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The dream and the nightmare of A’s playoff baseball

Somewhere amidst the paralyzing fear, don’t forget to find that spark of joy

MLB: Game One-Seattle Mariners at Oakland Athletics Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The playoffs once again approach, with that mix of nervousness, excitement, and, for an A’s fan, a healthy dose of agony or perhaps outright dread.

This is the time of year we as fans have been conditioned to freak out.

The Oakland A’s are fourth in playoff appearances this century, in all of baseball, with 11 including this year. Only the Yankees, Cardinals, and Dodgers have more (the Red Sox were tied with the A’s, until this season). Out of those four teams, only the A’s haven’t even been to the World Series this century. Only the Dodgers might be able to lay claim to similar levels of heartbreak, but with their endless financial resources, it’s a matter of when, not if, they will win. But for the A’s, we don’t even know where we’ll be playing in five years, let alone if we’ll get this chance again. Each trip to the postseason is rare, and precious, and we have by and large squandered ours.

So yes, it’s quite understandable that we approach today with absolute fear. We’re the team that always gets to the dance, and loses, in mystifying, improbable, sad, boring and ultimately, repetitive ways. The path to the crushing elimination game loss varies, but the destination is hung over for a day and depressed for a couple months. The routine every other October of my adult life, basically. This year, it doesn’t help our nerves that we are without our best player in Matt Chapman and we just watched an extended offensive funk for the month of September. The physics-defying sports momentum is looking ambiguous at best for us.

But it’s important not to lose that feeling of joy, anticipation and excitement embedded in the playoffs. One of those teams is not like the others. The A’s are unique among MLB franchises, the low-payroll team that somehow keeps on getting it done. The team that crashes the party year after year.

Look at our opponent the White Sox, for example. Yes, they won it all in 2005, and no one can take that away. Sure, it would have been nice to win it once. But to give you some perspective, they have made the postseason now 10 times in their entire history. As in since 19-freaking-01. Compare that to 11 times since 2000 and you can see that there’s something pretty special that we have.

Billy Beane has always said the playoffs are a crapshoot. If they are, the guy rolling the dice for the A’s must be me making bad decisions at 4 a.m. at The Mirage in Vegas. Logically, there’s no connection between all these teams; the old group with Miguel Tejada and Barry Zito has nothing to do with these guys. Jesus Luzardo’s only playoff experience is a few shutout innings last year as a rookie. There’s no reason that losing two wild card games means we can’t win a bunch of games this year.

But of course, our playoff experience as fans is vast, and heartbreaking. The common thread for the past couple decades is us, and Billy Beane. We’ve been battered and bruised and are scared to expose ourselves to that again. I’m shaking and freaking out just writing this. The fact that us local fans can’t even take the day off and steel ourselves with the pregame tailgate with the horde of A’s fans in the parking lot is amplifying that abject fear a million times more. We have no safety in numbers. Our devices, sources of all sorts of scary data, are no help. There’s no party, just scary anticipation.

But somewhere in there, that glimmer of hope, the possibility of that unreal joy, is still there. Find it. Get pumped, get excited, and be aware of the awesome, unpredictable whirlwind of life as an A’s fan. Yes, it’s freaking terrifying, but remember that fear is better than what most baseball fans feel most of the time, which is boredom and disinterest. We’re lucky, and in this year where nothing is normal, we might get lucky.