Hanshin Tigers! Fure fure fure fure!

It was with much excitement and anticipation that I attended a baseball game at Koshien Stadium. With Natalie living for the time being in Japan, the opportunity to visit this amazing country also meant the opportunity to experience Japanese big league baseball. There were several steps in preparing for this outing, and a series of google searches certainly helped, but the most useful resource turned out to be The Hanshin Tigers English News. I corresponded with Trevor, a dedicated fan who runs the site, who generously offered advice and opinions regarding buying tickets, food, and activities at the stadium. Beside reading up on the game in general and the current season, I read Robert Whiting’s You Gotta Have Wa, instrumental in learning about the cultural, historical and strategic differences between the NPB and the American game that I know.
Hanshin Tigers Fans are renowned as a extremely loyal and dedicated group, playing home games in Japan’s oldest and most storied facility. It feels a bit like going to a game at old Yankee Stadium.
Check out photos I’ve posted in this Flickr album, if you poke around you may see more photos of our Japan trip.

7th inning Lucky Balloons

Holiday Photo 2014

A little fun was had whilst taking our holiday photo

Warning: This is what can actually happen when you’re taking a holiday photo by yourself with the camera set to a timer. You can’t really check on what others are doing while waiting for the shutter to click.

Baby Room

panorama-feb-2014

Back in 1979 my sister Shelley asked me to paint Nils’ room.  Heck yeah, my parents’ first grandchild and all. In turn, Nils and Sarah asked me to help paint their baby’s room, the first great grand child.  This team effort included young Theo’s help with birds, and companionship from Walter the dog.

Pennant Race

I fess up, I’ve not added a post to this blog in almost a year, let’s just say I had a few other things going on. I’ve also been encouraged (ahem) to be a little less public with my personal life. OK. However, my last post will bear resemblance to this one. As I write, the Oakland A’s have a 5 and a half game lead in the AL West with just a couple weeks to play. In games I’ve attended this year, we’ve seen Bartolo Colon 4 times, the first 3 were wins. Doing it for old guys everywhere. Thanks Bartolo.  We watched his pregame warmup from killer seats on fathers day.

bartlolo 1

bartolo 2

Baseball Magic in Oaktown

I’m a local. By some stroke of luck, I was fortunate enough to grow up in what I think was the golden era of sports in Oakland: the A’s won 5 straight division titles and 3 world series starting in ’71; the Raiders were a perennial powerhouse, winning a Super Bowl in ’77; the Warriors brought us a world championship in ’75. But lest there be any doubt, the 2012 A’s will remain in my memory as one of the most enjoyable seasons EVER.

I had my doubts on opening night, despite an enormous homer by Yoenis Cespedes. Throughout the year we hung in there, and with every walk off win, you felt the team surging, both in the standings and in the amount of pride that swept the community.

Again, luck came into play for me this year, as I attended the last 3 home wins. Each time a packed house, each time a feeling of family in the stands, it was a vibe like that which I had never before witnessed. The players sensed it and their response was to reward us with wins.

Thanks, guys.

“Walk Off Capital of the Baseball World”

Overtaking the Rangers in game #162

Feeling the love

I hope these videos stay online (at least for a while, whaddya say, mlb.com?)

AL West Champs – How Sweet It Is!

A’s players stream onto the field following the final out

As I write this, it will be 41 years tomorrow that my dad extracted my brother and I from school to attend a baseball game. October 5, 1971 was a warm Indian summer morning in the bay area. That afternoon, game 3 of the 1971 American League playoffs would take place between the Baltimore Orioles and my hometown Oakland A’s. My classmates were envious, and I had to endure their good-natured teasing, but knew that somehow the class would monitor the progress of the game. My very first playoff experience.

Some striking similarities in the game Mary Ann and I attended yesterday. Weekday game with a playoff atmosphere, kids in attendance missing school, classic bay area Indian summer weather, Oakland Coliseum, green and gold taking the field, a palpable level of excitement. Game #162, the final game in a season full of magic and exceeded expectations. We endured a loss back in ’71, Jim Palmer threw a complete game, despite a pair of home runs by Reggie Jackson. But the O’s were a powerhouse, even though they lost to the Pirates in the World Series, their lineup was formidable up and down.

Texas has a lineup more than capable of lighting up a pitching staff, but my A’s never flinched.

To say that history was made this day is a little misleading, but it certainly marked the culmination of an incredible regular season.

My observations:

A.J. Griffin was pulled after surrendering 5 runs. Unfortunate for him, the quality of his pitches wasn’t all that bad, it looked to me like he was more a victim of bad luck more than anything else. Evan Scribner relieved Griffin and ended up getting the win, but after getting a force out on one pitch in the 3rd, he did give up some loud contact the following inning. With 2 out, Beltre smashed a single, Cruz doubled and Young lined out to first. Were it not for Brandon Moss’ reach, Young probably has 2 RBIs. Scribner was sharp in the 5th and into the 6th inning.

A 4-run lead was not enough to strike fear into the hearts of the A’s and their faithful fans. Yes, the volume dropped temporarily until Scribner got the out in the 3rd, but we sensed that being as early in the game as it was, scoring 4 runs was certainly within our reach.

A’s players run a victory lap after their infield celebration. Ah, to have front row seats – alas.

A’s fans are my people. It was like sitting with extended family – high fives, “Let’s Go Oakland” chants, vuvuzela blasts – the works. Lots of love in the stands.

The right field bleachers greet Grant Balfour with the boxing kangaroo move. Hilarious!

The players not only feel the love, they give it right back. The infield celebration was madness, the victory lap run by the entire roster afterward was even better. They just couldn’t get enough, returning to the field over an hour after the last out.

Fireworks 2012

Family night at the Coliseum – 9th inning drama to down the Red Sox, capped with a fireworks display viewed from the playing field…

Not in our house, baby

I suppose it’s jealousy, but only to a certain degree.

Oakland fans and Boston fans: 2 distinctive breeds.  For a variety of reasons, the Oakland A’s draw the largest crowds when three teams are in town: the Giants, Yankees and Red Sox, and at times, it might seem like there are equal numbers in attendance rooting for the visitors.  I don’t remember it always being this way.

The Giants have strung together some pretty good seasons recently, the preseason Bay Bridge series has always been fun to watch from both sides of the water, same true of interleague play.  The Yankees and Sox draw for different reasons: history, tradition, and fierce loyalty among them.  They play in storied ballparks that are tucked into neighborhoods, the average baseball fan’s consciousness can easily conjure visions of the façade at Yankee Stadium, or the green monster at Fenway.  So many iconic and defining moments have taken place there – I clearly suffer from ballpark envy.  But I have my own set of iconic memories that took place on our field.  Hey, it ain’t beautiful, but it’s our home.

The A’s just finished playing a series against the Red Sox, my family was in attendance for the July 3 game that featured fireworks afterward.  It wasn’t quite a last minute decision, but without really planning in advance for it, we got tickets, gathered up some snacks, and found ourselves sitting in the 2nd deck near the left field foul pole.  The stadium was at far less than full capacity when Coco Crisp led off the bottom of the first with a home run to stake the A’s to a 1-0 lead. People eventually found their seats, and as the sections filled up, it was easy to make note of the number of Boston faithful that were in our presence.

I like to think of myself as fairly thick skinned, but there just happened to be a few people sitting in our section who pushed my buttons.  I suppose it was a source of motivation to root more vigorously for my A’s, as I found myself shouting out a coarser-than-usual “SIT DOWN” or “GOT HIM” whenever a good defensive play retired a Red Sox batter.

Let’s start with ponytail mom.  Sitting 3 rows in front of us, she has the look of a well-heeled suburban soccer mom in her 40s, married to a mid-level executive, blond ponytail bouncing from underneath her weathered Red Sox cap.  But what’s this? Her husband and 4 kids all have identical equally weathered caps, as though they were bought that way.  OK, I own pre-faded jeans, my bad for pointing this out.  What’s bothersome is seeing her jump up to celebrate a Boston batter reaching base.  Sorry, but save your jumping up and down for a hard hit double in the gap, not for reaching on an error by the second baseman. I didn’t hear exactly what she was saying, but I imagine it as “Oh yay! He did something good!”

Next is Mr. Encyclopedia, who, for 2 innings sat in the row right in front of me.  Fairly or unfairly, he fulfilled my own stereotype of the typical Boston fan.  Wearing a Pedro Martinez replica jersey, he had a nervous energy and intense demeanor, fidgeting in his seat, rocking from side to side as he professed as to how Jon Lester would pitch successfully against Oakland hitters (pretty decent night for Lester, unless of course, you count the leadoff homer), or how Dustin Pedroia was going to rifle one into the gap (he didn’t).  Clearly a smart guy, more that once I heard him recite a player’s statistic, my guess is he’s in multiple fantasy leagues.  Good for you, Skippy.  When Pedroia was called out on a close play at first base to end an inning, I put a little more behind my shout of  “OUCH”.  There go your stats.

Sitting next to Mr. Encyclopedia is yuppie girl.  I had little problem tuning her out, but I did catch enough of her conversation (hey, she was sitting almost directly in front of me, I’m just trying to watch the game, OK?) about the great Boston neighborhoods she’d lived in back in the day.  “You just don’t find that out here.” Thank you for the brilliant observation.  You’re in California now for what reason? Be gone.

We talked about our strategy for going onto the field to watch fireworks after the game.  The line forms from the first deck in the left field corner, just below our section.  To land the choicest plot on the outfield grass, Nat and I decided to get in the front of the line and give cuts to Mary Ann and Eric whenever they arrived, so we headed down in the 8th inning.  3 television monitors are visible from the corridor where people are lining up, and although we couldn’t see in detail, as the fireworks line grew, we saw the events that led up to the A’s stunning comeback and victory.  Joy.  Elation. High fives.  Hoarse voice. Before the winning run crossed the plate in the bottom of the 9th, a number of Boston fans, seemingly craving attention, would parade past the growing gathering of A’s fans, holding up their caps, so proud of their 1 run lead and expected victory, whereupon they were subjected to a chorus of booing, hand gestures, and profanity.  Excuse me, but your gloating is about to come to an end.

I don’t dislike the Red Sox, honestly.  There was a time when I really hated them, but I got over it long ago, probably when Dave Stewart went about OWNING Roger Clemens in truly meaningful games.  I do admire their fans’ zeal, just not in OUR house.


Coming back to my memory are some other sweeps over the Sox. A couple times in the playoffs (1988, 1990), and a stunning sweep at the Coliseum that wrested the wildcard lead from Boston in August of 2001. I took an “extended lunch break” from work that day to soak in the victory under ideal bay area baseball weather conditions.