Saturday, July 7, 2007

Take Me Out To the ...


Toddler Doug, his mom, and I arrived in California from Massachusetts in the summer of 1969, during the Athletics' second season in Oakland after their dismal dozen years in Kansas City. As an unsteady and uncertain transplant from elsewhere, and a ballplayer of no little skill (in my own mind, at least), I felt a kinship to this bunch of ragamuffins, playing in the lower-class, industrial leeward of the more famous and entrenched Giants across the bay in San Francisco.

For all of Doug and Adam's childhood, the Athletics and their home park in Oakland were a signal place of joy in summer. We could take BART or just drive down the freeway from Berkeley to the ballpark in Oakland and enjoy, first-hand and in person (for very little cost or planning) the likes of Vida Blue, Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, Blue Moon Odom, Joe Rudi, Rickey Henderson, Sal Bando... and on and on and on through Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Dennis Eckersley, and Shooty Babbitt. The Oakland Coliseum was a special backdrop to our growing up, no matter when that growing up transpired, in our 00's or teens or twenties. The A's, good (as they were in the early '70s) or bad (not often) or indifferent (most of the time) always provided a place where we could go, either in person or, more often, in conversation, where we always had common ground.

After the '70s and the '80s became the '90s, though, we sort of lost our connections to things like baseball (as fathers and sons are wont to do), but regained it in the early 2000's, thanks to Doug's pragmatism.

In mid-June, Doug would always be faced with a triple-whammy of Special Dates to deal with: my birthday and Adam's are within two days of each other, and they're generally within a week of Fathers' Day. In 2001, Doug started a tradition: celebrate Dad's birthday, Adam's birthday, and Fathers' Day all at once by taking Adam and me to a ballgame -- either at the then-new Giants' park in San Francisco or at our old, comfortable concrete pile off the Nimitz Freeway in Oakland.

Doug, Sherwood, and Adam at the Giants' Ballpark (when the A's were the opposing team!) in 2001.

Adam, Sherwood, and Doug at the Oakland Coliseum in the Summer of 2003. I am wearing a replica of the cap that the A's wore in Philadelphia in 1947, the year I was born.

Adam and Doug at the Coliseum two summers ago, the last time Doug was able to participate in his own tradition.

Today! Adam and me, and Adam's Lynda's son, Andrew, at this year's midsummer ballpark gathering. Doug's widow, Adrianne, and Adam wanted to continue and expand the tradition to a new generation, and this year was the start of the continuation. (Oh, for the luvva pete... I just noticed right now that I'm wearing the same shirt in this photo that I wore six years ago. Plugged in to the pulse o' fashion, that's me, eh?)

Adrianne, Grace, Andrew, and Adam, 7/7/07.

The weather was wonderful, the seats were great, the camaraderie was untouchable, and the game was a stinker. No matter -- that's one of the beauties of a 162-game season that dawdles along for more than half a year. Any one game's outcome doesn't really matter that much, but the shared relaxation matters a whole lot.

The hot dogs matter a whole lot, too.

Grace-the-granddaughter ponders her first taste of a ballpark hot dog, and...

... finds it pretty good! Like, really, really good!

I think it was "Peanuts'" Linus who once wisely observed that a hot dog just doesn't taste right unless it has a ballgame in front of it.

And, yes, there was a ballgame in front of our hot dogs. Not a great one, though. The above scoreboard shows all that's necessary: Seattle scored a lot of times early, and the A's couldn't scratch out many hits.

The Mariners' pitcher was careful with A's hitting star Eric Chavez. Above, his butt pokes back toward us to avoid an inside pitch, and, below, the next pitch zips past his helmet. (Photo-bragging: we were seated far down the right-field line, about even with the foul pole, so these pix were taken from a distance of roughly a hundred yards.)

This sunny, bright Saturday afternoon brought out a large crowd for a team not praticularly active in the pennant race:

One thing that struck me about the nature of the crowd was its demographics. In the '70s and '80s, when I was a much more regular patron, the Coliseum crowd was heavily African-American (as is the general population of Oakland). But just look at the faces in the crowd above: how many black ones do you see? (Click on any of the photos here to see larger, higher-resolution versions.)

One thing about the ballpark's demographics remained the same, though, over the decades: the workforce mirrors the population of Oakland.

A Seattle player tosses a gift to the Oakland fans.

Irish Pub under the stands. Yeah, right.

In the parking lot, on the way home: what you can't sense here is the intense heat over the charcoal disposal drum from tailgaters' briquettes. Given that, though, the dancer's pose is completely appropriate.


Mike said...

When I lived in Colorado, we used to go to see the Denver Bears play at Mile-High Stadium -- minor league ball, cheap tickets, great sunshine. And, yes, Father's Day was usually one of the occasions, though not a tradition.

But you're absolutely right that the quality of the game is not the thing -- it's the quality of the experience. When I moved back east, we were within an hour of Montreal, and we made a couple of runs up there to see the Expos, a decent team at the time.

But Olympic Stadium was a big, cold barn with a green rug where a real ballpark would have had grass. The retractable roof didn't work, so there was never a game with a sky overhead. We tried real hard to enjoy the experience, but it just wasn't happening, and I haven't been to a ball game in probably 18 years.

However, next weekend, I'm going down to Portland with an old buddy who lives here to see the Sea Dogs play. Or to sit in the sunshine with some nachos and a beer. Maybe both.

Dann said...

Great story, Sherwood. And a great tradition.


ronnie said...

I don't understand.

Where are the blankets? Where is the Tim Horton's coffee? Why isn't anyone wearing gloves? Why can't I see anyone's breath? Why aren't there any boards or glass around the playing area? How do you keep the players from flying off? Or people from getting hit by projectiles?

Your American sports are strange and incomprehensible.

Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

Yep, i think it was Linus who said that line!

The best thing to do with a great tradition is to expand it in just this way! A terrific way to spend the day - but i'd have to be in the shade! Oh, and i scoff at the relative youth of your 6-yr-old shirt. I've got stuff from the 80's.

Sherwood Harrington said...

Ronnie -

I had to show your comment to my Dean and longtime good friend, Anne. Anne has maintained her Canadian citizenship steadfastly, despite having been in the U.S. longer than she lived in her (and your) home country. She's Canadian, yes, through and through... and she laughed and laughed and laughed at your comment!

Anne is stepping down as Dean in a couple of weeks after a ten-year reign as a remarkable force here. During her ten years as Dean, she has overseen more faculty, students, and staff than most presidents of California community colleges have, since DeAnza is so huge an institution.

And, on top of all that, she's pretty cool and absolutely genuine. Canadian, you might say.

You can see some photos of her here.
It's a collection of snaps from the next-to-last division faculty meeting that Anne presided over. Her immediate "superiors" in the administrative chain -- the VP of Instruction and the College President -- attended. A clarification of one of the captions: the President (Brian Murphy) is a Williams College Grad; yours truly, of course, is an Amherst guy.

Ruth... I presume that you mean the nineteen-80's, right? ;-)

ronnie said...


Thanks for introducing me to Anne (or vice-versa) and for the confirmation of the ongoing success of our slow, low-level plot to take over American.

(How slow and low-level? Let's just say a certain snapping turtle got his start in Ontario...)

Great photos. One thing that occurred to me while viewing them was, "If it hadn't been for the internet, I would never have known what strong senses of humour scientists have. Weird."