Yesterday I dragged myself to the BART train and rode it to the Concrete Monolith that is Coliseum to watch Opener: Erik Swanson. I don’t go to many games, mostly because the Oakland Coliseum is terrible (but getting better!) and so are the Mariners. This, though, was my last real opportunity to watch the Mariners in person before my move.
I bought us decent seats, beers, pretzels—I was invested over $100 into my afternoon at a game in Oakland is what I’m saying. The stadium was nearly empty but not lifeless (whistles inexplicably were used to “rally” the fans, which made the game feel like it was taking place at a public pool overseen by an overzealous lifeguard), and Sabrina and I were two of maybe eight Mariners fans, which made us foreign ambassadors. Behind us and next to us were talkative fans well lubricated in the afternoon heat, who directed questions and comments regarding our team in our direction.
“Yes, we are bad.”
“It’s a step-back, you understand.”
“You should see our farm system.”
The sun was high and I had a great view of grown men throwing baseballs around. I was relaxed, I was happy.
After we pulled ahead in the second, the fans around me joked about the Mariners being a pain in the ass.
“You’ll get us, don’t worry,” I said.
“We’re catching up!”
“We’ll see, we’ll see.”
Someone behind me slapped my back. “Oh, man, it’s a home run derby!
I drank. I ate more fried dough. I tried to laugh, remembering that whenever I see fans of away teams at T-Mobile I feel a sort of resentment towards them, taking up space in my stadium, and the feeling of satisfaction mixed with pity when their team loses and I watch them slump towards the exits. I didn’t want to be pitied. “We’re tanking for the draft!” I said, but no one heard me.
Then, the 6th inning brought two homers and a double and put the Mariners down by five runs. “I think that’s going to be the game,” I said to the guys behind me. They smiled and shrugged.
And then in the top of the eighth inning, Tim Beckham smashed a pitch to center. I stood, alone, my hands raised in anticipation.
Ramon Laureano did this.
The fans erupted at the catch, screaming. They leapt to their feet just as I sat back down. It was like we were from different planets and I didn’t understand the rules of this alien game.
“Great catch,” said a fan behind me. I nodded.
Ten minutes later, Ramon Laureano hit a home run on an 0-2 pitch. Followed again by an eruption of applause and cheers. I slumped in my seat feeling suddenly like I had walked into the wrong classroom on my first day of college.
A couple looked at me after they sat down, ready to rib me, but they thought better of mentioning it. The sun felt hotter. I could feel a burn spreading across my neck.
Two batters later—another home run. I didn’t move as the cheers erupted, the stadium delirious. I thought about leaving, but that would’ve drawn attention. If I’d been at home, I would have simply turned the game off, walked away, and went about my plans. But there was no turning it off, and I couldn’t bring myself to leave. I realized how insulated from the rebuild I’d been, holed up in the Bay Area with my MiLBtv subscription.
No one spoke to me. There was no gloating, no rubbing my nose in it. There is an invisible line that dictates when you can and can’t make fun of someone in a competition. That line in a baseball game, I am here to tell you, is 6+ runs up in the 8th inning. The Mercy Rule.
An elderly man in all green ran up the concourse high-fiving fans. He came to our seats and stopped when he noticed I didn’t put my hand out. He cocked his head, smiling: “You can still cheer, you know.”
I high-fived him weakly. What did that mean? I can still cheer? For what? Baseball? The A’s? I turned that thought over in my mind.
On the BART ride back we were in a car with the Director of BART, who is a mild celebrity and had just come from the game. I was listening to him talk, he’d gathered something of an audience, before he turned to me, and pointed. “Hey! Thanks so much for coming out to the game.”
“Sure,” I wasn’t sure how to respond. “Wish it could have gone a little differently.” I tried to laugh.
“That Omar Narvaez sure is good. We didn’t know how to pitch to him! How many home runs has he hit against us?”
“Four?” I said.
“He is really good.”
“Yes, he is.”
I felt embarrassed, singled out as so pitiable that a politician felt he had to thank me for simply being willing to watch my team. I wanted to get home and rub aloe on my neck. I didn’t want to write this article.
When we transferred to our next train the car was stuffed with commuters. After five seconds Sabrina turned to me, scrunched up her nose and whispered, “Oh my god do you smell that?”
I inhaled and gagged. The smell was unreal, the sour stench of human waste. But the car was packed, the others just as full, there was no escape.
A woman in front of us pulled a scarf out of her bag and wrapped it around her nose. “Use your sweatshirt, sweety.” I nodded and covered my nose.
“We should drive with the door open,” I said through the fabric.
A couple people chuckled.
“No kidding,” someone said behind me. We started to all groan when the doors closed after a stop and the smell was once again cloying in the heat.
“This stinks,” said someone in an A’s jersey.
“Yes,” I said happily, a little giddy, a little nauseous. “It absolutely stinks.”
The train clattered down the line, pulling with it a car full of miserable people held captive by the shared need to be carried a little further. Even when the train stopped for too long at a station, not one of us risked leaving and waiting for the next train. We trusted it would take us where we needed to go, if we could just hold our breath a little longer. At least we weren’t riding alone.