It was a dark and gloomy Saturday morning, damp and windy and overcast. The ground was wet from an overnight rain. It almost never rains in the Bay Area this time of year. The view out my front window looked displaced.
All morning, one part of my brain seemed focused on finding a way to disbelieve the news of Doug Pappas’ death. It kept failing. One part of my brain kept trying to figure out why that other part of my brain couldn’t stop thinking about Doug Pappas’ death, since I had never met or conversed with the man. That part of my brain kept failing, too.
After breakfast, I drove my wife and kids out to a birthday party in Walnut Creek, on the other side of the Oakland Hills. Normally, Mount Diablo serves as a landmark as you approach, but it was missing, shrouded by fog. How do mountains disappear?
I dropped my family off at the party, then headed towards the Coliseum for the A’s-Royals game. As I drove, I almost felt nauseous, like I had awakened inside a badly written book, or an MC Escher drawing, where I keep getting turned upside down by some logical flaw, but I can’t quite figure out where the hole in the logic is. I had an ominous feeling about the game, like something was going to go horribly wrong. Someone would get hurt, or Reggie Jackson would say something embarassingly arrogant in his number retirement ceremony, or the A’s would find a new way to lose in excruciating fashion.
I arrived at the Coliseum about 11:30, got my Reggie Jackson figurine, and went to my seat. I was disappointed to learn there would be no batting practice, due to the pre-game ceremonies. So I just sat and people-watched.
At noon, they began to set up for the ceremonies. As they brought out the podium and chairs, the gray clouds seem to part right above the stadium, creating a clear blue hole in the sky.
At 12:30, Reggie’s old A’s teammates were brought in from center field in vintage convertibles: Joe Rudi, Claudell Washington, Dick Green, Blue Moon Odom, Ray Fosse, Bert Campaneris, Bill North, plus his old manager, Dick Williams. They were all wearing the bright yellow jerseys they wore in the 70s.
Finally, Reggie was brought in. He was wearing a white A’s 70s jersey. Jackson was driven along the warning track to the A’s dugout, where he got out and went immediately into the dugout bathroom. He had probably been waiting out beyond center field for a long time. I’ll bet this was the first number retirement ceremony ever delayed by a potty break.
Reggie emerged after a couple of minutes, and the ceremony began. Former A’s announcer Monte Moore was the MC, and he pointed out that the group of men sitting behind him were the first ones to bring a major sports championship to the Bay Area. (I guess the ABA wasn’t major.) He thanked the A’s for remembering the generations that came before.
They showed a highlight film of Reggie’s Oakland career. It brought back memories of when I used to drag my dad out to the Coliseum as a kid. My dad grew up in Sweden, and didn’t care about baseball at all. But even he was entertained by Reggie, and his all-or-nothing swing. It was nice to know that we both had the same favorite ballplayer.
My dad passed away in 1996, of a sudden heart attack in Las Vegas. Thinking of that made me realize what was bothering me so much about Doug Pappas’ death. Pappas’ death was also sudden, and he was on a vacation that had begun in Las Vegas. Making that connection was a relief. My mind stopped being preoccupied by Pappas’ death, and I was able to move on and enjoy the day.
Jackson was presented with some vintage wine and a framed jersey. His brother and daughter pulled back the curtain on the retired number 9 on the outfield wall.
Reggie gave a nice speech. A couple of times I thought he was about to zing former A’s GM Sandy Alderson, but he stopped shy. (I can see why Alderson and Jackson didn’t get along. Reggie needs his ego stroked, and the ex-Marine Alderson isn’t an ego-stroker.) Reggie was gracious and grateful. He thanked the fans, and the generation before him for paving the way for his success. He was also generous: his foundation donated $175,000 to Oakland schools. “Go A’s!” Reggie concluded. “Win the game today.”
Then Reggie threw out the first pitch to Ray Fosse, and the group of old A’s all lined up on the infield for the national anthem. The ceremony ended with the old players getting back into the convertibles and circling the field. As Reggie rode past, the crowd stood, applauded and chanted “REG-GIE! REG-GIE!”.
Reggie’s daughter rode beside him in the car. She appeared to be about 10 years old, very cute. The expression on her face as the people cheered her dad was one of pure joy and wonder, of admiration and surprise, as if she just now realized that one of the fairy tales she had always been told was actually true. Yes, there is a Santa Claus! Priceless.
Right about then, I was joined at the seats by Dodger bloggers John and Jimmie, who had driven up from Fresno to catch Zack Greinke’s major league debut with me. It’s a 3-hour drive, and on the way back they planned to catch a single-A night game in Modesto and make it a major-minor doubleheader. Now that’s a full day of baseball!
The game started a few minutes later than scheduled. I guess the A’s hadn’t planned on the potty break. I wondered how Greinke felt, trying to prepare for fulfilling his dream of playing in the majors, while all this history was being honored around him. But it didn’t seem to bother him or Barry Zito, both of whom were sharp from the outset.
Greinke is one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, and I quickly found out why. He started out throwing fastballs at 88-89 mph, hitting the corners and getting a couple of ground outs. Then against Eric Chavez, he threw a 1-2 fastball at 94 mph.
“94! Where’d that come from?” I asked rhetorically. The pitch was a ball, so Greinke followed that burst of velocity with a slo-o-o-o-ow curveball at 65mph that Chavez got way out in front of, and popped out weakly to right. That’s an impressive change of speeds for such a young player.
The next inning, Greinke used that same pattern to fool Scott Hatteberg: 88-94-65, but this time Hatteberg hit a weak fly ball that fell in for a double. “Lousy way to give up your first major league hit,” I said to John.
The second time through the order, the A’s started having some better at-bats against Greinke. In the fourth, after Mike Sweeney had golfed a shot for a solo homer off Zito, Erubiel Durazo hit a hanging breaking ball for a two-run homer. After Greinke managed to wiggle out of a jam in the fifth, Royals manager Tony Pena removed Greinke. A wise choice, since it seemed the A’s were starting to figure him out. Let the kid leave his first game in the majors with memories of a job well done.
Zito returned Greinke’s favor in the sixth inning with a hanging curveball to Brandon Berger, who whacked it off the left-field wall for a double, giving the Royals a 4-2 lead. That score held until the bottom of the ninth.
I was all set to say my goodbyes to John and Jimmie after a pleasant day of talking baseball under the sun. But then with two outs and a 1-2 count, we were given a minor miracle as Eric Chavez hit a two-run homer to tie the game. “Yes!” I shouted as the ball left the bat. Modesto would have to wait for the Dodger bloggers; we’re going extras.
In the top of the 11th, Jermaine Dye made a great game-saving catch crashing into the fence in right field. It wasn’t quite as good as the catch I witnessed him make on Wednesday, where he made a leaping, full-extension catch to his left, but it considering the circumstance, it was just as important.
Bobby Crosby hit a two-out, bases-loaded infield single in the bottom of the 11th, and the A’s had won. What had started out as a gloomy day, ended up being as enjoyable a day of watching baseball as I’ve ever had.
I left the stadium and walked through the parking lot toward my car. Outside the Coliseum, it was as cold and windy as when I arrived. Dark gray clouds again filled the heavens. I turned and looked back. The sky had just one patch of blue: right above the ballpark. For a moment, I felt that someone was watching over us, making fairy tales come true.