Last Wednesday was the very first Two Dollar Wednesday of the 2005 season for the Oakland A's. I went out to Oakland on Tuesday night to buy tickets, but combination of baseball fever and painkiller bliss convinced me to attend that game as well. My motives were entirely unselfish, as I kept a running diary of the game, which is presented here intact, except for places where I added jokes or left out chunks of observations, to be used for longer pieces in the future. For the sake of amusement and self-mockery, I preserved all of my stunningly bad predictions and poor identifications.
Negotiating the ticket buy takes some time. Navigating my way through the West Side Club to get to my seat takes even longer. McAfee Coliseum née Network Associates Coliseum AKA "The Net Ass" made renovations to accommodate the Raiders' return a decade ago. Said remodeling has made the logistics of the upper deck a lot more complicated. Getting to some sections is fairly easy, but to get to the "premium" upper deck seats requires going up a long ramp, follwoed by a detour behind the concession area and up another set of ramps, and then using a levitating potion obtained by killing the spider boss at the end of the third castle. Getting to luxury boxes is even more difficult. It suffices to say that it requires three forms of ID and judicious use of the Feather of Feather Fall.
Bottom 2nd: On BART, I read a blurb in the Oakland Tribune about Oakland rookie Nick Swisher. It stated that Swisher, like many rookies, is only learning how to hit to the opposite field, now that he's in the major leagues. What this means is that many talented hitters are able to pull the ball (that is, hit the ball to right field, for a left-handed hitter like Swisher) against inferior minor league pitching. In the big leagues, the pitchers are better, and hitters must learn to try and drive the ball to the opposite field.
Swisher comes up with two men on and proceeds to make the Tribune's writer look like a genius, by hitting a double into the left-center gap, driving in both baserunners. I decide that Nick Swisher is a hitting genius.
Post-2nd Inning Break: The dad sititng two rows below me has convinced his young sons (probably ages 8 and 5) to take off their shirts, and whip them around their heads, chanting, "Let's Go Oakland!" There are vague promises of hot dogs in exchange for this act. As our section is nearly empty, much like the whole stadium, and it is beginning to get quite cold, this is almost too hilarious for words. They break out the chant sporadically for the next three innings.
Top of the 3rd: On consecutive plays, A's pitcher Rich Harden misses attempted behind-the-back stabs of ground balls. I attribute this awkward fielding to his inherent, inescapable Canadianess. As the A's are playing the lone remaining Canadian baseball franchise, I surmise that there is a lot riding on this game for Harden. He's pitching quite well: in three innings, he's only had to throw 22 pitches, evoking recently departed A's great Tim Hudson.
Blue Jays' speedster Alexis Rios manufactures a run, stealing second base after a walk, and then scoring on two groundouts to second base. Toronto cuts the lead to 2-1.
Mid-inning Break: Looking for a way to best wash down my penicillin/Vicodin cocktail, I purchase a Mountain Dew from an affable stadium vendor. He challenges my intial order, which doesn't specify the green variety, but he seems to accept the explanation that I am "old school". The vendor engages me in a discussion about the evolution of Mountain Dew Code Red, and the racially-segmented demographics of its popularity. At two different points in our conversation, he requests I give him a high five. I wonder about the length of our conversation, until I notice that I am the only person in line. There is no one at this game. Dude was lonely.
Bottom of the 3rd: A's center fielder Mark Kotsay singles. Kotsay is a very well-rounded player: he hits for average, has some power, runs well, and plays good defense. He was acquired before last season, in exchange for Ramon Hernandez, which was a good deal, but also a sign of the A's getting whiter. They're an overwhelmingly Caucasian team, which probably reflects their focus on drafting four-year college graduates more than it does some organizational prejudice. In contrast, the Giants started a Caucasian-free lineup at least once last season, which may have been the first time in baseball history that happened.
My notes say that the A's have gotten less white this off-season, as with the acquisition of #2 hitter Charles Thomas, but when I look at the actual data, I don't see it. They added Juan Cruz, but lost Arthur Rhodes. Charles Thomas joined the team, but they lost Billy McMillon. Oakland is still the whitest team in baseball. Thomas tries to sacrifice Kotsay to second base, but ends up drawing a walk instead. However, the A's fail to capitalize on the opportunity, and strand both runners. I predict that Nick Swisher will be hitting second in the lineup by July.
Mid-Inning Break: I said it last year, and I'll say it again: The Giants are not going to win the National League West this year if they keep blowing three-run ninth-inning leads to the Dodgers. Silver lining: at least the Giants' bullpen didn't give up seven runs this time.
Top of the 4th: I look closer at the A's pitcher and realize it is not Canadian Rich Harden, but American Dan Haren on the mound for the A's. I am an idiot. An idiot who is sitting in the third deck, and really ought to be checked for night blindness, but an idiot nonetheless.
Here is where I show my knowledge of baseball.
CF Vernon Wells comes to the plate. I write, "Wells: still a stud" (Wells hits a weak fly ball to center.)
3B Corey Koskie is next. I write, "Koskie hitting kleanup? Kount the Blue Jays out of playoff kontention." (Koskie singles, for Toronto's first hit.) Here, I also predict that Dan Haren will have a better pitching season than the man the A's traded for him, Mark Mulder.
Designated Hitter Shea Hillenbrand bats fifth. I write, "SH at DH? P.U." (Hillenbrand also singles.)
Next up is former third baseman Eric Hinske, who is playing first base tonight. I write, "The Blue Jays are starting three third basemen tonight (Koskie, Hillenbrand, Hinske). I wouldn't draft a single one of them in a 12-team fantasy league." (Hinske hits a three-run home run.)
I am a baseball expert. Toronto's rally coincided both with my dissing of their players, and with my realization that Dan Haren was not Rich Harden. Toronto leads, 4-2.
Mid-Inning break: A Dot Racing gambling tip: When the A's are facing an opponent with a color in their name, bet against that color in the evening's Dot Race. I am unable to convince the shirtless five-year old to wager, and the white dot wins.
Bottom of the 4th: The Oakland offense is baffled by the pitching of the usually-mediocre Josh Towers. Towers is unstoppable in Oakland and against the A's in general. I consider yelling, "You're going down, Towers", but decide that I probably already have a file with Homeland Security for Weekend at Cheney's.
Top of the 5th: Mark Ellis plays second base for the A's. Two years ago, I mocked his worthless hitting and penchant for Jay-Z, but tonight, I am thoroughly impressed with his defense. His absence last season probably cost the A's the division title, though Mark Mulder's 80 MPH fastball from August-October did its damnedest to throw away the playoff spot as well.
Ellis's counterpart, Toronto second baseman Orlando Hudson, comes up with runners on. Hudson is one of two Blue Jays with excellent adult film star names; the other being Alexis Rios, if he gringofied his name to "Alex Rivers". The A's have two, by my reckoning: the aformentioned Rich Harden (if he went with another nickname) and Huston Street. Orlando Hudson gets extra credit in this exercise, since he described how his general manager "looked like he was a pimp back in his day". The Smooth Pimp grounds out, 5-3, to end the inning.
Mid-Inning Break: A guy notices my frantic scribbling and asks if I'm a sportswriter. I tell him, no, but claim that Bruce Jenkins is my dad. My dad also hates the DH and rock music between innings, so it's not a terrible stretch.
Bottom of the 5th: I've been watching all game, and the Blue Jays' uniforms do not appear to have any blue in them. However, I also can't tell "Harden" from "Haren", so take that observation for what it's worth.
Top of the 6th: Nick Swisher makes an excellent running catch in the outfield, followed by an awkward step and a face-first fall onto the warning track. You can gauge how closely fans are paying attention by their reaction to the play. Fans who saw it all the way are mostly laughing, yet applauding appreciatively. Fans who picked up the play only just before he caught it are in hysterics. Fans who looked over way late are giving Swish a standing ovation for the "diving" catch. They show the replay on the Jumbotron, and everyone cracks up, especially the A's bullpen. Unless they're shivering with cold, not laughing. It's really cold. The boys in front of me are wearing shirts again, along with jackets and oversized beanies.
Mid-Inning Break: The PA guy's drinking problem appears to have returned for the 2005 season, as his narration of the Cap Dance lagged behind by a full five seconds. The dramatic moment of revelation, as the ball was revealed to be under the left field hat, lost some of its tension, as the announcer was stumbling through an incomprehensible reference to Win Ben Stein's Money.
Bottom of the 6th: Jason Kendall walks to the plate to the strains of the Ataris' cover of "The Boys of Summer". He strikes out. I blame the song.
I can't figure out why Kendall is batting third for the A's. Last year, Kendall played for the Pirates, a team that won only 72 games, and he didn't ever bat third for them.
Top of the 7th: Toronto catcher Greg Zaun comes to the plate, as a scoreboard graphic announces that he had a "Career High 91 Hits" last year. Sometimes I wonder if scoreboard operators are intentionally trying to shame the opposing players.
Mark Ellis makes another stellar defensive play, turning a difficult ground ball into a semmingly-easy double play. One of the only clever outfield signs I've ever seen in the Oakland outfield (and can't believe is allowed to stay) celebrates "ELLIS D". Haren finishes the inning, having thrown exactly 100 pitches, and given up just four hits. The A's are still down 4-2.
Seventh-Inning Stretch: I snap a photo for some fans. I make them say "Durazo" instead of "Cheese".
Also, "Tequila" is gone. "Tequila" used to always follow "Take Me Out To The Ballgame", along with a low-tech animated homage to Pee Wee Herman. Perhaps they couldn't find a corporate sponsor for a "Dance Cam" after the child pornography charges against Paul Reuebens.
Bottom of the Seventh: I consider trying to fire up the Oakland players and crowd with some anti-Canadian slurs, but thinking about my options is depressing. Do I mock socialized health care? Legalized weed? Enlightened attitudes toward sexual diversity? I settle for humming "Summer of '69", but I do it derisively.
Toronto keeps Towers in the game, but brings in two defensive replacements: Reed Johnson in left, and former Athletic Frank Menechino at third. Menechino is now the fourth third baseman to enter the game for Toronto.
Towers retires the first two hitters, but after Marco Scutaro singles, Towers leaves the game, also after exactly 100 pitches. The new pitcher, Brandon League, has an ERA of 12.00. There's hope for Oakland. Mark Kotsay singles to put the tying run on first base. Charles Thomas then hits what looks like a sure double to right, but defensive replacement Reed Johnson makes a fine leaping catch at the wall. I like to think that Toronto's manager and bench coach pounded fists seconds later.
Top of the 8th: While reliever Justin Duchscherer shuts down the Blue Jays, I peruse the handmade outfield signs. Aside from "Elis D", there's "Kielty's Krew", "Kotsay's Korner", and "SH Perfect 10", which references Scott Hatteberg's uniform number, but makes him sound like he's barely legal.
Bottom of the 8th: The A's have three consecutive left-handed hitters coming up, so Toronto goes with lefty Scott Schoeneweis, one of the rare tribe of major league Jewish players. One of the weaknesses of the Athletics is their lack of quality right-handed hitters, making them especially vulnerable to such lefty-killers as Schoeneweis. He walks Erubiel Durazo, but retires the other A's without incident. Still 4-2 Toronot, heading to the ninth.
Top of the 9th: Catcher Greg Zaun hits a home run with two out. I mutter, "That zuckz", and then write "The Wrath of Zaun" in my notebook. I have a funnier line the next night, when he throws a runner out trying to steal, and I shout, "Kneel before Zaun!" 5-2, Toronto.
Bottom of the Ninth: Mark Ellis leads off against non-fearsome closer Miguel Batists. He works a nine-pitch walk, and there's hope for Oakland. Swisher comes up and fails to go far enough the opposite way, driving a ball 390 feet, but to straightaway center. It's a long out. Keith Ginter strikes out looking, and Mark Kotsay grounds to first. Game over. The 250 remaining fans leave in disappointment.
Synopsis: Haren had a good game, aside from one really bad pitch. Every guy I dissed burned the A's, almost immediately. Tomorrow, I vow to fill the notebook with praise for the potential of Russ Adams and Reed Johnson.