Here we are again. The A's are in the playoffs, winners of the American League West Division, just like last year. Here we are again, facing the Detroit Tigers, just like last year. This time, it'll be different. This time, we're going all the way to win the World Series.
That was the mantra at the city of Oakland's rally for the A's last week. The team is even stronger this year; watch out Detroit, it's payback time. October is Oaktober and full of possibility (when you read this we'll be up two games, fingers crossed).
At the rally, Stomper, the A's mascot, hugged Mayor Jean Quan but her husband, Floyd, didn't seem to mind. He was too busy doing the Balfour Rage (although his version looked more like the arms from a popular '60s dance whose name escapes me now.)
A number of fans sported Cespedes jerseys; there were a couple of Henderson jerseys, giving a nod to a previous winning A's team. The "crazy right field bleacher fans," in the words of outfielder Josh Reddick, were well represented. "The hardcores are here," one of them affirmed.
The mood was upbeat and decidedly feisty. Reddick didn't mince words; he said he enjoyed showing that the A's are better than the Los Angeles Angels and the Texas Rangers. A couple of speakers mentioned the fact that even though the A's won the division last year, the national media played down their chances this year. The Rodney Dangerfield of baseball.
City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan summed it up: "Oakland and the A's go together so well because people are always trying to count us out and every time we surprise them."
Every city with a baseball team has a special relationship with its team. In Oakland, the relationship is symbiotic. They are two underdogs, and both embrace the role. The A's have one of the lowest payrolls in Major League Baseball and ended the regular season with the second-best record in the American League. Oakland, the city that's lived in the shadow of San Francisco for decades, insists on defining its own personality.
The A's fans capture the quirky, spunky nature of both city and team. Fan Will MacNeil originated the Balfour Rage, celebrating the passion of pitcher Grant Balfour. At the rally, MacNeil wore oversized green plastic fists and led the crowd in the rage -- a torrent of air punches.
Last season we had the Bernie Lean, a very weird movement involving leaning backward, shaking your shoulders and looking like you're in a trance. (If you haven't seen it, I'm sure I can't make you imagine it.) It was inspired by the movie "Weekend at Bernie's" -- Bernie is a dead man.
And for more than 30 years, The Banjo Man -- aka Stacy Samuels -- has been making his way through the stands, playing his banjo and wearing a propeller beanie.
The players have their own eccentric rituals. The congratulation handshakes they give each other get more involved and lengthy as the season progresses. After a game is won in walk-off style, a player is being interviewed on television can expect to get a whipped cream pie in the face.
Given some of the other recent headlines, Oakland can definitely use the good news and good feelings engendered by the A's success.
Of course, being Oakland, the story is complicated. For more than six years, the A's managing partner, Lew Wolff, has made it clear that he wants to leave Oakland. That position has understandably alienated fans, and the low attendance at most of the games would suggest many people have given up.
Still, some fans cling to the chance that the A's could stay put. The day of the rally, news outlets reported two major investors had joined the master planning team for Coliseum City, an 800-acre sports and entertainment complex proposed for the Coliseum and surrounding area. A group of local CEOs wants to purchase the team to keep it in Oakland. And in July, a vote by the Oakland Port Commission paved the way for a possible new ballpark at the Howard Terminal, adjacent to Jack London Square.
When Wolff recently said a downtown park, whether in Oakland or San Jose, is the key to expanding the fan base, people wondered if there might be a message between the lines. When was the last time he mentioned Oakland in that regard?
If Quan could come up with a plan to keep the A's in Oakland, her sinking poll numbers would probably see a significant lift.
Anyway, in the meantime, the city is enjoying the thrill of having a baseball team in the playoffs. Take that, Giants fans. Very sweet. Differences are put aside, worries are put on hold. Let's go, A's. Let's go, Oakland.