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The Ballpark

By Sean Riley


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Two steps per stair I followed Albert past rows of empty green seats. My hands and arms filled with dollar dogs and my souvenir cup over-flowing with ice cold coke. The seagulls were making their mid-afternoon journey to the bay and the A’s were taking the field. The all-white uniforms glowed in the early afternoon sun.

"These cool?" asked Albert.

"Yeah dude," I replied as I positioned myself into my seat. You see, today was dollar Wednesday, which means that all upper-deck and outfield seats were a dollar. These prices also applied to the majority of the stadium’s edibles. Since nobody in their right mind would buy any other tickets, this gave us free reign for any seat in the stadium for only a buck. Today it was the second deck perpendicular to first base with our legs exposed to the July sun. The rest of our bodies hidden under the over-hang. Mark Mulder took his warm-up tosses as I inhaled two of my dogs. Mustard and onions were the only way to go. With my shoeless feet resting on the seat in front of me and my arms sprawled to both sides as far as they would go I watched Mulder fire the first pitch.

"Striiiiiike!" rang out from deep within the umps padded belly. I look over to Albert, who was two seats down, and he nodded his approval. Time for hot dog number three.

My dad was never a baseball fan as a kid or adult. Once a year or so from the time I was three, he would take me to the Oakland Coliseum to see the A’s. He would drink his Budweiser’s and I my Cokes. When the forth inning came we would bet on Dot Racing. If I won, I got a malt, and if he won I still got a malt. Now you can go to any stadium and see some version of this game but it all started in Oakland with three dots poking around a digital horse track on Diamond Vision. It wasn’t until 1988 when Kirk Gibson took Dennis Eckersley deep in the bottom of the 9th with took outs to lead the Dodgers to a 3-2 win over the A’s in Game one of the World Series that my dad became a real fan. The A’s lost the best of seven series in five games but my dad was hooked. To this day I never understood why this depressing World Series awoke the baseball fan in him but, then again, I’ve never asked.

Mulder retired the side in five pitches.

"He looks good," I said from my sunning elephant seal position.

"Yeah but the Padres got no sticks," muttered Albert from underneath his black A’s cap.

During the 1989 season my dad formed a group of his co-workers to buy a pair of season tickets. That season culminated in the Battle of the Bay World Series between the Oakland A’s and the San Francisco Giants. I went to Game Two at the Oakland Coliseum decked in my new green Athletics jacket and my trusty old green and gold cap. At my arrival I was infuriated by the numerous number of Giant’s fans defiling our home turf. My ten year-old mind raged, "Who dares to let them in?" From the third deck directly behind home plate, I watched with glee as the A’s silenced the invaders with a 5-1 victory.

Two days later at 5:04pm I was pacing back and forth across my parent’s room in anticipation of Game 3 to take place in twenty minutes at Candlestick Park, when I felt the ground begin to rumble lightly under my feet. Down the hall, I heard my mother’s voice yell "Earthquake!" Remembering my years of training I ran for a door frame. On my third step, a jolt ripped through the earth with the ferocity of a freight train. I stumbled and slammed into the door frame as my mother came running around the corner. She grabbed me and crammed into my shelter. The endless destruction of the earth snapped wood, broke glass, and ripped through our neighborhood with the force of a sledgehammer smashing through paper mache. Then it stopped. This was not Armageddon. Silence. Breathing. "Outside!" my mother belted out as she shattered tranquility and dragged me out by my wrist.

Forty-five minutes later we were back inside, and the cable was repaired. The screen before me displayed carnage beyond the imagination of my Carney Lansford worshipping mind.

"The Nimitz Freeway has collapsed. The death toll is thought to be in the thousands," announced Dennis Richmond. I sat in the living room of my Walnut Creek home mesmerized by the carnage that lay to the west for hours. The A’s and Giants never played that day but when the Nimitz freeway death toll only reached 60 instead of 1000 or 2000. The only reason for this anybody had was baseball. The normally apathetic and evenly split baseball fans of the Bay Area had all left work early that day to see their local teams play for the championship. The massive flow of rush-hour traffic had been reduced to a tiny trickle leaving those at home or in bars instead of in their cars under a thousand tons of concrete.

Today’s game was in the middle of the 4th inning. The blue, red, and white dots were chasing each other around the track and the A’s were up 3-0.

"C’mon, White. You got it. Yes! That’ll be one dollar dog please." Albert reached over to the seat next to him grabbed his last dog and tossed it to me.

"Ass," he said as it landed in my lap.

"Thanks, dude," I smiled as I peeled open the silver aluminum wrap. The sun now fully covered us and only my stretch fit Nike cap blocked it from blistering my skull. I shoved the ketchup covered dog into my mouth turning my attention back to the field. Miguel Tejada stepped to the plate waiving his bat back and forth over the freshly swept plate. I stayed sprawled with my reddening shins still hung over the seats in front of me and sipped my warm Coke.

1989 was the last time the A’s won the World Series although they did get there the year after. Their glory days officially came to an end following a loss to the Blue Jays in the playoffs in 1992. During that time, my dad and I went to games every other week or so but he took my mom to the playoff games. That is, except for one. I went to Game Four of the ’92 playoffs. The A’s were losing 4-1 in the sixth inning when every young baseball fan’s dream came true for me. Candy Maldonado hit a towering drive to left off of the A’s Mike Moore that rocketed off of the concrete stairs between bleacher sections and back out onto the field. The silenced crowd never noticed when Rickey Henderson picked up the ball and threw it over to the A’s bullpen which I happened to be sitting behind. Steve Chetren fielded the ball on one hop and turned to the crowd and then strait at me and my fading green jacket and flip the ball to me. I caught it and sat back down in my seat without a peep. My dad wanted to see it. People patted my shoulder and smiled at me and I could only offer them I weary smile back.

That was the end of the A’s that I had known. Dave Stewart, Carney Lansford, Dave Henderson all retired, Jose Canseco signed with the Rangers, and eventually Mark McGuire was traded to the Cardinals. My dad began to travel and the endless supply of tickets shriveled up. A couple times a season we might catch a game together but even then I spent most of the game trying to figure out how to sneak out for a cigarette. My friends were more interested in getting high than watch a ballgame and that’s the way it went for the next seven years for me and the A’s.

I climbed back down the giant stairs to my seat after a trip to the pisser to release the 32oz of Coke I had sucked down. The score had ballooned to 10-0 at the top of the 8th and Mulder had only given up two hits. Tejeda had gone deep twice. Once in the 4th and once in the 7th. I sat down and looked at Albert who was munching on some gummy worms.

"Let me get one," I said as I flipped off my sandals and returned my feet to their natural position. He handed two to me. I put one in my mouth as Mulder hurled another strike across the plate. "He sure doesn’t throw a lot of pitches, does he."

"Nope," Alpert replied.

I met Albert at the University of Redlands only to find out that he lived in Walnut Creek about a two-minute drive from me. We both lived in Williams are first year here and were both transfer students from Diablo Valley College. During the spring break of that first year, I talked him into going to a game, only to find out his dad use to have season tickets, too. After his dad remarried, Albert had not been to a game since. It had been five years since his last game and two since my last time at the Coliseum. We sat field level that day right behind the A’s dugout. The whole game the guy grinned and his eyes glowed like a terrier’s when offered a 16oz piece of steak. We went to two more games that break and sixteen the following summer. The last three years have all been the same. Some games end with an Eric Chavez or Terrance long home run. Others offer a glimpse of greatness like Barry Zito’s first start in the majors when the bases were loaded in the 5th with nobody out and he struck out Mo Vaughn, Tim Salmon, and Garret Anderson in order. The three slugger all-star were no match for last years Cy Young Award winner. Some are torturous blowouts with ball after ball rolling under fielder’s legs. A’s pitchers retire no-one and opponent’s bats seem to be twelve inches thick. The final out is an act of mercy to the few fans left in their seats.

The best though, are games like this. A weekday afternoon blowout on dollar-day is not to be missed.