SCENES FROM A FINAL DAY AT THE YARD
During the course of a long season,
sometimes games or innings become almost indistinguishable. One game can evolve into the next one, as the
continual grind of daily baseball becomes our lifestyle. The remarkable aspect of this sport–like no
other sport–is that you will play nearly 200
games a year (including Spring Training) even if you don’t advance to the playoffs.
However, there’s something
special about the last home game of a season.
In the backdrop of our Indian Summer, shirt-sleeved A’s fans can savor
the endearing sights of that one last performance at the Coliseum. All of your sensory powers are heightened; the
grass looks a richer green as the fall shadows begin to creep onto the playing
field (except, of course, for center field) and
the smell of brats and BBQ seems a bit more pronounced. Inside the Oakland clubhouse before the game, an age-old
It starts with boxes. Everywhere.
It seems that veteran Equipment Manager Steve Vucinich is pulling them out of thin air. Even though the team will embark on a final
seven-game road trip, most players are packing their belongings during the last
weekend and shipping them to their offseason homes. There’s also hand shakes, hugs and long
goodbyes traded between players, coaches and the people they have spent a
season with–the clubhouse assistants, batboys, A’s front office staff and even
some media. For the clubbies and
batboys, there also is the customary signed check in each handshake, which
serves as a well-deserved tip for their services during the season.
I am not accompanying the
team on this final road trip, so Sunday gave me the opportunity to stop by
players’ and coaches’ lockers to express my appreciation and well wishes, both
for their cooperation during the season and also for a restful offseason. There was 30-year-old rookie Bobby Cramer, who could not contain his excitement about starting
Wednesday’s game in his hometown Anaheim Stadium, where only last year he sat
as a spectator with his playing career all but over.
I also had a chance to
congratulate Cliff Pennington for a tremendous
year of personal growth, telling him how impressed I was watching him play down
the stretch despite some physical ailments.
He was the definition of mental toughness and being a pro.
I also approached the
soft-spoken Henry Rodriguez, who usually does
his talking with that electric 100 MPH fastball of his. He shared how he wants to continue to improve
and is again planning to play winter ball.
And there’s one of the team
leaders, Kurt Suzuki, sitting in his
customary chair in Vuc’s office. He’s
been one of our real go-to guys for community and PR requests, and I wanted to wish
him a great offseason and thank him on behalf of the organization, and really,
just myself. He said “thanks,” then
added, “don’t call me.” I think he was
somewhat joking, but I suspect not entirely.
I think Kurt has a brilliant offseason strategy, though. He splits time between his Southern
California home and his parent’s home in Hawaii. He makes it kind of tough to find him, which
considering his need for some R&R each offseason, isn’t such a bad
I also sought out Craig Breslow, perhaps one of the most unsung heroes on the team
this year. No matter how he felt, he always
took the ball. I told him how much we
admired all his work in successfully launching his Strike 3 Foundation that
aids pediatric cancer. And jokingly, I
also told him to rest his arm because we might need it again next season. As I surveyed the room, so many other 2010
Besides Cramer, there was Justin James, another Independent League refugee who beat the
odds to make the majors with the A’s this year.
Unlike some of the other players, Justin actually approached me, offering a warm handshake and
thanking me for all I did for
him. Which, by the way, wasn’t
much. His story would have been covered
by the media with or without a PR guy.
He sounded genuinely excited about pitching next month in the Arizona
Fall League, and “working on some new things” with his pitching
Probably the best story
to emerge this season came on one May afternoon, when Dallas Braden tossed that improbable perfect game against the
Tampa Bay Rays (on Mother’s Day no less!).
As guys were packing, you could see some players, as well as other
people associated with the team, hitting up Dallas one last time for an autographed
baseball or perfect game poster to commemorate one of the franchise’s most
Yet perhaps the most
poignant scene from Sunday’s home finale came in the eighth inning. Our boys trail the Rangers, 9-1, in a game
that seemingly had gotten away from the A’s.
By this time, Bob Geren had substituted
liberally to give his starters some rest and the September call-ups a
late-season opportunity. It would have
been understandable if many of our fans had already left the Coliseum for an
early family barbecue. Yet, despite the
odds, a strong corps of A’s faithful not only stayed seated, but they started
chanting in unison, “Let’s Go Oakland” in the shadows of the Coliseum. It was this kind of loyal, supportive gesture
that seemed to cut to the heart of our players in uniform.
Unexpectedly, inexplicably, the Green and Gold roared off the deck to score six
runs that inning and shave the newly-crowned Rangers’ lead to 9-7. We all know that the ninth inning didn’t have
a storybook ending for our team, but the mere fact that this show of support
could emanate in such a seemingly hopeless juncture of the game is the
definition of what a true fan is.
So for all of you out
there–and you know who you are–thank
you for your unswerving support and love for the Oakland A’s.
We may not have drawn the types of crowds some major league teams did
this season, but I cannot imagine better fans than those who were chanting in
the eighth inning on Sunday. As we start
to lower the curtain on 2010, it’s time for us to applaud you! Here’s hoping next season will be the year
we return to the playoffs, and you can experience those long shadows and
magnificent late summer nights well into October. Go A’s!