APPRECIATING OUR GAME THROUGH THE EYES OF FANS
When you make your living in baseball, sometimes you get so occupied with the daily grind that you seem to forget why you first got into this business. But just as you run the risk of becoming jaded, it all comes back into focus in a New York second when you encounter human scenes that serve as reminders of how lucky you are to work in this industry. Like a parent looking through the eyes of one of their young children, you begin to appreciate the simplest things in the game when you’re around fans who truly love America’s National Pastime. And they come in all shapes and sizes, young and old.
Last Sunday, the A’s hosted several thousand youngsters on our annual Little League Day. Veteran reliever Jerry Blevins and Bullpen Coach Rick Rodriguez held a brief clinic and Q&A session before the game. As I looked into the stands during the presentation, I could see the faces of wide-eyed kids, all with priceless looks of amazement and wonder. Sitting in a big league park, listening to men in big league uniforms talk about when they were Little Leaguers, all the while knowing that hot dogs and Jemile Weeks were still to come on a glorious sunny day in Oakland was almost too much for some to comprehend. For some 10-year-old from Castro Valley or Livermore, the memory of this day might last a lifetime.
Then there’s Johnny Doskow, a baseball lifer who has admirably filled in for the irreplaceable Ken Korach while the Voice of the A’s continues to heal from March knee surgery. Right now, Johnny is the proverbial kid in a candy store. One of the best announcers in minor league baseball, the Sacramento River Cats’ play-by-play man has dreamed about being in the big leagues for all of his adult life. And it shows. While he knows Korach will return sometime early next month, the affable Doskow is savoring every moment of his Oakland A’s adventure. Big league clubhouses and broadcast booths…first class travel and hotels…Major League per diem…clubhouse post-game spreads that will not be mistaken for the Cedar Rapids Kernals…and the world’s greatest players performing in three-deck stadiums. Every time I see Johnny’s face, it’s like he’s saying, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Another reminder about the special relationship some people have with this game presented itself earlier this week, when I accompanied Manager Bob Melvin to the first 2012 meeting of the A’s Booster Club, a seasoned but enthusiastic group of about 200 loyal fans who gather at Francesco’s restaurant on Hegenberger near Oakland Airport regularly during the season. All decked out in green and gold, some date back to the year the club was established in 1968—the year Charlie Finley moved the A’s west from Kansas City. With many colorful characters, the spirited debates began even before the program did—“Why isn’t Jonny Gomes playing more?…”I think Yoenis Cespedes could be the next Reggie Jackson!”….”Why don’t the A’s play more day games?”—and then Melvin walked to the podium with thunderous applause. One old-timer yelled from the back, “We’re so glad you’re our new manager!” Not that all the questions directed toward the A’s manager were soft balls. Let’s face it, fans miss Gio. Heck, I miss Gio. But Melvin always humanizes the situation. He told them it took someone as talented as Gio to fetch four high-ceiling prospects as promising as Tommy Milone, Brad Peacock, Derek Norris and A.J. Cole. Also, unsolicited, the A’s skipper added this: “We’re going to get through this. Don’t worry, there are some great days ahead with this organization. And I want you to know how much we appreciate how loyal and supportive you have been. Keep coming out to the Coliseum. Our players see you out there.” Especially those red-hots (green-hots?) in the right field bleachers. You know, the combustible ones that, at the drop of a hat, burst out into ear-piercing shouts while waving their arms and various objects in a rather insane manner. I’m not sure if they’re simply the remnants of Matsuiland left over from last season, but whoever they are, we love ‘em. Talk about great fans. They’re off the charts. And they had plenty to yell about in the bottom of the 14th inning of Wednesday’s homestand finale against the White Sox. We’re just lucky we have railings out there because when Yoenis Cespedes uncorked his game-tying home run, and moments later, Kila (The Killer) Ka’aihue delivered the game-winning single, we might have seen a few of our valued faithful go overboard.
We need every one of you. We may not have the most fans attending our games this season, but I can’t imagine better ones. Take pride in that fact. I know we do.