There’s something special when the leaves turn, days start to get shorter, the weather cools, and you start to feel a tingle of a nip in the air.
October. And for me there’s no special place more deserving of that autumn experience than a ballpark, especially during daytime.
At age eight I fell in love with The Swingin’ A’s, or in that day as they became known; the Mustache Gang, and within a few years they were wining consecutive World Series giving me the false impression that victory would happen (nearly) every year.
That stadium off Hegenberger Road known as the Coliseum has made October baseball special.
The atmosphere was exceptional. Everything outside of the ballpark was just a distraction – like school – as the joyous three hours under the sun, or under the lights in later years, filled the heart and mind.
Here’s the beautiful part — it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen it before; a crowd in full-throated unison still has the capacity to move you, and always will. The bonus is that the long absence of such an experience after some dry years is exhilarating.
Now, day games in the postseason are rare, and when played today they still bring me back to my childhood. Back then playoff games and half the World Series games were under God’s sunlight.
Kids of today are missing out with the current schedule of television friendly start times in the evening leaving fans now weary eyed after late nights of postseason competition.
Despite the joy of the experience, postseason baseball currently for many of us diehard, bleeding green and gold Oakland A’s fans has become known as “The Heartbreak of OAKtober.”
Every playoff series for an Oakland team lately seems to have that one curse when you look back and see exactly where momentum changed.
That infamous “what if?” that eats away at you as you play it back in your mind. It’s something gristly, something that eats at you like corrosive chemicals or a cancer throughout the off season as you ponder the reversal of that glaring situation that made the difference between a clinching win and the devastating loss that actually occurred – if not for the intervening act that tore the grasp of a certain victory into the clutches of defeat.
This year it was in Game 4 with A’s right fielder Josh Reddick’s missed catch (Yes, missed catch because I’ve seen the guy rob hitters for the last two years).
In the seventh inning, Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez hit a towering fly ball deep to right field. Reddick went back to the wall and leaped for the sure snag but hold on! In Jeffrey Maier-like fashion, John Bendzinski, of Macomb Township, Michigan reached over the top of the wall to grab himself a souvenir depriving my guy of another Gold Glove moment to preserve the A’s lead.
Even after a replay review AND despite MLB Rule 3:16 calling for the out, the umpiring crew ruled no fan interference and awarded the home run.
There it was: this year’s moment.
(Reddick’s fate played into another instance of momentum reversal when he failed to make contact with the bases juiced and no outs the following inning. Somehow I believe Ol’ Josh was thinking “if they want a ball in the right field seats, I’ll give ‘em one” and he went down swinging, failing to advance runners on the base paths.)
I’d seen the whammy before. In 2001 it was Yankee Derek Jeter appearing out of thin air, and, while running full speed in the opposite direction, flipped the ball to Jorge Posada who tagged Jeremy Giambi (who, for some reason, decided not to slide) on the back of the leg just as he crossed home plate.
In 2003 Eric Byrnes failed to touch home and later Miguel Tejada assumed an inference call resulting in a one-run loss.
And let’s not forget the 1988 World Series when the injured, flu-stricken Kirk Gibson hobbled up to the plate with two outs in the ninth and after a long at-bat, took an awkward swing at a Dennis Eckersley pitch and somehow punched it over the right-field wall leaving us branded with Gibson limping around the bases pumping his fists.
They’re all there, the Robbie Alomar home run in ’92 that sent the A’s into an eight-year playoff drought, the Magglio Ordonez walk off in ’06 that started another six-year slump. Even in 1989 when they won it all, it was overshadowed by an earthquake.
And every following year I’m there with the hope of a new season, not giving up.
Bartlett Giamatti pegged the feeling when he described baseball.
“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.”
Win or lose, I still love ‘em.
19 weeks until spring training…
Richard Paloma is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News, and The Escalon Times. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 847-3021.