The Athletics Zone

This team…

*mouth agape, shaking head*

…I just don’t know what to say. Words fail me.

Luckily, they don’t fail Bill King. When the A’s tied the game (and later won it) in the ninth, after entering the inning down 7-3, King described it like this:

The A’s offense, just like Lazarus, rising from the dead!

It’s amazing how King always knows where to go to describe what he sees. To explain this team, you need to go beyond our normal dimensions, to unlock a door into a land of miracle and wonder, the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge.

You have entered…The Athletics Zone.

I went to the game today. Took my 5-year-old daughter, and my sister-in-law, in town from L.A. Sat with Kenny Louis out in the Blichiros, as my sister-in-law called our right field section, whose demographics today were probably 80% Japanese.

The game was horrible. If you were an alien who dropped in on this game from outer space, you’d think these were two teams out of contention, playing out the string in the last few weeks of the season. There was no energy to it at all.

Dan Haren had nothing, and the Mariners raked him hard. It was the worst game I’ve ever seen him pitch. He seemed to be out of gas from the first pitch of the game. He left in the third inning, trailing 5-0.

The A’s offense did nothing off of Ryan Franklin for three innings. At one point, I screamed out, “This is Ryan Franklin, fercryinoutloud! Get some hits!”

* * *

The A’s offense seems to get sucked into a black hole from time to time, disappearing from our universe altogether, and then, out of nowhere, it bursts back into existence in a brilliant massive explosion.

* * *

The A’s didn’t explode in the middle innings, but they did some nice foreshadowing.

In the fourth, Eric Chavez hit a screamer over the center-field fence for a solo homer. The next inning, Mark Ellis led off with a single.

My daughter asks, “Is Mark Ellis going to stay on first base forever?”

Kenny bursts out laughing.

The way the A’s offense has sputtered lately, it feels like Ellis could indeed be stranded at first a long time. But for some reason I reply, “I don’t think so.”

Instantly, Jason Kendall singled, Mark Kotsay doubled, and the A’s had two more runs. But the rally fizzled out when Chavez and Jay Payton followed Kotsay by swinging at bad pitches, even though they were both ahead in the count.

Bah! They were so close to bursting forth, and then they got sucked straight back into that black hole.

The A’s did nothing on offense from that point on, until the ninth.

* * *

There’s an excellent series about string theory on PBS called The Elegant Universe. You can watch the whole series online. I highly recommend it.

There are many contradictions in conventional physics. The smallest pieces of matter are both particles and waves, at the same time! How can that be?

String theory helps resolve those contradictions mathematically, by describing the fundamental ingredients of nature as simple tiny strings, vibrating in eleven dimensions.

Our universe, the theory suggests, may be one of many “branes”, multi-dimensional membranes floating around an even higher multi-dimensional soup, and every time one “brane” collides with another, we get a massive explosion, a “big bang”. One minute you have nothing, and the next…everything.

* * *

And so Oakland enters the ninth inning, trailing 7-3. The A’s offense seems non-existent. What a puzzle this team is! So many contradictions: they’re unstoppable at times, and completely motionless at others. It’s like they’re both waves and particles all wrapped into one. They make no sense.

The A’s playoff hopes are fading fading fading fading away. But I still retain a feint glimmer of hope. Something starts bubbling inside me. I suddenly felt… clairvoyant, like I have some strange connection to something…I don’t know what….

My daughter asks: “Are the A’s going to lose?” And I feel something strange coming on, and odd sort of defiant confidence, that something weird and wonderful is about to happen, so I say:

“No. The A’s are going to tie the game. The game will go extra innings. They will keep playing, and playing, and playing, and never stop. Nobody will be able to score. We will have to leave, because your bedtime is 8 o’clock. But no matter, when you wake up tomorrow, they will still be playing. The A’s have a flight to Texas, but they will miss it, because this game will never end.”

And my daughter says, “That’s not going to happen.”

And I say, “No, you’re probably right. Someone will score before then.”

* * *

BLAM! Somewhere, suddenly, two universes collide, and the A’s offense explodes into being, once again.

* * *

Nick Swisher singles to lead off the ninth. Mark Ellis gets to a 3-1 count. I say, “Ellis, you better not swing at this.” My daughter says, “He won’t swing.”

He doesn’t swing. Ball four. Runners on first and second.

My daughter says, “I want Kendall to hit a home run!”

I say, “No, that’s too much to ask for. He can’t hit a homer. I want him to single to left field.”

Kendall singles to left field.

“He did want you wanted, Daddy. What do you want now?”

I say, “I want a double.”

Kotsay hits a double. “He did what you asked for again! Now what, Daddy?”

Chavez comes up. I’m feeling it now. I don’t know how, but I know exactly what’s going to happen. “I want another double.”

She says, “Chavez can hit a double. He hit a home run before.”

Chavez hits a double. Game tied, 7-7.

Now I’m getting cocky. I feel like James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams, when he starts pontificating: “Oh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.”

I say, rather dreamily, “They will walk Payton. Hatteberg will bunt. They will put Johnson on to load the bases, and then it will be all up to Ginter.”

They walked Payton. Hatteberg bunts, but pops it up to the catcher.

“Be careful what you wish for,” I mutter to myself. I was mad I didn’t specify that Hatteberg would bunt successfully.

My anger deflates me. The flow of predictions that came from some mysterious dimension within me instantly dries up. The force was with me no more.

Then Johnson hits an infield single, the bases are loaded, one out, and as I had foreseen, it was indeed all up to Ginter.

* * *

My supernatural connection was now gone. I had no idea what would happen next. Would the A’s score, and win the game? Or would the game indeed go on, forever and ever and ever, as I originally predicted?

I just watched, holding my daughter up so she could see, and hoped.

* * *

Jeff Nelson replaced Eddie Guardado. Ginter promptly grounded into a fielder’s choice, with Chavez thrown out at the plate. Now there were two outs, bases loaded, bottom of the ninth, tie game.

Nick Swisher, who had led off the inning, came up again. Like a string looping back on itself, he would close the circle. Either he would win the game, cutting off my paranormal experience once and for all, or he’d send it into those endless extra innings I had foreseen. It was up to him.

He worked the count to 3-2. Nelson threw him a pitch high and away. Swisher took it. Ball four. The game ended.

* * *

For a brief moment this afternoon, I understood. I was “in the zone.” I stretched beyond the normal four dimensions we normally look at our baseball teams with, and saw the true nature of the Oakland A’s. It was beautifully, beautifully elegant.

* * *

But now that zone is gone. I can’t recall a thing about where it is or how to get there. All I’m left with is this nagging feeling that some strangely ironic plot twist awaits just ahead.

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  • Eric Enders

    1.  You know, I don’t really give much of a flip about the A’s, but this was a really great post.

  • Kenny

    2.  Ken,

    Your daughter is very precocious and has an excellent grasp of the game, especially for a five year old. I dare say she knows more about the game than many Angels fans.

    It was fun spending nine innings with you, we should do it again sometime.

  • Jon Weisman

    3.  Strange and wonderful!