Thursday, June 22, 2006

Indoctrination of an A's Virgin

Anybody who knows me well will probably tell you that my life centers largely around my passion for some certain green and gold-clad fellows. If they knew me really well and you asked, say, my sister, she might tell you that I tend to get a little obsessive. But there are some things even she doesn't know, like when I go to 7-Eleven and get a Slurpee, my straws are green and yellow. I have been known to coordinate my nail polish to avoid painting my fingers a color belonging to the team that the A's are playing that day, and if that IS the case, to take it off posthaste. (Occasionally I fall down on the job. I put part of the blame for the disastrous Texas series on the fact that I was still wearing blue polish. The rest of it might have had something to do with the fact that our beloveds sucked, badly, at that time).

I have loved the A's since 2003, where I fell for them during the ALDS against the hated Red Sawx. Granted, this was not the best time to become an A's fan, but it was something like trial by fire, and I still remember Harden coming on in relief and giving up the extra-inning game-ending HR to Trot Nixon in Fenway. And, of course, that is the least of the painful memories for that series....But whatever. The point was, I was in, and that was when I discovered the Big Three. That was what really cemented it. I was in love. And that's the reason that, despite all the animosity toward Mulder on AN, I can't hate him. I just can't.

I began to follow the A's. But there was one problem... I live in Colorado, and as you all know, this is not exactly a bustling mecca for AL teams except in June, and even then, you have to wait for the schedule to align just right so that the A's come HERE instead of vice versa. Well, this year, I finally got my chance to see them, live and in person, for the first time. For my high school graduation gift, my dad bought me tickets to all 3 A's games at Coors. He, my sister Gillian, and myself were scheduled for the first two, and the entire family got a present in the third.

My graduation party itself was very A's-themed - green and yellow trim on the cake, even green and yellow flowers that I picked out specially. With my graduation money, I bought an A's jersey and then neurotically tracked the package online waiting for it to arrive, making one false-alarm trip to the post office in my eagerness. Fortunately for the state of my mental health, it arrived the next day.

But at last the long-sought game days came. And I promised myself that I'd write up a nice, long report. So here goes.

This was a really, really big deal. We left our house around 4:30, got to Coors Field around 5:30, and spent the hour and a half before the game huddling along the third-base side with our fellow green and gold-clad faithful. You might have seen us there - I was in jersey and A's hat, Gillian was in an A's elephant hat, and we were both wearing green and gold Mardi Gras beads. (These beads are cursed. We should have known better).

Anyway, we began the autograph hunt. The first one we scored was Mark Ellis, in the high socks and all, and we zipped over there and nudged in. He started to leave as we got there, saw us, came back, and signed for us. I said, "Come back, Mark, we need you," and he said, "Thanks." I did notice that his thumb was no longer in a splint or bandage, so maybe his return is on the horizon.

We were quite pleased about this, but the hunt was far from over. Next we scored Chavez! Chavy is quite possibly my favorite, so I shuffled into the queue rapidly forming about him, extended my hat, and managed to squeak out a "Thank you so much," when he returned it to me. Then we zipped over to the other side while I got Swisher and Gillian got Zito. (We later reversed, while she nabbed Swish and I got Z). Gillian, being a scientist, wanted to know about the effects of high altitude on ballplayers, and had a rather unintentionally hilarious conversation with Z:

GILLIAN: So, Barry, I got a question.
Z: What's up?
GILLIAN: I was wondering, you know, some people come up here and get altitude sickness from the elevation. Does that affect you at all?
Z: Really?... I dunno.. I haven't really noticed anything different... I heard hangovers are worse though...

Now who did he hear that from? My guess is Swish... :D

As for Swish himself, he was really friendly and personable, shaking hands and calling everyone "honey" and telling them it was great to meet them. After this series, I have emerged with an even deeper love for him...he's AWESOME!

Last but definitely not least, we got Huston as we were going back to our seats. Five autographs! We were in paradise! :D

The game itself was...okay... up until the eighth inning. We were screaming and cheering for Danny and the A's, and finally someone in front of us turned around and asked how we knew the players so well. We answered that we followed them obsessively. She said that she'd thought we were Danny's sisters, since we kept cheering for him and rooting him on so hard and calling him "Danny Boy." :D That, obviously, really flattered us, but no, 'twas not the case. And the third run was entirely Swish's fault. He completely misjudged the ball and it cost us.

The eighth inning...sucked. First Crosby grounded into his second DP of the game to leave 'em loaded, and afterwards, Witasick and Sauerbeck combined to make wrack and ruin of Danny's game. We were making bets on whether or not that inning would ever actually end, and afterwards they went meekly in the ninth. Still, I couldn't be too depressed, I'd just seen the A's play for the first time ever. No, that came afterwards. ;)

This, as we all know, was very ugly, so I won't waste much time on it. There weren't many people signing before the game, so we only got Kielty and Halsey. However, we did spot Danny, so Gillian shouted at him. After a second, he raised himself up languidly on one arm, looked around at us, and nodded, then he sat back down. :D He had just been running sprints, so I assumed he wanted to sit down, but when he left, he said he'd come back later. Either he forgot or he ran out of time, because we didn't see him again. Bad Danny. We wanted to get his autograph so much, but we didn't manage it.

This time, we remembered to bring a camera, so both Gillian and I got pictures with Swish, and he put his arm around both of us. :D That was awesome. Several people speculated that he was only signing to make up for yesterday's miscue, but as he was signing the first game as well, I think it is just because Swish loves people. Later in the game he made a great catch to rob J.D. Closser of his second homer of the game, though, so something must have worked.

Here, Gillian gave Swish a card in which she'd written a note to the A's, telling them that she loved the team and wanted to thank them for being there. The front said, "Shoot for the moon -- if you miss, you'll still land among the stars." She told Swish that that made her think of him. He was quite flattered, and shook hands with her - he still had the card when he went in, and it might have even made its way into the clubhouse.

The hitting was anemic (even the balls they pounded, like the one Chavez rocketed into right-center, got chased down) Loaiza sucked (big surprise) and things looked bleak for Game 3. I was really upset, practically crying on the way home, and I wanted to see a win so badly. It did not appear to be likely.

But Game 3... oh my GOD, Game 3....

I have to admit, I almost chickened out of wearing my full A's regalia to this game, because we had represented ourselves so miserably in the past two. But in the end, the jersey and hat went on (no cursed beads) we chivvied our reluctant family out the door at 4:40, ran ahead while they walked, and zipped into the stadium and back down to the huddle of A's fans. I just loved sitting down there, watching the field, so close, with other fanatics of a green and gold persuasion. :D

Today, the signing was better, and we got Captain Kirk, Chad Gaudin, Scott Sauerbeck, and Witasick. (We refrained from saying anything pointed to the latter two, however much we wanted to). :D Witasick was very nice, however, going, "Hey, what's up," and signing down the line. We asked him if we'd missed batting practice, and he laughed and answered that they hadn't taken it because it hadn't helped them much in the past few games.

We also got a picture with Huston. He was also very nice about it, took a picture with Gillian, started to sign a ball, and looked worriedly at me. I smiled and told him, "It's okay, you can sign it," so he did, and then took a picture with me.

Once while I was up in the walkways, I saw another A's fan decked out in hat and shirt, and we gave each other a silent fist pump. It was a moment of fraternal unity between the green and gold faithful. :D Actually, there were quite a few A's fans there, more than I expected.
The game started and Zito wiggled out of a few early jams. (There was an extremely loud and annoying Rockies fan behind us whooping loudly for every routine flyball, but fortunately it started to rain and that got rid of her). Kielty made a great play to nail a guy at third. And finally, FINALLY, we had a chance to stand up and shout when Swish (God, I love him!) broke our scoreless streak with a no-doubter into straightaway center.

We hung on after that, barely, until the seventh, where a few lapses scored the Rockies' second run of the game. After that, things looked bad, because the closer Fuentes was coming on and he's lights-out. We held out hope, but it was waning.

And then... BOOM! Swisher with his second HR of the game, us out of our seats and screaming, giddy and disbelieving, and several stunned Rockies fans around us. ;) We sweated through the bottom of the ninth, which Huston whizzed through, and hoped in the tenth, but Rouse left us hanging.

Around this time, the two of us got into a friendly joshing match with a nearby Rockies fan, who kept trying to drown out our shouts and screams of "Let's go OAKLAND!" and "Come on KIKO!" Every time he shouted "Let's go ROCKIES!" though, we answered, and at one time it was going "ROCKIES!" "OAKLAND!" "ROCKIES!" "OAKLAND!" Some other people got into it too, yelling "Padres!" (which was good, because they beat the Rangers) and "Sky Sox!" (Rockies' AAA affiliate.)

The ribbing was sooo fun, and completely good-natured. Then, a guy wearing a Yankees (!) hat told us to keep cheering, said he was from Reno and always used to go to Oakland for baseball. He asked if we were from California, and we said no, we just loved the A's. He said, "Well, you certainly cheer your team on!"Then came the eleventh, which was flat-out awesome. Swisher did it for us again, Kielty got it done, Chavy was thrown out trying to extend the lead, and off we went to the bottom of the eleventh. Oh. God. I was dying, rocking back and forth on the edge of my chair, raking the seat in front of me with my fingernails, living and dying with every pitch, my heart out there on the field. It was the most intense game I have ever been to.

We were SCREAMING, and I mean SCREAMING, for Kiko out there, rooting for him and encouraging him, shouting ourselves hoarse, having a heart attack when Garrett Atkins lofted a high one to center that Kotsay tracked down. Then - single, worry, line-out, awesome, and then a force-out that Scooter handled to end the game and propel us out of our seats in euphoria. Someone said, "Good job, Oakland!" to us as we were leaving, with these cheesy Swisher-size grins on our faces.

All in all, the third game almost, almost made up for the suckiness of the entire series, and I was sad to see it end. But we had a great time, cheered our guys to a win, and got 10 autographs! Who can complain?!

Some random observations amassed from all three games:

At the first and second games, there was a family there that seemed to know EVERYONE. I mean, the players ran over to talk to them, shook hands, hugged them, posed for pictures, etc. We were very jealous, wondering if they were related or something. We should have cozied up to them. ;)

The defense was great. Whenever the Rockies had a chance to try for an extra base on a hit in the outfield, they never challenged the A's arms. Kielty made a great play to keep someone to a double when they wanted a triple, later threw Holliday out at third, and Kotsay of course was his usual self, running hard for balls in the gap and snagging them by the wall. Swish atoned for his bonehead defense in Game 1 with a great play in Game 2, which by then was already a lost cause. Chavy showed several times why he is a Gold Glover.

Scoot was awesome. I don't care what people say about him, he saved me from multiple heart attacks. I can't tell you how many times I thought a ball was surely ticketed for the hole, and then there would be Scoot to snag it. The play that ended Game 3 was one such, and there were many others. Gillian and I kept looking at each other and saying, "Without Scoot, the world would be dead."

I am developing a new appreciation for Klownhair Kielty, who really needs to grow back the `fro. He played solid defense, got hits when it seemed no one else could, and came through in the eleventh for the winning run.

Jamey Carroll is a. HUGE. Pest. He's slapping singles through the gaps, zipping around, stealing hits, getting in the way. Chavy stung one that Carroll intercepted and robbed him of a single, and that wasn't the only time. And in fact, when we went to the bottom of the tenth and had to face Helton and Holliday, my first thought was of relief: "We don't have to face the PEST!"

Kiko and Huston are gold. Solid gold. I have no more words. I trust those two (and Duke) with my life.

In person, Eric Chavez, Huston Street, Danny Haren, and Nick Swisher are extremely hot. But we knew that, right?

In the end, a bad series was redeemed by the truly awesome final game, we got autographs aplenty, and pictures will be up as soon as we can get them. We didn't have a camera for the first game, but snapped away at Games 2 & 3.

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