I am on a pilgrimage. Don’t be impressed with my level of spirituality; this is a baseball pilgrimage. Each summer, we four guys travel to another two or three baseball cities with the goal of eventually seeing a game in every MLB site. (After this trip, I’ll have seven remaining.)
Wednesday—the Oakland Athletics; Thursday—the San Francisco Giants. Both teams stand solidly in last place in their respective divisions. This isn’t going to be pretty baseball. The unsightly performance of the Oakland A’s, however was overshadowed by the appearance Oakland Coliseum. The O.Co is butt-ugly.
It was constructed, of course, for the NFL Oakland Raiders because football rules, we all know that. The stadium accommodates more than sixty-three thousand Raiders fans during football season, but when the A’s are playing the stadium staff unrolls large green tarps to cover massive swaths of the upper deck. As a result, instead of playing home games before twenty thousand fans and forty thousand empty seats, the A’s play before twenty thousand fans, fifteen thousand empty seats, and a shiny plastic sheet. If this is an improvement, it is only a slight one.
The fans, however, are beautiful. They are aware that the glamor of Billy Beane’s Money Ball years has long faded, but they arrive decked out in the team’s green-and-gold, carrying home-made banners, and waiting for the fourth inning, when Bud Lite is sold for $4.00. (We foreigners from Georgia wondered why the seats suddenly emptied as the third out was made in the bottom of the third!)
The right-field bleachers, section 149, contains the Oakland Drummers. Fans in this section bring drums, cow bells, triangles, large plastic buckets—anything that can become a percussion instrument. Befitting the Coliseum, it isn’t pretty, but it is loud. During a game against Houston a couple years ago, the section’s drumming and noise was so loud that it actually disrupted Houston’s broadcasts and prompted Astros fans watching on TV to file a complaint. The Astros responded with a tweet during the game: “The A’s fans in the bleachers have drums at the games. It is not a broadcast issue and there is nothing we can do about it.”
Take that, corporate sponsors. There is nothing you can do about it.
Late in yesterday’s game the Oakland Jumbo-Tron cameras spotted a lone fan in the last row of the highest section of the most remote part of the stadium. He was shirtless, despite being in his 50’s and of ample girth. Between innings, he danced, his generous belly moving in multiple directions at once. He held aloft a sign, “Oakland Baseball Diet.” The stadium responded with a standing ovation. A few innings later, he reappeared on camera in the same seat, now surrounded by a couple dozen college-age fans, all topless, or as near it as public decency would permit.
It was a great day at the ball park. Ugly facility matched by ugly baseball. But we left smiling, privileged to have been among such passionate people.
Oakland can keep their stadium. But I’d like to bring some of the passion of their bleacher crowd to worship on Sundays.