It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the 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.
– Bartlett Giamatti, former President of Yale and Commissioner of Baseball, from “The Green Fields of the Mind”
Dating back to my childhood, fall, or autumn, has always been my favorite season. There’s something about the change of light, the air turning cool, the march of holidays and celebrations that lead me to my favorite holiday, which is Christmas. Deep, flaming fall colors of red and orange and gold, leaves turning and raining down, leaving a vibrant downy cushion around tree trunks. Jacket weather, boots, scarves, mugs of hot drinks like hot cocoa and Peppermint Schnapps, fireplaces, down comforters and flannel sheets, longer nights, cozy evenings in.
But the first day of autumn, which was yesterday, also brings us to the last days of baseball, when magic numbers are real. Since I moved back to the Bay Area in 1990, I have been a San Francisco Giants fan, following my father’s footsteps and heart, going to the wilderness that was Candlestick Park and watching games in the middle of summer wearing a jacket and still freezing! When I wasn’t at the games, I was raptly listening to the radio when Barry Bonds came to town and created a stir in a team that had largely been asleep. I remember the horrible slump, when all they had to do was win one game against the Atlanta Braves in 1993 and couldn’t, and ended up with more than 100 wins that season, second best in baseball, but without the benefit of the Wild Card, which hadn’t come into being yet. Despite their winning ways, we could go to Candlestick Park and move down to more desirable seats because only the hearty few attended games there. I watched the downtown stadium being built – PacBell Park, AT&T Park, following the mergers of telecommunications companies. Suddenly, the Giants were popular, and while the stadium was beautiful, we bemoaned the mobile phone crowd who filled up the stadium but couldn’t tell you what RISP stood for (runners in scoring position, just in case you didn’t know).
When I moved to the East Bay, I fiercely kept my loyalty to the Giants. My husband has been an Oakland A’s fan since he was a kid. My son became an Oakland A’s fan. And then a funny thing happened. I watched the games with them, reminding me of how our family used to watch baseball on television during the hot summer evenings when I was a child and even through high school. I started to get to know the players. We went to a few more games, a handful of them walk-off wins. We didn’t realize what was happening at the time.
I knew the Oakland A’s had one of the lowest payrolls in the majors, and yet here they were winning games without a high-priced superstar, winning games with different heroes in different games. There were stories to break your heart. The relief pitcher whose wife gave birth and then lost the baby within hours. The veteran outfielder who is in the twilight of his career literally finds new legs in a small market. The Crash Davises who made it to the Show but could never make it to stay for good. Those are stories that make up the heart of a team. When they won the American League West Division on the last day of the regular season last year, sweeping the team who was in the lead, I thought to myself, this is magical, this is pretty special, but it likely won’t last because logic says teams like this don’t go all the way. So enjoy it while you can. So we did, and when they lost to the Detroit Tigers in the first round and my son cried, I told him, hey, this team is pretty special and you were part of that year. Celebrate what they accomplished. Celebrate the moment. Celebrate because it probably won’t happen next year. I was trying to be realistic. Baseball is a game of inches and feet, of probability and statistics, of first to last and last to first. And of magic and belief.
I’m glad I was wrong. We went to more games this year, saw everything else on television. It was fun to watch the games with my son. There were fewer walk-offs, but that’s because the team got better and gained more confidence. They stumbled in August and then came roaring back in September. We kept the faith and we were rewarded. They won a week before the regular season ended, and we were there to celebrate. Whatever happens, I tell my son, just enjoy it. That’s what baseball’s all about. Enjoy it, especially as autumn arrives with a division championship as a reward for all the hard work through spring and summer. Now I can welcome autumn, welcome my favorite season of the year, with October baseball. Congratulations, Oakland A’s! Respect the underdog! For the underdogs always have the most poetic stories, the ones that teach us about the heart of the matter and a whole lot of magic.
Let’s go, Oakland!
(and while we’re at it, let’s build a downtown stadium in Oakland)