It took a few days. A few days of reflection, of pain, of gratitude. A few days to step back and process the sad reality that for the Oakland Athletics, this memorable season has come to an end at the hands of Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers. There really are no accurate words to describe what this season meant to me. After all, being a dedicated A’s fan in a city of Giants can feel a bit solitary at times. During spring training, after the dust had settled and the team was beginning to take shape, I made the most optimistic of prognostications. I predicted, a winning season of 84-78. I was laughed at, questioned, belittled, and criticized by every friend, foe, and family member I could find. Yet, I still believed. In my minds eye, I foresaw a season of positivity and growth. A season, where A’s fans need not feel ashamed by their teams record, the product on the field, or the teams long term future. I wanted to fall in love with a baseball team, and experience the thrill of a Pennant Race. Obviously, finishing at 94-68 in 2012 exceeded all expectations.
It’s still easy to feel disappointed. The what-if scenarios play out in spades. What if the A’s didn’t have to face Justin Verlander and the Tigers? What if Coco Crisp would have caught that fly ball? What if Derek Norris and George Kottaras hadn’t lost all ability to block balls in the dirt? Hindsight is always seen through 20/20 vision. Fact of the matter is, the 2012 Detroit Tigers were constructed be a playoff contender. The 2012 Oakland Athletics were constructed to compete in three years. They made it in one. In some roundabout way this reminds me of the scene in Tim Burton’s Big Fish, where the protagonist Edward Bloom arrives in the town of Spectre, Georgia only to discover that although it was his destiny to help there. He had simply arrived too early. I believe the destiny of the Oakland Athletics is to win a world championship. Making the postseason, and getting their collective feet wet this October, was the first step. They could taste it, and although they ultimately fell short they should have the makings of a team primed for multiple runs over an extended period of time.
Putting the proverbial cherry on top to the rousing success on the field, was the revival and resurrection of the Oakland A’s fanbase. Of course, on Twitter and various forums we know who the true fans are. We share our frustrations, hopes, joys, and live and die with each game. These aren’t the ones to worry about. It’s the ones who have made themselves distant through the lean years. As the team began to win, it also began to develop a prominent, marketable personality. With charismatic leaders such as Josh Reddick and Jonny Gomes spearheading a cultural change with their play and personal style fans soon followed suit. From the glorious introduction and execution of The Bernie, to the antics of the always personable Jerry Blevins and his bullpen crew, to the awesomeness that is Balfour Rage. The Coliseum suddenly became a fun place again for the first time in a long time. It was a place to get rowdy, to cheer, to dance, to will the team to a walk-off victory, and finally to celebrate good times again. That’s what hurts most. That suddenly our fun has been stripped from us.
At the end of Thursdays loss, something profound and unforgettable happened. As the Tigers celebrated their series win on our home field, the A’s fans rose in unison. It wasn’t to make their way to the exit. It was to applaud. Then the chanting started. 35,000 people on their feet, paying a standing ovation to a team they will never forget. “Let’s Go Oakland!” they shouted. It didn’t stop. Slowly the entire A’s team made their way of the dugout and removed their caps to pay tribute. Some cried. Some hugged. It was respect, and it was a sign that baseball was back in Oakland. Even if it would be on hiatus until April.
I remember the 1999 season fondly. It was the first winning season in Oakland since 1992, and although the A’s fell short of making the playoffs they stayed in the race deep into the month of September. The foundation for the future was set, and it was evident that the A’s would be a force to be reckoned with in the years that followed. Following the last game of the season, a 3-1 victory over Seattle at the Coliseum, manager Art Howe grabbed a microphone near the A’s dugout. Seemingly taking a moment to embrace the applause from crowd, he spoke into the microphone and said “I just want to thank everyone for your support this season…and I want to invite you all back next year for bigger and better things.”. That moment has always resonated deeply with me and I suspect that Thursday’s post game events will do the same. I also believe that we are all in store for bigger and better things. Hang in there A’s fans, the best is yet to come.