That’s a great line from an okay movie based on a spectacular book called Moneyball. Maybe you’ve heard of it? If you’ve only seen the movie and never read the book, that’s cool. You are probably just not that into baseball. The history, mythology, and traditions of baseball. There is no Brad Pitt in the book, sorry. But the real story of Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta examining the stats work of Bill James and his “sabermetrics” is super fascinating, at least to this nerd. OKAY, I ADMIT IT. I am a super duper baseball nerd.
Can I rattle off stats or tell you the line-ups from every season of my favorite team? Nope. I also don’t record stats at the games on a scorecard, but I’d probably love to once I learned the art, which I should do. But I remember the times and the players who got me in my guts like no time has gone by. I still remember the smell of old popcorn in the outfield grandstands at the Coliseum back in the 70s, and the announcers on the radio when I was a kid, particularly Bill King and his famous, “HOLY TOLEDO!” I don’t know why I’ve always been drawn to the game, but I have. I have always been a fan of the Oakland Athletics, and secondarily the SF Giants (Bay Area love only), but I wasn’t even allowed to play baseball as a kid, because ONLY SOFTBALL FOR GURLS. Lame!!
It’s the feeling I get when I arrive at my seat with a beer in my hand, and sit down and just take in my surroundings. Every game has the possibility to be historic, and in those peaceful moments before the teams are announced and the anthem is sung, my imagination can take over and my memories make me feel like they’ve wrapped me me up in the fluffiest of comfy blankets. Anything can happen, and for the next 3 hours or more, we fans wait with confidence that magic awaits us.
I think being an Oakland A’s fan and the atmosphere at the Coliseum is special. I’m sure all fans feel that way about their team, but I’ve been to other parks. Meh. Other than in Boston, I don’t know if anyone loves their team more. I also laugh out loud multiple times a game, like yesterday when we were down 8-1 and one of the amazing Coliseum hot dog vendors was walking through the plaza infield waving a ketchup bottle madly and hollering, “Let’s CATCH UP! Let’s CATCH UP!” Stomper, the elephant mascot with mad dance skills, the Hall of Fame Big Heads (seen above), and the vast array of instrumentalists throughout the park, particularly the percussionists, provide endless entertainment even if what’s happening on the field isn’t. Stupid things get me giggling every time, like the Judge Wopner People’s Court theme they play with the umps review a play, or when it’s obvious that the organ player had a little too much coffee that morning. I also love how salty other teams can get about our crazy fans.
Thing is, it’s not the easiest to hear terms like “poverty franchise” about your team, or to be ignored by MLB publicity forums and all-star votes, but A’s fans believe in our team no matter what. We have had a remarkable 50+ year run at the Coliseum with 4 World Series wins and tons of playoff appearances, despite our budgetary constraints. We have an incredible skipper in Bob Melvin (swoon) and players who are clocking extraordinary stats, even if no one else is noticing. And other people can trash talk all they want, cause we DGAF.
***clap clap clapclapclap LET’S GO OAKLAND! clap clap clapclapclap***
My favorite uncle Merv and I were tight. He was a salty ol’ shit-slinger with a crazy sense of humor and zero filter, so we were peas in a pod. His brain was powerful, even after age 90, and until the year before he died, he walked 4 miles through Berkeley every day carrying a lead pipe (“in case some prick tries to mess with me”) and did his calisthenics on the porch every morning. He stood a straight 6’2” even in old age, and loved opera, Vanna White, and his family. Oh yeah, and baseball. He played a little. This is Merv.
In 1990, Jerome Holtzman wrote an article for the Chicago Tribune about Comiskey Park called “From Connors to Condon”, a touching ode from someone who clearly gets the romance.
“The best way, I suppose, is to begin at the beginning. I grew up on the Southwest Side, a White Sox fan, and one my earliest recollections of the Sox was in 1938, when Merv Connors hit three home runs in his first three at-bats. I was 11, already keeping a scorecard, and listening to the game on the radio, an old Philco. Bob Elson was the announcer.
The fourth time up, Connors was aiming for posterity. Four home runs in one game, then as now, was the major-league record. Connors came close. He doubled. Four or five feet higher and it would have cleared. The ball struck one of the red lights on the inning-by-inning scoreboard fastened just below the top of the left-field brick wall.”
Imagine if that last hit had been a homer, damn. He would’ve joined a very small and elite club, which at that time had only 2 members, including Lou Gehrig. But his accomplishments in baseball were still very impressive. Along with his two seasons in the majors, he played in the minors for 18 seasons. That’s kind of crazy. He hit 400 homers in his career, no more, no less, including 30 in 1935 alone. That number coupled with his 1,629 RBIs give him some of the highest numbers in baseball history. The only time he wasn’t playing pro ball between ages 20 and 39 was when he went to Europe in 1944 to help win a little war. He was a decorated veteran of the Army 1st Battalion, 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment, and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. (The 517th is fascinating to read about, if you’re into that kind of thing.) Aannnnnnd he got some medals, came back, and put the glove back on.
Merv didn’t talk about any of his fascinating life much, especially the war. He would talk more about his favorite restaurants in certain cities he played for, or other memories of his travels outside of the diamond. But until his death in 2006 just before his 92nd birthday, he got constant requests in the mail for his autograph on 3x5 cards from the big fans and collectors. Since he would rather listen to a record or watch ol’ hot legs Vanna on Wheel in his later years, he would let me work through the piles of mail he would throw on the sofa and ignore, and I would just give him the stacks of cards to sign and stuff the return envelopes for him. I absolutely loved reading the fan mail; I learned so much about him, because he never EVER bragged about anything. God, I miss him. He could be mean as a snake when he wanted to be, but he loved the crap outta me, and he made me laugh like no one has since. And he got the last laugh, putting in his requests for his funeral service that we all sing “Take Me out to the Ballgame” as he was lowered into the ground. That ol’ mutha!
Well, I guess I’m done. I love baseball. Stories like Merv’s, all of them. That’s the romance.
Thanks for reading.