A buddy from my tumultuous stay in the Phoenix area gave me a call just before Felix Doubront’s first pitch yesterday to the Oakland A’s. He had stationed himself at a bar on a night off to catch his hometown A’s, and since they were playing my Red Sox, he wanted to catch up, talk baseball, all that.
We text back and forth a bit on whatever might be happening, whether it’s a baseball game or a rock show or, occasionally, drinking. Perhaps more than occasionally drinking on the weekends. But he gave me a call, knowing I’d at the very least be tuning in and, maybe, would even be catching the game at Fenway Park.
I didn’t make the trip to the park yesterday, but I’ve always like watching the A’s play, for any number of reasons. I like that, whether through personal convictions or financial restraints, they build their teams the right way — through the draft and augmented with character free agents, not the other way around. I like their green-and-gold color scheme enough that I stole the colors for the logo of my fantasy baseball team (and I am enough of a nerd to make such a logo).
Lately, there’s been an obvious link between the A’s and the Red Sox, too, with five current members of the A’s being former Bostonians — Coco Crisp, Brandon Moss, Josh Reddick, Jed Lowrie and Bartolo Colon have all played for the Red Sox since 2008. And on the Red Sox, Jonny Gomes, Stephen Drew, Andrew Bailey and Craig Breslow were all very recently A’s.
And there’s a personal link, too. The A’s conjure up a lot of my happier memories of living in Arizona.
Apart from the Diamondbacks, a good chunk of my stay in the valley was dedicated to the A’s; they held their Spring Training games at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, a public facility that lagged in luxury amenities afforded the other baseball complexes in the region. But their tickets were cheaper, their fans seemed to have that extra bit of authenticity and, most importantly, their stadium was only a couple of miles from home.
The enthusiasm was so real that, in 2009, I sincerely talked myself into believing that Jason Giambi would revive his career in his Oakland return. I had Travis Buck pegged as the next Eric Byrnes-type high-flying outfielder. I believed fully in Andrew Bailey and Brad Ziegler. I’m impressionable, I guess.
Errant predictions aside, the best thing about the culture surrounding the A’s was the unadulterated love of baseball. This was a point where Oakland had been down for some time, decimated by injuries and free agency and far-enough removed from the highs of the first Moneyball era that fans had every reason to bail if they wanted, as much as a fan can ever have reason to abandon ship, I suppose.
That wasn’t the case. These were folks who liked being at games, liked cheering on the A’s, liked beer, liked scoring along with games and didn’t like anything with the words “GIANTS” or “ANGELS” on them. And with a mutual hatred of the Yankees, they were easy friends to make.
Yesterday’s game was fun, and not just because of a Mike Napoli grand slam or a 9-6 win. Sitting on the couch with a pasta dinner and a Harpoon Summer Beer, it was good to take in a game with two teams who seem to be doing it right, and it reminded me of some good days past. And it was good to get a call from an old friend.
Have another drink for me, buddy. I’ll be toasting you and the A’s again tonight at first pitch, 6:35 p.m. Eastern.