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Fanfare for the Common man's baseball Team

Jasmine Marshall Armstrong


Jasmine Marshall Armstrong is a writing instructor, poet, and nonfiction writer from Bozeman, Montana. She holds an MFA from Fresno State University. Her work is found in Typishly, America Magazine, Sojourners Magazine, Poets Reading the News, In Parentheses, Cathexis Northwest Press, The Dewdrop, The Ulu Review and Anacapa.

     The Oakland Coliseum is a stink…a song…a glorious wreck of utility not devoted to

high-tech jumbotrons or swim-up bars just beyond centerfield.

     It’s a place that is regularly called the ugliest stadium in Major League Baseball, of which

probably over 100 stories have been filed about the failure of the plumbing sending sewage into

the dugouts not once but twice in the past decade.

     Yet for my family, the Oakland Coliseum is a cathedral that honors working-class people

like us. An unapologetic, take-us-as-we-are, this-ain’t-no-fantasyland place for those of us who

haven’t seen our team, the Athletics, make a World Series appearance since 1990.

     That same summer of 1990, my father took my brothers and me to our first live Oakland

A’s game. After a three-and-a-half-hour drive from our home in Pismo Beach, my school janitor

dad was exhausted as we stood in line for tickets. “We’ll get the best we can afford,” my dad told

my youngest brother Kelly, who was set on sitting behind home plate. We knew that probably

would be far from the first row. Our waitress mom had just had to fly back to Michigan to visit

our grandmother who was seriously ill. Our family had lost her salary and tips from serving

tourists at Fish City for two weeks. Money was very tight.

     Just as we kids were reaching maximum whining level, a man in a green sports coat with

a yellow A’s logo stepped forward and tapped my dad on the shoulder.

     “Here. Enjoy the game on the team. Looks like you could use these,” he said, handing my

dad four tickets.


     My dad steered us to the turnstiles to enter the stadium. “Don’t be disappointed if these

aren’t first row behind home plate,” my dad said. “You can have more snacks at the game since

these were free.”

     At 12, I was becoming a bit jaded about the world’s capacity to disappoint you, even in

moments of generosity. I mentally prepared myself for cheap seats, far up on the third deck.

As we came through the dark tunnel and saw the field, I looked at the most beautiful

grass I’d ever seen. Prior to this, the only baseball diamonds I knew were the patchy yellowing

grass of the Little League fields that faced the sewage plant in our town, where my brothers

tussled with their friends in the outfield until a pop fly would catch their attention again.

Here, at the Oakland Coliseum, the diamond motif extended beyond the infield, to the

contrast of light and dark greens, lovingly carved by groundskeepers into the Kentucky

Bluegrass of the outfield and foul territory—the largest in the Majors. This sight was

accompanied by a scent that was spilled beer, peanut shells, and smoke from the hot dog stands.


     Suddenly, my dad was pulling us not up into the third deck, but down into the seats closer

to the field. He looked at the tickets and guided us until we were 5 rows directly behind home

plate. My brothers and I couldn’t believe it. We’d never seen a live MLB game before, and now

we were close enough to watch the quirks of batters on deck go through their pre-hitting ritual

and see the outline of the rosary Jose Canseco had stuffed in his back pocket.


     Years later, we’d read how Canseco put his faith not in God, but steroids, to ensure the

monster Home Runs he regularly launched beyond the outfield fence. Mark McGwire, his fellow

Bash Brother, would briefly be the King of Baseball when he broke Roger Marris’s Season

Home Run record in 1998. This laurel would be brief, however, with Barry Bonds breaking McGwire’s 70 game record a mere three years later. A few years later, Canseco would tarnish

any glimmer of greatness his former teammate had left by writing his tell-all Juiced, which laid

bare the steroids he and McGwire had injected each other with in the late 1980s and early 1990s.


     That day in July 1990, however, these scandals were far in the future. We were thrilled at

seeing Big Mac’s monster biceps. We cheered when Oakland native Rickey Handerson stole

second, another on his way to surpassing Lou Brock’s all-time stolen base record. Over 30 years

later, Henderson’s ultimate stolen base record of 1, 406 still stands. The still beautiful Bluegrass

field at the center of the benighted Oakland Coliseum bears his name as the greatest native son in

the game of baseball of the gritty, determined city anchoring the East Bay.


     After the game, my father drove us through Oakland, showing us both the enormous

cranes operated by Longshoremen wearing flannel shirts like his own, and the eclectic

downtown. From a small town dominated by tourism, where our parents made a living in

positions of service to students and parents or tourists on a seaside vacation, I had a sense the

people of Oakland were our kind of people: working-class, used to long hours, or having to start

homework while a parent wasn’t home from the job yet. It was a place where for once, I didn’t

feel the misfit among wealthier peers whose parents were dentists or investment planners.


     In years to come, we’d enjoy our annual game or two in Oakland, our Emerald City of

the green baseball diamond. We’d clap when we saw Banjoman, a bearded fan wearing an A’s

cape and propeller-topped baseball cap, and playing rallying songs to the delight of the Oakland

faithful. My little brother would sit with older fans who told him stories about the 70s when the

Swingin’ A’s, including greats like Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, and Rollie Fingers, won

three World Series in a row. One older woman gave my brother several of her fan pins from the

era. I still have a snapshot of him sitting with her, trading A’s stories and Lore.


     In the early 90s, it was easy to believe that the good times would continue to roll. The

Oakland A’s had a kind, generous owner, Walter Haas, heir to the Levis-Straus fortune, who

bought the A’s from the creative but mercurial and stingy Charlie O. Finely, who’d brought the

team west from Philadelphia in 1968. Finley was so cheap that one year during the A’s three-

peat World Series victories, he gave them victory rings not featuring an emerald, but a green

glass faux stone. In 1980, following a bitter divorce that left him cash-poor, Finley was about to

sell the A’s to a Denver businessman, who planned to move the team only 12 years after they

arrived in Oakland. Forced by the City of Oakland to sell the team to a local, Finley capitulated

and sold the team to Haas, who looked at running the A’s as a public good for a diverse,

working-class community often in the shadow of glamourous, wealthier San Francisco.


     With Haas as owner, the A’s won the 1989 World Series after its disruption just before

Game 3 by the massive Loma Prieta Earthquake that killed 63 people, many due to the collapse

of the Nimitz Freeway in Oakland. Over 200 miles south, preparing to watch the game, I’d felt

the quake, and then a few hours later, watched in amazement as A’s Ace Dave Stewart, an

Oakland native, worked helping firefighters attempt to rescue those crushed under the rubble of

the freeway’s upper deck. When the A’s ultimately swept the cross-bay San Francisco Giants a

few weeks later on October 28 th , 1989, there was joy and celebration, but also a somberness that

hung over the field, like a pall for the dead. I realized life was fragile and could brutally end in

the blink of an eye. After winning, the A’s didn’t pop corks of champagne bottles. It was a

whimpering victory, after being disrupted by a bang much bigger than baseball.


     Following Haas’s death in 1995, the A’s were sold, first to Stephen Schott and Ken

Hoffman, who took a decidedly less generous approach to the A’s. Despite being in one of the

largest media markets in the country, the duo changed the model of running the team, now with a

tight payroll. General Manager Billy Beane was tasked with finding overlooked or young talent

on a shoestring. The team’s advertisements leaned into the leaner times, declaring Oakland

“Home of Green Collar Baseball.”


     It's 2002—the start of a season that will someday be immortalized by Hollywood, during

the even leaner shadow of the Great Recession. A time when the American dream will bloat and

burst like a rotten fish’s corpse after stranding on the shoreline. The film version of the A’s will

depict Beane as a heroic innovator, the developer of the sabermetrics revolution that will change

baseball forever.


     All that is in the future, though. On this windy, chill April day, I find myself walking

through the turnstiles of the Oakland Coliseum, but not heading for the stands, but the press box

to meet a media relations representative. They guide me into the belly of the Coliseum, to a door

where Alabama-born pitcher Tim Hudson is thanking a Black security guard for the pot of

collard greens and accompanying cornbread that he made the players.

     I’m here as a professional—with an assignment to interview young Southpaw Barry Zito,

who played a few years back at a college campus in the County where the newspaper I write for

is located. Zito, an intriguing player, is known as much for playing the guitar and his practice of

Zen meditation as for his beautiful, rainbow arc of a curveball. He’s my own age, in his early

20s, but already part of the rotation known as “The Big Three” including himself, Hudson, and

Mark Mulder.

     I’m wearing a black dress with a small white floral pattern, a black cardigan, and black

pumps. Three weeks ago, I wore this same outfit to the memorial service for my closest friend at

the paper, who died at 25 after a swift, brutal battle with the autoimmune disease scleroderma.


     Looking down at the same dress, I’m reminded of how my friend, Paulette, loved baseball too.

Her team was the San Diego Padres, another “smaller market” team in Southern California,

forever in the shadow of the Dodgers in L.A.


     Part of the reason I’m here is our paper’s sports editor, Elliot, had contacted the A’s and

gotten me a press pass to interview Zito following Paulette’s death. One day shortly after she

died, Elliot told me he could use his connections as a former ESPN editor to get me in to

interview one of the A’s. He’d gently squeezed my shoulder when he told me. He knew I had a

hard time sitting beside Paulette’s now empty desk and eating lunch alone rather than heading

for our favorite spot for turkey sandwiches. The press pass was Elliot’s offer of a balm for some

of my grief.


     When I pass through the door of the A’s locker room, I enter a space filled with post-

adolescent male energy. Players are racing electric miniature cars down the aisles between the

mahogany player’s lockers. I spot Zito talking to Susan Slusser, the A’s beat writer for the San

Francisco Chronicle. I move in behind her and patiently wait my turn.

When Slusser is done with her questions, I move forward and take a deep breath before

introducing myself to Zito. I explain I’m a reporter and would like an interview with him as

someone who played for the local university.


     Zito smiled and asked if we could talk after pitching and batting practice. I nodded and

followed him out to the field, where I found myself standing at the wall beside the foul territory,

watching Zito go through his series of Yoga stretches, before facing one of the A’s catchers from

the mound. I watched intently as Zito threw strikes that at one point looked like a high ball no

player should chase, before sinking at home plate right into the zone. Not even Dennis Eckersley

or Dave Stewart of my childhood had more beautiful pitches, filled with trickery and magic, than

Zito’s curve. I knew I was watching an artist as much as an athlete, who painted the corners of

the strike zone with perfection.


     Done warming up, Zito walked toward me, smiling with warm brown eyes. “Want to do

the interview here?” Zito asked, gesturing to the home dugout bench. “The locker room can be a

bit…loud,” he added with a laugh.


     I found myself sitting in the dugout where so many players of my childhood and teen

years had sat, waiting to go on deck. It was surreal to be asking a phenom featured on the cover

of Sports Illustrated about how he’d prepared for this season. He told me about reading books

about mental concentration with his dad, about constantly practicing, and visualizing the ball

sinking like a setting sun.


     “Baseball is just as much about trusting and believing as it is physical practice,” Zito told



     When I asked him his greatest hope for the season, Zito smiled sheepishly, before looking

right into my eyes. “The Cy Young,” he said. “I have this feeling about this year…”

     Zito’s feelings would prove true. In the amazing year of the 20-game winning streak, Zito

would vaunt to the height of baseball excellence among pitchers. He would throw to 25 wins and

only 5 losses, ending the year with an Earned Run Average of 2.75 and 183 strikeouts. The

rainbow curve, the concentration, the yoga, and the intense will to make the ball sink at just the

right moment carried Barry Zito to the Cy Young Award for 2002 and helped the A’s reach the



     If this were an old Hollywood film, it would end with Zito’s triumph, and the A’s

rejoicing with us fans in their 20-game winning streak. Life isn’t a fairytale, though. As Billy

Beane says in the Hollywood film of the 2002 A’s season, “This is when people get hurt.” The

A’s would ultimately not make it back to the World Series that year—or any year in the next 21

years. There would be many more playoff experiences, some of which I’d watch in person.

Those playoff seasons would always end with a bitter loss to a better-funded team.


     Zito would sign a 7-year contract for $126 million with the richer, cross-bay rival San

Francisco Giants in 2007. Forsaking the Coliseum for a neo-retro jewel box ballpark with a giant

Coca-Cola slide in the outfield, Zito dreamed of winning a World Series ring with the rising


     Although the Giants would win their first Championship since moving to the West Coast

in 2010, it would be a nightmare experience for Zito, who years later would write in his

autobiography of secretly rooting against his own team. Embittered by the jeers of Giants fans

frustrated with Zito’s struggles after signing the huge contract, Zito wrote of struggling with

intense anxiety and depression.

     Meanwhile, I continued to lean into my family’s love for the Oakland Athletics and

“Green Collar Baseball.” In 2004, I married my friend Paulette’s widower, Luke. We were

drawn together by a shared loss, but also a mutual love of baseball, although Luke is a Los

Angeles Dodgers fan. The A’s gradually became his second team, and I’d often find him

listening to their games.

     While Zito was struggling and the A’s continued to make the playoffs before losing,

never punching through to the World Series, life got considerably harder for me, Luke, and my

father. In 2012, after having our home’s value go underwater, Luke and I were forced to give our

modest, 52-year-old ranch home back to the bank. Meanwhile, my father developed diabetes,

then congestive heart failure.


     Still, baseball, especially the A’s, was a touchstone. Something we could count on. Hope

ever sprang eternal with each new season, and new crops of talented youngsters or overlooked

veterans the A’s front office put together. Yet I noticed the front office seemed more eager to sell

off players earlier than when their contracts expired. After the 2014 season, the A’s traded star

hitter Josh Donaldson to the Toronto Blue Jays. They let a slew of other players who’d been the

core of their competitive team that just made the playoffs go.


     “Something weird is going on with the ownership,” I told Luke. “If they kept some of

these players, they could have a good shot.” Luke mentioned the A’s were poor, “small market,”

and constantly trying to get value for players before their contracts were up. “That’s Moneyball,”

he said.


     What I hadn’t paid attention to was that in 2005 the A’s were bought by two men, Lewis

Wolff and John Fisher. Wolf was more present as the owner of the A’s until the late 2010s when

suddenly Fisher took over the entire team. Media reports revealed him to be the Billionaire son

of the founders of The Gap and Old Navy clothing retailers. Fisher was weird, refusing to do

interviews or have his picture in team programs. He let his GM Dave Kaval do all the talking,

including promising to build a visionary new Ballpark topped with a public park on its third deck

at Howard Terminal, on the Oakland waterfront.


     “If they get this stadium built, it will be gorgeous,” I told my mother. “Imagine the park,

with all the trees. We can have a picnic up there!”


     In 2019, my parents and I were going to meet Luke in Oakland for an A’s game after I’d

spent a few weeks visiting home. My father wanted to visit Mission San Jose in Fremont before

the game. After viewing artifacts from the Mission and Rancho eras of early California, we were

coming down the steep steps in front of the church when my father fell. I watched in horror as he

rolled down the steps, onto the sidewalk, his forehead bloodied. Two young men passing by

helped my father to his feet. Dad refused to go to the hospital but decided to stay at the hotel

while my mom, Luke, and I went to the A’s game.


     A few days ago, Facebook Memories brought up pictures of that game, the last I’ve

attended at the Oakland Coliseum. It is September 2019, and my mother, husband, and I smile

tentatively for the camera. We are worried about my father but try to get in the spirit of enjoying

the game, the crazy cheers of our fellow fans, the joy of a Home Run.


     In retrospect, my father’s fall will seem a harbinger of all that is to come. In a few

months, I will be separated from my parents for a year and a half by a virus that may have

already been mutating in China at the time the picture was taken. I will constantly worry over my

father’s health, and my own, as I, too, will have developed Congestive Heart Failure by the time

of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Talk of baseball once it resumes late in 2020 will be a link

stretching over 200 miles between myself and my father. We frequently talked about trying to go

to another live game at our gritty cathedral, the Oakland Coliseum.


     Angelo Bartlett Giamatti, the commissioner of baseball, captured the melancholy truth of

the sport in his book, Take Time for Paradise: Americans and Their Game: “[Baseball] 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 all alone. You count on it,

rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and

then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”


     After a lifetime of love for the Oakland Athletics, a tie bonding me to my family and my

working-class identity, baseball finally broke my heart for good at the start of the 2022 season,

when Oakland GM Dave Kaval announced the A’s were abandoning the plans for a new

Oakland Stadium at Howard Terminal. Fisher is now in the process of trying to gain final

approval to move my team, paragons of never-say-die-even-if-we’re-poor determination to Las



     In the wake of this announcement, Kaval and Fisher have treated A’s fans with utter

contempt, refusing to even consider offers from other potential owners who would keep the A’s

in Oakland. Fisher has refused all interviews, save one with ESPN, in which he spoke with an “I-

Alone-Can-Build-It” rhapsody about the allure of the Las Vegas Strip and “all the people

walking through there.”


     Oakland fans, myself included, have responded with a momentous protest movement,

involving fans of other MLB teams who show up wearing the A’s Kelly green with the word

“SELL” in similar script to the corporate label for the GAP. Fellow working-class fans, outraged

in an era of ever-increasing income inequality, have pooled money to rent billboards near the

Fisher family properties by Lake Tahoe, reading “DORIS, COME GET YOUR KID,” a

reference to Fisher’s mother. This is the era of hating Nepobabies, and Fisher tops many people’s



     I feel bereft and adrift, cut loose from my team by a wealthy man who does not care

about the suffering he is causing for Oakland or fans of its team. The idea that this wonderful,

quirky, generous place at the center of so much of my life will be unceremoniously held hostage

by Fisher, who owns half its value, is enraging. While some fans hope Oakland can retain the

A’s name in hope of getting an expansion team, I’m skeptical. In addition to being an age of

billionaires, this is an age where algorithms run everything. I’m certain Rob Manfred, the current

MLB Commissioner, has no plans to give California another baseball team; he’s already said the

next expansion goes to that Southern Vegas theme park known as Nashville.


     I’ve considered giving my allegiance to the Dodgers—a classy organization with a

storied history of innovation. Yet I cannot because the Dodgers are one of the richest teams in

sports. Rooting for them would be like rooting for

     A’s baseball was my childhood dreams, my young adult wonders, and now is my middle-

aged disillusionment. Once there was a place called the Oakland Coliseum. It smelled like grilled

hot dogs, spilled beer, and peanut shells. It was a bit long in the tooth and lacked the

Disneyesque charm of the newer baseball stadiums. Yet it was a place of joy—of flags and

drummers in the outfield, of a roving troubadour dressed like a superhero playing a banjo. Of

hundreds of working-class moms and dads sitting with their kids, screaming “LET’S GO

OAKLAND,” while stomping their feet.


     All too soon, when Fisher removes the Amazing A’s from the Oakland Coliseum, its

sights, smells, and sounds will die away, and all that will be left is a concrete ring of seats some

claim looks like an ashtray. But what will be silenced is the most authentic fandom that exists for

baseball’s sake beyond luxury boxes or sushi stands. What will go silent when the Oakland

Coliseum dies is the fanfare for the common man or woman, and their true love of baseball.

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