I went to the Oakland A’s game on Wednesday. Not as a journalist, but as a fan.
I woke up, rescheduled my dentist appointment, parked on a less-than-inviting side street next to the Coliseum BART station and settled in to watch 24-year-old virtuoso Mason Miller make his Major League debut.
Miller, who spent three of his four collegiate seasons at Division III Waynesburg and pitched all of 28 2/3 minor league innings, threw an effortless 102-mile-per-hour fastball and looked every bit as good as advertised before the bullpen imploded in a 12-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs. Miller was the one bright spot as the team fell to 3-16, but he was well worth the price of admission.
Less than six hours later, news broke that the team signed a binding agreement to purchase land next to Interstate 15 in Las Vegas to build a new stadium and leave the city the team has called home since 1968.
The dominoes began to fall almost immediately after the initial story was published by the Nevada Independent. Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao said her city was ceasing negotiations to build a ballpark at Howard Terminal, which had been the team’s desired site for a stadium in Oakland ever since Laney College decided to back out of selling land to the team in 2017.
No, the saga still isn’t over, as team president Dave Kaval admitted. There are votes to be held in Clark County, and MLB owners still have to approve the move, though they’d likely rubber stamp it, considering they’ve been content with owner John Fisher sucking any and all life out of the team in its current state.
Suddenly, my priorities have changed. After attending 522 games at the Oakland Coliseum, I was told that I don’t matter. Fighting through traffic and swerving to avoid potholes and reckless drivers to see a team that won’t sniff 70 wins may soon be a distant memory.
The relationship between the Oakland A’s and their fans had been deteriorating for years. COVID accelerated the estrangement. Since the pandemic, the team doubled season ticket prices, gutted the roster and abandoned popular promotions like Root Beer Float Day, usually citing the pandemic or “supply chain issues” as an excuse.
Reality hasn’t fully set in. The 2019 American League Wild Card Game, where the energy was sapped from 54,005 fans on Yandy Diaz’s leadoff home run, may be the last time the place was packed to the gills. 2020 was supposed to be a phenomenal year for the team. It was going to be the second year of A’s Access, a season ticket program that offered fans $10 parking and half-price tickets. I had attended 75 of 79 home games in 2019 on the budget of a recent college graduate with a part-time job. Momentum was building toward actually securing land and breaking ground at Howard Terminal. Fans were able to connect with players, whether by yelling from the bleachers or asking for autographs by the dugout during batting practice. Gates opened three hours early on Tuesday nights for fans to enjoy batting practice in full and fill up on half-price beers.
And then the world stopped.
Now it seems 2020 may be to Oakland what 1994 was to Montreal. The season that was supposed to be the team’s best chance at a title with a core led by Matt Olson and Matt Chapman was reduced to 60 games. It ended with an American League Division Series loss to the Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium surrounded by cardboard cutouts. Longtime announcer Dick Callahan passed away. The 2021 season started with a six-game losing streak and ushers nagging fans to pull up their masks. It ended without a playoff berth after Ramon Laureano was suspended for performance-enhancing drugs and the Lou Trivino-led bullpen imploded throughout the final two months.
After the lockout ended, Opening Day starter Chris Bassitt was traded to the New York Mets. Adam Oller was included in the return. He posted a 6.30 ERA in 2022 and has a 10.43 ERA through his first 14 2/3 innings in 2023. Matt Olson was traded to the Atlanta Braves two days later, and Matt Chapman to the Toronto Blue Jays two days after that. The 2022 A’s, having fully made their intentions clear, played four games in front of fewer than 3,000 fans en route to a 60-102 record, the team’s worst since 1979. Ever-popular color commentator, Ray Fosse died after a 16-year cancer battle. For the 2023 season, Fanfest was replaced by “Spirit Week.” Instead of offering fans free autographs and photo sessions with players at Jack London Square, mascot Stomper visited an elementary school.
Yet there were still signs of hope. Before the 2023 season, outfield prospect Lawrence Butler tore up Spring Training. Turlock native Tyler Soderstrom ripped nine extra-base hits in his first 13 Triple-A games. Miller made all of one start in Triple-A before coming up to the big leagues and giving fans a taste of the future before Oller proceeded to give up five runs.
And I was along for the ride. I was there throughout 2022, at least watching a couple innings before chalking a game up as a loss. I may be a journalist, but I grew up as a fan. My 2013 team photo is on the wall, including long-haired A.J. Griffin from before he became a far-right conspiracy theorist and 6-foot-8 Rule 5 Draft pick Nate Freiman. My senior skip day in high school was the Wednesday afternoon game against the Chicago White Sox. I still remember the sound Jose Abreu’s go-ahead home run made when it clanked off the Sharp Business Systems ad in left field.
Mason Miller’s debut was supposed to be one of those memories, a loss on a sunny afternoon that was still worth the trip to the ballpark. Instead, it may go down in history as the day Oakland A’s fans were told they don’t matter.
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