The crowd arrived late to the Oakland Coliseum, a prudent choice given that the weather was working verb tenses – it had rained, it is raining, it will rain again.
But Opening Day is its own level of madness, and Opening Day throngs are more patient and stubborn in the face of low pressure fronts than most. The A’s required a fete for the beginning of the new season, and they would have one, even if it arrived late and hesitantly. This is Oakland’s team in ways that the Raiders and Warriors increasingly are not, because while they have talked about leaving for almost the entire 45 years they have been here, they have never seemed more permanent a fixture.
Of course, this being Oakland, it also included the wearisome mascot Stomper and the otherwise well-meaning woman who appears on the scoreboard between half-innings hectoring the customers into new demonstrations of fan loyalty. The Oakland crowd can be quirky, but its marketing masters are single-minded about what they think plays with the customers.
So it goes. The A’s were embarking on the beginning of their fresh quest – to be the first Oakland team to win three consecutive division titles since 1990 – nearly a quarter-century ago.
And they handled the era of good feeling in the most Oakland way possible – by watching the gentlemen lose impossibly to Cleveland, 2-0, their tenth consecutive Opening Day loss in succession. They watched in amazement as Daric Barton couldn’t score from second on a Josh Donaldson ball that hit the top of the wall in center field in the eighth inning, and booed their new closer, Jim Johnson, as he exploded in his first outing as an Elephant in the ninth. They took one in the teeth, as is their wont on the big occasions.
[INSTANT REPLAY: A's fall on Opening Day for 10th straight year]
Thus, while they are the nation’s boutique pick to finally make that deep postseason run they haven’t accomplished since that same year, they know not to get too ahead of themselves. Oakland teaches that to you. The Coliseum draining system surely does so. And Monday night was just another apt reminder.
But as manager Bob Melvin says, “They look at this place as OUR place.” This is the stadium that keeps even the most lofty-minded narcissist from getting too full of himself, a place that constantly reminds a person that special is in the mind rather than the upholstery.
By now the tale of how San Jose became a pipe dream has been told down to the marrow. The A’s are now Oakland’s for good and all – that is, unless Invisible John Fisher did well in high school French and has a hankerin’ for poutine, in which case they could end up in Montreal as the completion of a bizarre practical joke.
We grant you no new stadium is in sight, as all sides are furiously in mid-dither about what to do, where to do it, and how to get the to-do money. The longer it takes for the city, county and ballteam to figure out a workable plan that can somehow save more schools, hospitals and post offices from shuttering their doors, the more likely that Oakland will maintain its reputation for good baseball and bad septic systems.
But the location alternatives seem more distant than ever, and even Smilin’ Lew Wolff is talking about a lease that lasts well into the next decade. Having been bested by the finest inertia baseball has to offer, Wolff and Fisher are now trying to make the least bad of their current situation, which works completely well for Melvin and his fellow motivators.
Or don’t you think “Sure it’s a charnel house, but its OUR charnel house” is a sufficiently energetic battle cry?
The A’s have thus begun the fascinating transition from the team that always yearned for the glow of the green “EXIT” sign to the team making its stand where it is – albeit occasionally ankle-deep in regurgitated rainwater.
Whether that feeling holds as the new season unfolds remains to be seen. Their hitters were throttled by the second consecutive ace named Justin Nine-Letter-Surname (Masterson, after being eliminated from the playoffs by Verlander), and they will always white-knuckle their way from game to game as Melvin has taught them. They will not be an easy follow except for the most devout.
On the other hand, they hang their allegiances upon players like starting pitcher Sonny Gray, the new staff ace in the absence of Jarrod Parker who slalomed in and out of trouble throughout Monday’s game, winning more converts with each of the four jams he both made and escaped.
In that way, the A’s somehow renew themselves, and with a bit more luck than the weatherman was offering Monday, they could replant their flag in ground they once spent so much time slagging.
But not since the early ‘70s dynasty have they been more like Oakland. Once longing for more clement climes, now stuck in for the long hall while the Warriors are trying to tunnel out and the Raiders are broadly hinting at same, they are Oakland’s last stand. There is a sense of geographical primacy that comes with that, even if the geography isn’t exactly what they want in their happiest dreams. They are Oakland’s, and Oakland is theirs.