Baseball Was Never The Problem
2:31 PM EDT on May 9, 2023
Over the past few years, my interest in baseball has dwindled, first gradually and then all at once, until I found myself watching a season-opening series between the Yankees and Giants a month or so ago and wondering, Who the shit are all these guys? Feeling the negative space of all that lost knowledge was a melancholy and unnerving sensation roughly on par with the experience of watching Sacramento legend Logan Webb get shelled in that very game.
This feeling only grew when I trudged across the garbage field encircling the A's derelict ballpark for the first of my monthly pilgrimages to East Oakland's most infamous big concrete toilet. There I learned that my favorite team was now constituted by a bunch of Jaces and Brents that I had never heard of before. There's a guy named Richard Lovelady on the team? Cool, but also not my problem. I'm over baseball, I thought. I chalked up my increasingly active lack of interest in the sport to my brain's wrinkles now being devoted to other things. I moved on.
That is, I thought I had moved on. It took going to a real game, played between two real teams in a real stadium, in front of a real fanbase that hasn't been poisoned to death by its owners, but I realized that, no, it was not baseball that I had developed an antipathy for, but rather, Oakland A's baseball. My family and I were in Chicago this past weekend, and there we got to see the Marlins beat the Cubs in a 14-inning thriller at Wrigley Field on Sunday. It was my first time at a non-Bay Area ballpark since Milton Bradley was in the league, and it was incredible. The crowd didn't have to turn their very presence at the game into a righteous rebellion against their shitheaded owners, for one. They just got to cheer for their guys! They were seated next to each other, jubilantly partying instead of doing it with each other half a mile from their nearest compatriots! I felt like one of those blind dogs that gets its sight restored, humbled at the sight of two honestly mediocre teams playing a mediocre game against each other. It was like going from portobello mushrooms to psilocybin.
Sandy Alcantara was a huge boost here, admittedly. The reigning NL Cy Young winner was on the mound for the visitors and worked through one inning of early trouble before cruising all the way into the ninth. The prudent move probably would have been to bring in a closer to hold the Fish's two-run lead, but no, Alcantara got to stay in for the ninth, where he finally cracked after a masterful afternoon. Both the mastery and the cracking were a joy to watch because, again, the crowd was reacting to every pitch.
Baseball is an intensely regional sport, much more so than any of its competitors. The size of the league and the overwhelming scope of the season are almost a disincentive to learning much about the rest of the league, and the evil balkanization of regional sports networks and MLB's long war against paying its labor force money in exchange for services doesn't help. Baseball's regionality is matched, for me anyway, by the primacy of the live event. Where televised baseball emphasizes the gaps and the slowness of the game in a somewhat boring way (unless you have an all-time booth), that same spaciousness makes live baseball a treat at a purely sensory level when you're there in person. This is 1,000-year-old guy shit, I know, but the crack of the bat and the pleasant sweep of an immaculate green lawn are truly soothing.
It probably also helps that my favorite team's division has the O'Doyle boys and the perennial (and disgusting) AL pennant winners, so I at least get to watch some quality baseball inflicted upon the woeful A's when I make it out to the ballpark. It was never quite fun, though, and as much as I enjoy the experience of sitting in a cavernous ballpark along with a couple hundred A's fans and a couple thousand visiting fans, I had not quite realized just how much John Fisher was personally making me loathe baseball until I got to see how fun it could be without his idiot venality hanging over everything.
In perhaps the starkest contrast possible, Wrigley Field is also not the Oakland Coliseum. It's an old ballpark, too—older by a lot—but even after the Cubs' own tacky owners renovated the place the ballpark's age manifests as tradition-soaked beauty, not possum-ruled decrepitude. The ivy walls are as pretty as everyone says, and the ballpark experience is delightfully uncluttered by extraneous screens, a stupid double-sized foul area, and a hulking wall of seats blocking the only good view. The game itself was a tight one, and even as the crowd thinned out as the game slowly wended through the ninth, 10th, and 11th innings, those that remained were aroar. The Marlins scored one in the 10th, only for the Cubs to answer. Each team held each other scoreless in the 11th and 12th, only for the Marlins to go ahead in the 13th before the Cubs equalized again. My dad, a lifelong Cubs hater, was even swept up in the spectacle. We were going to be late for a dinner situation but there was no thought of leaving early. It was too fun. Kalyn Kahler and I were screaming at Dansby Swanson; there was no other place I wanted to be. We even got to do the 14th-inning stretch!
Even when the A's of recent vintage have been good, going to a game has never felt like this. The sad irony is that the Oakland A's have been one of the most successful organizations in the sport during the past two decades, and their success has made ownership and management's anti-competitive disinterest all the more painful. Baseball should always be as fun as a middling game at Wrigley Field, but things in Oakland have been so joyless for so long that I'd forgotten baseball could even feel this way. The worst trick John Fisher's evil ass ever pulled was making me think it was baseball that was the problem, and not him.