Seth Smith tied Game 4 of the ALDS with a single into centerfield. I knew he’d been there before, I knew he could do it. The A’s were going to tie the game and win the series somehow. Just like Big Frank seven years before him, however, Smith just missed hitting a three run home run. He got under it just a bit, and the cold Coliseum night air helped ensure that the ball was going to nestle into Torii Hunter’s glove in right field. Game over, series over, A’s lose. Again. The walk out of the stadium and across the BART bridge after the game was the longest, slowest, saddest walk out of the Coliseum I’ve had to endure. I don’t think I said anything until my dad and I got back into the car. I don’t know what I said. I do know that I didn’t ever score Smith’s last at bat (F9, is what it would’ve been) on my scorecard. I preferred to keep the hope alive, even during the mourning period.
I didn’t mean for this to end on a sad note, I promise. That season is easily the most fondly remembered season for me to date. I went to 30 games, and kept track of my record. The A’s were 19-11 in games I attended that year. I couldn’t really ask for a whole lot more, other than more playoff games to attend. I started to feel like a regular at the ballpark and in left field. I talked with a few of the regulars out there, got to know a few of them. I celebrated the division title with them. I got myself into a routine for going to the Coliseum, and it felt more like home than it ever had before, or has since. I love that place.
A few days after missing that Callaspo home run ball, I showed up when gates opened for batting practice. I thought maybe I could redeem myself by catching a batting practice home run on the fly. Fewer balls were hit out than I thought would be, and I wasn’t ever in the right spot for the ones that did make it out my way. I did, however, get Grant Balfour to toss me one from the outfield. So I found some solace and consolation in that. I keep that ball on top of my dresser as a reminder of the summer I got to do the only thing I ever really want to do with my free time - watch baseball.
I realize that this piece describes more than one memory, so if that disqualifies me from the contest, that’s ok. I mostly just wanted to share.