Tuesday, October 21, 2014

My Favorite Oakland Athletics Teams

It was sometime in June or July when my dad and I were on the phone talking baseball.  At the time the A's had the best record in the league and appeared to be favorites to win the World Series.  It seemed like I might actually witness one of my home teams bring a championship back to the city in my lifetime.  In this conversation with my dad I told him that I wanted to fly back home for the championship parade (something I've also never witnessed).  I think this is where it all went wrong.  See, I'm a really big sports fan and on top of that I'm a very superstitious sports fan.  I never turn off a game early because I think my team is up by so much that the game is in the bag.  No!  I watch every damn minute of the game until I see a final score.  I used to think that every time the camera angle switched during a game it was bad luck.  I had a lot of little superstitions but the biggest one was always that making early predictions never had a good outcome.  You just don't declare a championship prematurely.  So am I at fault for this A's season?  I don't know, but maybe I shouldn't have started my victory lap so early.  And maybe somebody else gave us the bad juju.  Or maybe that's just baseball and the A's deceived us all into thinking they were better than they appeared.  (Nah.  I'm not even going to consider that one.)  So before we get to my quick rankings let me just make sense of this season for myself (and the reader) so we all know who to be angry at.  Lord knows I got a stack of angry letters with a minimum of 18 F-bombs a piece just ready to be mailed out.

So it was after this talk with my dad that I decided to write a blog post on my A's, similar to one that I wrote for the Warriors.  Everyone knows I'm a huge Warriors fan, but I'm also an Oakland Athletics fanatic.  I can't count how many games I've gone to over the years, and like with basketball, this love for the A's started with my dad.  His favorite player of all time is Rickey Henderson.  (Side note: my dad ran into Rickey inside an elevator and instead of introducing himself to his idol my dad just froze up and kept quiet.  Just sayin'.)  So I wanted to write a post on my favorite A's players of all time.  But I didn't want to right the post mid season because, after all, that would be too early.  So I decided to wait until we won the championship, right before I took off from Long Beach Airport to go to the championship parade.  I was going to include Cespedes in the top 10, who at the time just won his second straight Home Run Derby and was probably going to be the World Series MVP.  So I sat on this blog post.  And then it happened.

It was July 31st and had just arrived in Oakland in time for my little sister's birthday the next day.  It was a pretty early flight and I arrived around 7 in the morning.  As soon as my plane landed I turned my phone on to call my dad and let him know I had just arrived.  As I'm walking out of the tunnel from the plane to the terminal my phone vibrates and I hear the SportsCenter theme.  (Du-nunu-du-nu-nu)  Basketball season had ended and football season hadn't started yet so I knew it was most likely baseball related.  I also knew it was probably trade related (it was the deadline) and that it was a big name.  I pull out my phone and three words stand out: "Yoenis"; "Cespedes"; "traded".  I didn't even get to "Jon Lester" or any of the other names involved in this news.  I was in disbelief.  "This can't be right," I thought.  "Maybe my app is broken?"  Nope.  I looked ahead at a TV inside an airport bar that was tuned onto SportsCenter.  The big news story?  Cespedes traded for Lester.  My dad was to pick me up at the airport, and when he did, after the hugs and "welcome home's", we talked about the trade.  "I don't think this was a good trade," I said.  "We have a good thing going, why rock the boat?"  My dad still had confidence in our team.  "We should be fine.  I think Billy Beane knows what he's doing.  I still believe in us."  I told him I hoped so.  But his confidence wasn't reassuring, and neither were the many news and sports articles that claimed this trade for Jon Lester was what we really needed.  But I needed to trust in Billy Ball and things couldn't possibly go that wrong.

Wrong!  Wrong!  We started losing.  (Side note: Fate is not without a sense of irony.  The home game after the Cespedes trade was a t-shirt game.  The player on the shirt? Yoenis Cespedes!  Also, the team we played against that game?  The Kansas City Royals!)   At first I was mildly concerned.  I mean, all baseball teams go through a slump at one time or another.  And we were still in first.  But then the Angels started creeping closer and closer.  That's when I knew something was off.  I called the one person who could handle a paranoid, obsessive, superstitious fan: my dad.  On cue my dad tells me that the A's are fine.  I didn't quite believe him this time and my fears came true when the A's got swept by the Anaheim Angels.  At that point I started using a term I had read on the internet quite a few times: the Curse of Cespedes.  (Don't think curses are real?  Look up the Curse of the Bambino, the Madden Curse and the 27 Club.)  I mean, it makes sense.  Cespedes is Cuban and I'm pretty sure all Cubans learn at least a baker's dozen of curses before the age of 6.  (That last line wasn't as offensive as it could have been originally.)  The point is that basically everyone on the Oakland Athletics roster collectively forgot how to play the game they've been trained to play their whole lives.  It was like if I got into my car one day and suddenly forgot where my key went.  Team expectations started to plummet in a steady downward spiral.  I went from hoping my team reclaims it's AL West spot from the Angels to hoping my team just makes one of the final two wildcard spots.  And I could no longer talk shit the the Giants fans in the North, and the Angels fans in the South.  (That's probably the worst part of this whole experience.  The shame.)

It was towards the end of the regular season and I make a phone call to my dad.  By now he knows there's no way he can tell me the A's are doing alright.  The A's are fighting for the last wildcard spot.  But my dad is an optimist and he's not the type to say all is lost.  After I tell him about how much of a failure this season was he explains to me that the season is really only a failure if we miss the playoffs.  (Debatable.)  He says that once we're in the playoffs everyone is pretty much at ground zero and the title is as good as anyone's.  (Kinda true, except we would have to play in a one game playoff series to advance to the ALDS.)  "Look, either way you're going to justify this season.  Either the A's get eliminated and you say that the A's deserved it for ruining a season or the A's manage to win it all and you forget all about this nightmare."  (OK.  Fair point by my dad here.)  But first we have to make the playoffs, which we do.  And when we clinched that lost spot I didn't feel joy or excitement.  All I felt was relief.  For just a brief moment I could breathe.  But that moment wasn't very long.  The match-up was the Kansas City Royals, a team that hadn't made the playoffs since my dad was listening to Run-DMC on his walkman and Marty McFly was driving DeLoreans.  (Did I capture 1985 right?)  Win and we advance to play the Angels in the ALDS.  Lose and the season is over.  One game.  I didn't watch this game; I worked late that night so I missed it, but I'm almost glad I did.  I checked my phone three times that night for the score.  The first time was after the 3rd inning; the score was close but the Royals were up 3-2.  The second time made me smile.  The A's scored 5 runs in the 6th inning.  I thought the A's gear I had on was lucky.  The last time I checked was after I got off work and it made me depressed.  The score was 9-8 and the game went to 12 innings.  At first I thought Oakland won but quickly realized that my eyes deceived me and it was the Royals who were next to that "9".  I saw highlights that night to make sure it was real.  Had I seen the game live I might have actually cried.  That was the end of that season.

(Don't watch this if you're an A's fan.  It hurts too much.)

So who do we blame for this?  Do we blame myself and the other A's fans that prematurely predicted a World Series?  Do we blame Billy Beane for making that trade?  Or do we blame Cespedes for cursing us on the way out?  We could blame the other players for sucking at their jobs at the wrong times.  What if it was Lester who brought the bad luck with him?  We'll never know and this is leading us nowhere.  Instead let's talk about good things, because in sports there's always good things.  The bad moments remind us of the good times and sets us up for the great times.  There's always gonna be times like these, but it will make it that much sweeter when I finally do get to witness my team bring my city a championship.  So now that you've actually sat down and read all this we can get to the list of my 5 Favorite Oakland A's Teams.  I know I initially wanted to do a "Top 10 Players" but I figured might be more appropriate.  This is obviously subjective and I'm limiting this list to teams I actually witnessed.  So that means no 1989 Oakland Athletics (sorry pops) and definitely no 1972 "Swingin' A's" (sorry old guy at the bus stop who wants to talk to me about Rollie Fingers).  But before we get to that let's bring out an "Honorable Mention".

Honorable Mention: Pre-Cespedes Curse Oakland Athletics, 2014
Yes, this team for sure had a shot to crack top 5 or maybe even seize the top spot if it wasn't for the second half of the season.  Unfortunately half-seasons don't qualify on this list so a made up award will have to do.  But why did I love this team so much?  It gave me hope.  The Golden State Warriors have only recently become successful.  For most of my life they were a lottery team.  Since I started following the Oakland Raiders they haven't even smelled success.  But the A's made it OK to be a homer throughout the years.  The A's had some bad years in the past 13 years that I've been a real fan, but they also gave me some great years to cheer for.  So to me they were always my best hope for a championship to one of my teams.  That's why this year felt like a reward to me for cheering them on all these years and a reward for them for always giving me something to cheer for when my other teams made it hard to do so.  In a weird way we both deserved the first half of this season.  (We also had a rally possum as our unofficial mascot.)

Dishonorable Mention: Cespedes Curse Oakland Athletics, 2014
Read everything above.

5. Oakland Athletics, 2006
We're going back to my pre-teen years for this one.  The 2006 A's were memorable for me because it was the first time I ever got to go to a playoff game.  And even better I got to miss school for that playoff game.  The A's were playing the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS and my dad scored tickets for the game.  The only problem was that it was a school day and for some reason they have day games during the playoffs.  (One of the few things I don't like about baseball.)  Luckily my dad is a cool dad and told the school that I had a doctor's appointment that day and picked me up from school.  Although I'm pretty sure the school knew where I was going.  We beat the Twins but then got swept by the Detroit Tigers.  (The fucking Tigers!)  I liked this team though.  It had my boy Eric Chavez (more on him later), Mark Ellis, Bobby Crosby, Nick Swisher and the Big Hurt, Frank Thomas.  Even Marco Scutero would make some appearances pinch running.  And this is when we still had Barry Zito, a very good Barry Zito that wasn't being overpaid by the Giants.  I liked this year a lot.

4. Oakland Athletics, 2003
This was a really loaded team.  I refer to this year as the last of my golden era for the A's.  (The golden era for me spans from 2001-2003.)  Ramon Hernandez was our catcher at that point in time and I had no idea what a Kurt Suzuki was yet.  Eric Byrnes was not yet a starter.  We also had Mark Ellis, Scott Hatteberg, Jermain Dye, Erubiel Durazo, and "T-Long, Hit It Long" Terrence Long in addition to my favorite players at the time, Miguel Tejada and Eric Chavez.  (I can hear the McAfee Coliseum's announcer in my head.  And yes I'm aware that it wasn't the McAfee Coliseum yet in 2003 and I know it's called the O.Co Coliseum now, but it will always be called McAfee in my heart.)  Now when I said that 2006 was the first time I got to go to an A's playoffs game, I said that because that's the first one that I'm sure about.  I might have gone to see the A's play the Red Sox that year in the ALDS.  And I remember we lost that game because everyone on the bridge to BART was looking sadder than usual.  It may have been just a regular season game but there is a chance it wasn't.  My dad would know for sure.  I hope he texts me after he reads this to confirm.

3. Oakland Athletics, 2013
I love this team in particular because it reminded me why I love baseball.  After 2006 the A's weren't so hot.  I still went to the games but it wasn't as fun as it used to be.  I refer to 2012 as the Renaissance of the Oakland A's because we were able to pull out of the dark ages, but it was 2013 that really got me excited about baseball again.  And it gave me a team I could fall in love with too.  Let's see, we got Brandon Moss, Eric Sogard, Jed Lowrie, Josh Donaldson (he walks up to the plate to "Regulate" by Warren G and Nate Dogg), Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes, whom I just started to really dig.  Plus our pitchers weren't scrubs, especially Bortolo Colon.  That year I felt like we were ready to take the next big step.  Our ALDS match-up was the same as the year before: the Detroit Tigers.  We lost the year before, but this time we were going to get our revenge.  Well, it turns out I was wrong.  For the second straight year we lost to the Tigers.  (The fucking Tigers!)  But it wasn't a disappointment.  I felt like we were still headed in the right direction.  And above all else, I kept seeing "Bernie Lean" videos on YouTube at the A's home games.  Isn't that something to love?

2. Oakland Athletics, 2002
This was probably our best year in my lifetime.  This season is what the Moneyball movie was all about.  This was the season we won 20 games in a row, which set a new record.  I see the banner every time I come to the Coliseum through the BART entrance.  This team had the same basic line up as 2003 give or take a few players.  (Our pitching staff was amazing too!  Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson were our three best that year.)  2002 was just a better year though, and nobody had a better year in 2002 than Miguel Tejada who was AL MVP that year, but more importantly, my favorite player.  When you're 10 years old and you're watching baseball your favorite player is the one hitting those homers.  I remember no matter what the score was or what inning it was or how tired I was, whenever I heard, "NOW BATTING, SHORTSTOP, MIGUEL TEJADA", I would stand up and cheer as hard as I could.  At that moment of time I didn't quite know the significance of that season as much as I do now, but I did know I was having some of the best fun watching my baseball team win.

1. Oakland Athletics, 2001
No, we weren't as good as the 2002 team, but I love this team the most because it was the first team I fell in love with.  Me and my dad had gone to see the A's play before, but this was where I really became an A's fan.  By this year I knew who everyone was on the roster; I wasn't asking my dad who Jeremy Giambi or Jermaine Dye were.  And I knew who the good players were.  I knew that Miguel Tejada was our best player and that's why he became my favorite.  I knew the rules of baseball; my dad taught me how to keep score using the programs at the game.  You remember the years when a team is not just your dad's team, it's you and your dad's team.  That was 2001.  I had mentioned Miguel Tejada being my favorite player, but I also have to mention Eric Chavez.  Chavez was probably my second favorite player of all time.  He was the third baseman with the Golden Glove.  (Literally.  The guy had like six of them.)  He was never as good as Tejada but Chavez was a staple in Oakland for a long time.  I think he spent 13 seasons in Oakland.  Even when other players came and went, Chavez was always there. So when Eric Chavez was no longer on the team it was more than noticeable.  It was like a part of the A's soul was missing.  If I went ahead and actually did the "Top 10 Players" list, all I know is Miguel Tejada would be number one and Eric Chavez would be number two.  Beyond that I couldn't tell you.

Well that's it.  I'm torn as to who to root for this World Series.  One the one hand I hate the Giants, but on the other hand the Royals knocked us out.  I'll go for the Royals so at least I can say we lost to the World Series champs.  I hope you enjoyed this blog.  Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @ELGUAPO3 and @CAPTAINCRUNCHTIME respectively.  Be on the look out for more posts and if you're an A's fan just remember you're not alone.  Stay Guapo out there!