With the start of the baseball season, I am reminded of two things: 0ne, I no longer follow Major League Baseball and have not for a long time; and two, I wonder if kids today have as many fond memories of going to the ball park and following the sport like I did.
I was once a big fan of the Oakland A’s. My first memory of them was going to see a double-header in which game one was an old timers game between the old Kansas City Athletics and the San Francisco Seals. It was the late 60s and among the things I remember most about that game was watching the DiMaggio brothers play the outfield while my older brother told me about a guy named Joe. I also remember thinking it was pretty cool how every time the umpire needed a new baseball, Bugs Bunny popped up out of the ground with one.
The A’s were the new kids on the block and their owner, Charlie Finley was always looking for ways to promote the game on the cheap, and I do mean cheap.
I also remember the night I listened on my transistor radio as Jim “Catfish” Hunter tossed a no-hitter. It was the first time I enjoyed such an accomplishment. There was also the time in seventh grade my buddy Cam Lorimer and I got to attend an A’s game as a reward for our work as delivery boys for the Contra Costa Times newspaper. We ate so many ballpark roast beef sandwiches that we both missed school the next day because we spent the night tossing them back up. Like I said, Charlie Finley was cheap and I am sure that applied to the meat on his sandwiches.
As a little leaguer, I got to enjoy the Oakland A’s in other ways too. Their announcer, Monty Moore, no relation to me, had a kid who went to the same school as I attended. Each spring, after we picked up our baseball uniforms on a Saturday morning, Moore would arrange for all the league’s players to have a chance to line up outside a local grocery store for a meet and greet with some of the players. Now mind you, this was at a time they were winning three straight World Series titles so for a kid to be able to meet the likes of Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, Joe Rudi, Bert Campenaris, Vida Blue, and Blue Moon Odom, this was gold.
By the time I was in high school, going to an A’s game was easy. Just take the BART train to the stadium and get off. All you needed was a couple of bucks for a cheap seat and you could pretty much pick any seat in the house.
You see, Charlie Finley was cheap. Did I say that? He let all his stars walk away for bigger contracts elsewhere and let the team hit rock bottom. I remember one time going to an evening game and the public address announcer proudly announced the night’s attendance. More people attended my high school than were at that game. He followed it up by telling us it was officially the third smallest crowd in the team’s history.
We had fun despite the small crowds. I remember one time walking around the stadium and checking the doors to the private seats in the mezzanine section. They were usually locked. However, one time, one opened and we just sat down and began to enjoy the view. A few minutes later, the box’s owner walks in and rather than getting ticked off, he invited us to sit down with him and enjoy the rest of the game. Not a bad night for the price of a cheap seat.
By 1980, the A’s had a pitcher by the name of Matt Keough who by chance, graduated from the same high school I attended. The A’s were a young bunch and their manager, Billy Martin, was letting his young staff get a lot of experience.
A bunch of us decided to go see Matt pitch and cheer him on. Along around the third inning, Keough gets knocked out of the box and has to make the long walk back to the dug out. As he approaches us, we stand and cheer for him only for him to flip the bird at us. Nothing says thank you like a one finger salute.
Then, under Martin’s managerial talents, the A’s became good again. A kid by the name of Ricky Henderson and a young but now seasoned staff was taking the league by storm. Their games began to draw larger crowds.
One summer night in 1980, will always stand out for it was the only time I was ever kicked out of a game I attended. My buddies and I were sitting in the right field bleachers as the defending American League Champion Baltimore Oriels were in town. The Orioles were noted for having lost the World Series the year before to the Pittsburgh Pirates after being up three games to one. I was also now of drinking age.
Orioles right fielder, Ken Singelton was in for a long night. I had the bleacher section worked up and we were riding him hard all game about dropping the series. He never paid us any attention. Then, in my drunken state, I convinced the right field section to join me in a rousing chorus of “We Are Family,” the song the Pirates used to inspire them to a world championship. Still, Singleton remained unfazed.
Then in the seventh inning, he smacked a home run to where else? That’s right — right field. The ultimate STFU a player can give the opposing team fans. It did’’t work. With my alcohol-fueled desire, I switched to a new chorus. “Singleton Sucks!”
Ah, yes, when all else fails, this old standard would get to him. The more he ignored what were now pretty much just my chants, the louder I got until two very large and very mean looking security guards informed me I was now leaving the game.
When I left for college, I continued to follow the A’s and one night I made a bet with a buddy I could name every member of the team. Of course, we were in a bar and there was a pitcher of beer or two on the table.
With each player I named, we tossed back a good swig of beer. My pal Chet had no idea what he was in for. Not only did I know who all the players were, I could also drink like a fish. By the time we got done toasting each player, Chet was in need of a seat belt just to keep from falling to the floor. Me? I was ready to toast the coaching staff buy no one else was up for it.
Okay, so I drank way too much back then. Believe it or not, I eventually grew up and with it I became a spouse, father, and teacher. Somewhere along the way, I think it was about the time Kirk Gibson was rounding the bases after taking Dennis Eckersley to the house, I ran out of time to keep up with all my old favorites, one of which was following the A’s.
I am embarrassed to say I have no idea who plays for them. I know nothing about the team other than their uniforms. Still, it’s springtime, the kids are grown, the house is empty, and I am retired. Maybe now is as good a time as any for me to start following them again.
Go A’s! Whoever you are.
Photo above: The Oakland Athletics of today, while in Spring Training, by Claudia Gestro.
Below are two videos by Claudia Gestro, from Spring Training with the A’s.
Jim is a life long resident of California and retired school teacher with 30 years in public education. Jim earned his BA in History from CSU Chico in 1981 and his MA in Education from Azusa Pacific University in 1994. He is also the author of Teaching The Teacher: Lessons Learned From Teaching. Jim considers himself an equal opportunity pain in the ass to any political party, group, or individual who looks to profit off of hypocrisy. When he is not pointing out the conflicting words and actions of our leaders, the NFL commissioner, or humans in general, he can be found riding his bike for hours on end while pondering his next article. Jim recently moved to Camarillo, CA after being convinced to join the witness protection program.