It was February of 2002 when I realized I loved the Oakland Athletics. It was an odd experience for an eleven-year old to have, really. What made this realization that I was more fond of the guys dressed in green-and-gold was the fact that I lived nowhere near Oakland. Heck, I hadn’t even visited the bay area, let alone a city like Oakland.
Still, for some odd reason, I found myself drawn to the elephant balancing himself on a ball. The Gothic styled “A” featured on the team’s hats was also, to my eleven year old self, something to behold. For my family, though, the green-and-gold colors did not carry the same vibe and mystique. No, they seemed disgusted by the very notion of me as a fan of the “A’s”.
It was odd, really. I was born and raised in Orange County in the heart of Southern California. For some reason, though, those green-and-gold guys really stood out to me. In 2002, I had played for the “Athletics,” and that’s where, in my mind anyway, my passion for the A’s emerged. During a late-night practice I remember taking a look at my cap, and for whatever reason, be it the Gothic styled “A” or the balancing elephant, I knew I liked this team.
After that practice, I went home immediately and did a search on the internet about the Athletics. What I got in return were pages full of information regarding the Swingin’ A’s, The White Elephants, the Philadelphia A’s, the Kansas City A’s, and the Oakland A’s. I remember telling my dad when I first realized I was an A’s fan and I still remember his awkwardly supportive, yet condescending response.
He was a Dodgers fan back then, but after the Angels emerged as World Series champions later that year, he had a change of heart. Still, as you might imagine, my childhood wasn’t easy. I was, more or less, surrounded by a sea of Angels and Dodgers fans each year. The only time I got to see my team was when they traveled to Anaheim to take on the Angels, or “Halos,” as my dad likes to call them.
It certainly didn’t help that the A’s and Angels took on sort of a rivalry during the early 2000′s, either. Sitting on the couch in between my younger, and much louder brother and father during A’s-Angels games was, in a word, awkward.
I became a fan of the A’s during their exciting 2002 run and I actually remember bits and pieces of their historic 20-game winning streak. It was definitely an exciting time to be an eleven year-old, to say the least. A lot has happened since then, though. No more Barry Zito, whom I often imitated whenever I played backyard baseball with my friends, Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Eric Chavez, Miguel Tejada, Dan Haren, Nick Swisher, and the list goes on and on.
Still, nearly ten years later, I’m still sitting in-between them and rooting for the Athletics. Win or lose, the A’s will always be my team. They captivated me ten years ago and they have no intention, apparently, of letting me go.
They’re my team. No matter where I live or move to, they will always be my team. Ya hear that, Dad? Go A’s!
The purpose of this post was to act as a lead-in to another story about a passionate Athletics fan. With that, I’ll turn the attention to Adam Dudley, A’s fan extraordinaire. This is his story:
Becoming A Fan
October 1988 was a turning point in my life—though I didn’t fully realize it until years later. It was the latter half of this particular October, and I was about to turn nine years old. Like most kids I knew, I had lived in the same house and gone to the same school for as long as I could remember. Every day I rode the bus to school and listened to cassette tapes that a friend of mine would take from his older brother on my yellow Sony Walkman. This is roughly the time of my life where I can remember what people were like, not just who they were. But all this really has very little to do with the story; what’s important though is this—in October 1988 the Oakland Athletics were in the World Series.
This was the time when baseball—and sports in general—started to become a real part of my life. And luckily for me, my youth coincided with the best era in Bay Area sports history. Oakland Raider fans will probably disagree with me on that, but I don’t care. Who needs the Raiders when you have Joe Montana and Jerry Rice? Before the end of the decade, three local teams would play for—or win—a title.
For me it was the Oakland A’s that fully captured my imagination. I can clearly remember what the 1987 A’s Topps baseball cards look like (and I probably haven’t seen one since 1989). 1987 was Mark McGwire’s rookie season. He won Rookie of the Year that year, played in the All Star Game, and set the rookie record for home runs in a season. But ‘88, oh ‘88. That season delivered in every way I could have possibly wanted at 8 years old. I didn’t even know what to want at that age, but it didn’t matter because we had the Bash Brothers. These guys weren’t baseball players; they were mythological beings that crushed the cover off baseballs in their spare time and would celebrate each on-field conquest with a collision of their forearms like the otherworldly warriors they truly were. In addition to their on-field myth making, has anyone ever had a better nickname before or since? Jose Canseco created the 40/40 club this season, and only three players have joined it since. No matter how chemically charged they may or may not have been, the fact still remains—it was awesome. This was exactly the kind of baseball that was incredibly easy for a young fan like myself to get excited about. So excited that I would earn my own tickets to games from the local library by reading a certain number of pages. While I may not have learned the fine art of pitching from all my reading, one thing I knew for sure was that when Dennis Eckersley came in—the game was over, the A’s had won, and the next three outs were just a formality. Being a sports fan was great; especially your team kept winning. It was all you could remember.
All of this changed on Saturday, October 15, 1988. It was game one of the World Series, and my beloved Oakland A’s are playing the Los Angeles Dodgers. I don’t really remember a whole lot about the game. What I do remember is that by the time the bottom of the 9th inning rolled around the A’s were winning and “Eck” was on the mound. Of course my expectation was that the game was essentially over, and the A’s would win—because that is just how these things work.
I was even more confident when the Dodgers decided their best hope of winning the game lie in an injured player. Kirk Gibson came hobbling up to the plate with 2 outs, and it appears that the last out will be the easiest of the game. It looked painful for him to even swing the bat. Eventually it got to a full count—then the impossible happened. Kirk Gibson hits a two run walk off homer to end the game. This was not how these things are supposed to happen; once Eck comes in we’re supposed win. I knew in that moment that the World Series was over. It didn’t matter if there were more games to be played—it was over. There were no more mythological beings on the field, just baseball players who could lose.
Fast-forward 20 years. It’s 2008 and I was living in Orange County, which just so happens to be in the Dodgers media territory. ALL their games are televised, along with ALL the Angels games. This meant was that I would get the opportunity to watch a whole lot of baseball—without having to pay the MLB some absurd amount of money for their special cable package—and I would get to see the A’s a few times a year since they are in the same division as the Angels. It also meant that I would have to relive October 1988 over and over and over again.
I hadn’t thought about Kirk Gibson in almost two decades. Getting right back into the World Series in 1989 made it pretty easy to forget about what had happened the year before—and winning it all made it even easier to forget.
As the new season was about to start, I kept seeing the same commercial commemorating 50 years of Dodger baseball in LA. Harmless enough, right? No. Not at all. As the countdown of these great moments in Dodger history starts to roll, it begins to dawn on me that what was the lowest point of a season for me was not only a highlight of a season for them—but was also one of the greatest moments in Dodger history.
If you would have asked me what I thought my reaction would be to seeing that “highlight” again, I probably would have told you—in a calm, removed, even adult response—that it was such a long time since the original play had happened and that I was over it. It had been twenty years, after all. Once the inevitable happened and I saw Gibson hobble around the bases in euphoric delight at my expense, I realized that it had not been long enough. I could not stand seeing this again. I don’t really know how I avoided seeing it for so many years; maybe I just suppressed it, acting like I never saw it.
For the entire 2008 baseball season I did whatever I could to avoid seeing that commercial. I turned off my TV when it came on. I left the room if I was at someone else’s house. I turned my head so I didn’t have to see it if I was at a restaurant or a bar. To this day if I see that play starting, I won’t watch it. If truth be told, all the effort is really in vein, because once it starts—I know how it ends. The images are etched into my memory forever. I can see it clearly—far more clearly—than any victory celebration in the ’89 season (but that may have more to do with a certain earthquake). Either that, or perhaps what truly defines a fan is not about how you celebrate the victories; it’s about how you respond to the defeats.–Adam Dudley