Oakland A’s: Where Baseball is More than Just a Game
It is the bottom of the ninth inning with two runners on base. It is a 3-0 game with the Tigers in the lead. Oakland is on its last out. This game would decide if the A’s move onto the next step toward the World Series!
Now, we know what is to come for the A’s, but this piece will be less about Oakland’s loss last night and more about how this team’s game has intertwined with my hope for the city itself. This story is about how I have come to cheer the A’s on for more than just baseball: I cheer them on for the symbolism of what their game means to the potential for our city of Oakland. I cheer them on because I wholeheartedly believe in what their game represents for me that with some ingenuity, creativity, and heart the underdog can go toe to toe with foes triple its size, and perhaps I as an underdog too, could achieve great things.
Last night was one of those moments where I was reminded of how baseball was more than just a game, but a reality for the half million or so people who call this city home. Despite what may be characterized as the overly zealous fixation of our local news stations to focus on reporting about the crime in this city, they only cover half the story. Unbeknownst to their reporting, Oakland is a cultural, artistic, and social justice epicenter for many on the West Coast and has been for decades. Ask anyone around here and they can definitely point you to the culturally vibrant communities that call this place home. I would characterize this vibrancy as a resistance to the societal and economic forces which brought Chinatown, Fruitvale, Laurel, and the other communities together in the first place. In other words, being an underdog is a way of life in Oakland and a reality for a majority of us who grew up here.
Having been born and raised in Oakland, I also grew up with A’s baseball. To be more specific, I was seven years old when Billy Beane first became our general manager. I grew up with what the world now knows as “Moneyball”, or the idea that through creative recruiting methods Oakland could put together a team with a fighting chance against the nation’s more bankrolled teams. Beane’s Oakland was a promising plan to live up to for me: it was the alluring idea that you could create something out of nothing, the idea that hard work pays off, and the idea that you did not have to be held back from where you came from. Despite the attractive strategy though, I still would always cringe at the headlines that showcased what we were up against when compared to the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox. Their budgets were sometimes five times the size of ours! Nevertheless, I grew up with hope that my team would make it to the World Series every year. And every year, it was as if Beane stared my twelve year old self in the eye and asked the question “Klein, do you think we can do it this year? Do you believe in us?”
For nearly two decades, the answer to that question has always been an unfaltering “yes”, an affirmation that I do believe in the Oakland A’s. However, I need to point out that this is where Oakland’s game has always transcended the realm of sport and into the realities of struggle. To believe in the A’s was to believe in myself. It was to believe that through my own hard work, ingenuity, and heart I too could do great things. Believing in the A’s also meant believing that I could compete against those kids from San Francisco, Danville, or Piedmont. Ultimately, cheering for this team all these years meant believing in myself and in the hope of this city: that with a bit of luck we will turn things around one day.
That is why there was so much riding on that last pitch of the game. A fly out. Detroit Tigers had won, and while I understand that last night was a huge win for Detroit as well, it was not my Oakland.
And now we as a city are faced with the gripping reality that without that win last night this team might really be leaving us, might be moving away. But Oakland A’s, you cannot leave us. Billy Beane, you cannot leave me. By leaving, you are telling my twelve year old self that you are giving up, that underdogs do not win. If you leave, who would we believe in? What happens to dreams if you let them go? So you see, we as a city need you to keep playing your heart out. We want to believe. I want to believe.
It is the bottom of the ninth. Two outs with no chance in sight, but all I heard as I closed my eyes last night was hope.