Late August is the perfect time to see a baseball game. Growing up outside Chicago, one of my favorite childhood traditions was the yearly baseball game I attended with my Grandfather. Always the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Always sometime in August. I guess that’s why I think it’s the best time to go. I guess that’s also why I’ve decided, while on vacation in Oakland, to go see a baseball game. The Oakland A’s versus the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers. (I’m also visiting from LA, but my blood doesn’t run blue.)
Seen from the BART train, the Oakland Coliseum is an imposing structure. A walkway covered by chain-link stretches from the station to the stadium. It’s here I begin to see all the familiar faces from baseball games’ past. There are the Scalpers, offering seats from the corner of their mouths. Then the Capitalists, selling A’s hats and “Straight Outta Raider Nation” t-shirts.
There’s a long line at the ticket booth, so I purchase my seat on my iPhone. Waiting at the metal detector, I watch an Old Married Couple get waved through. The elderly always seem to be the most prepared at the ballpark; they’re packing sunscreen, binoculars, a bag of peanuts, radio, newspaper and seat cushions. You can’t take it with you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t bring it to an A’s game.
I buy a ten dollar beer and find my seat at the end of the left field foul line. My section is dominated by kids- a group of nearly thirty, being wrangled by three impossibly patient adults. Most are wearing A’s gear. There’s one kid who wears Coke Bottle Glasses, like the kid from “The Sandlot.” As the game starts, the kids start cheering. Oakland scores at the bottom of the first. One of the women patiently asks Coke Bottles to keep it down.
One thing I am certain about: no matter where you sit at a game, there’s always an Opposing Team Fan sitting nearby. And they’re not going to let you forget it. A group of three Dodgers Fans start yelling, “Let’s go Dodgers!”
The kids fire back, “Let’s go Oakland!”
“Let’s go Dodgers!”
“LET’S GO OAKLAND!”
The Dodger Fans give up, but the kids cheer on. The Dodger Fans get up at the end of the 1st inning and never return.
During the 2nd inning, I finish my first beer. There is nothing healthy or clean about food at a baseball game. There’s a woman sitting nearby who looks like Christina Hendricks hiding behind sunglasses. She has a box with a Chicago-style deep dish pizza inside. She eats a slice, scooping up tomatoes and cheese with her fingers. I am in love. I go buy pizza at the concession stand.
Dodgers take the lead during the top of the 3rd. Behind me, one of the kids asks his friend, “Do you have any money? I’m looking for the cotton candy man.”
4th inning. I find a better (shaded) seat. I feel surrounded by die hard fans in this new section. There’s a guy with a Walkman (!) on listening to the radio broadcast while he watches the game. On the aisle, a mother daughter team of Scorekeepers, each recording the game on their paper scorecard. I wonder what they do with those cards after the game.
One of my all-time favorite things happens next: the Jumbotron Race. Every sporting event includes at least one electronic race broadcast on the big screen. Three opponents, thirty seconds (or whatever) to glory. It’s the exact shot of adrenaline we need at this point, and they serve it up hot!
Oakland retakes the lead during the 6th. The Scorekeepers are pleased. I can hear the kids from my new seat.
7th Inning Stretch. The crowd begins to sing; I am ecstatic. The highlight of every Cubs game was leaving my seat to try and get a view of the legendary Harry Caray, leading the entire crowd in “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.” He would lean out of the booth and wave his arm like a conductor, and we would shout and join the mass of voices broadcast over WGN radio.
8th inning. On the field, I see a foul ball bounce against the seating wall. An A’s player picks it up. Several grown men jump to their feet, desperate for a souvenir. The player finally tosses the ball to a kid sitting with the adults. The men all sit back down, disappointed as kids.
At this point, the Earlybirds that are looking to “beat the traffic” have started to their march towards the exits. My Grandfather was one of these. I never minded leaving early, until one year we listened to a last-second Cubs comeback in the taxi cab outside Union Station. Every year after that, I always voted to wait it out and catch a later train back home.
The A’s widen their lead at the bottom of the 8th, and I decide that’s enough for me. Goodbye Coliseum, thanks for everything. (P.S. send the Raiders back to LA if you’re not doing anything with them.)