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Elman Swings
by Peter Elman

Dark Clouds On The Horizon - 02/09/2001

Two weeks ago I wrote a column that was unabashedly optimistic. How quickly things change. Monday I was in Arlington, Texas on business and my host happened to drive us right past the Ballpark—proof that Lucifer is alive and well (what’s $252 million, anyway?)

In the middle of the most godawful suburban squalor and surrounded by pastures that are still brown after the winter rains stands an edifice to mediocrity that only a Longhorn could love. Even on a beautiful warm Texas winter morning I felt an eerie chill. I can only imagine what it’s like on a 103 degree afternoon in August (purgatory, perhaps?). A carbon copy ripoff of Camden Yards, this effort by the HK geniuses is a brick-sided faux urban monument surrounded by parking lots, industrial parks, and not a person in sight. And you tell me that the Rangers are gonna thrive and the A’s are “outta here?” Isn’t it enough that your boy and his posse stole the election? (don’t get me started…) God help us, wherever she’s hiding these days…

Well, I’m back home in Oaktown now, and it’s raining, and I’m in an ornery mood, pardner. OK, let’s start with this week’s enemies, in no particular order. Hey, Mr. Safeway, Peter Magowan, whose patronizing remarks about the Athletics should be a call to arms for A’s fans everywhere—where will your Giants be in two years when Barry “Mr. Modesty” Bonds and Jeff “I like to hunt for my dinner” Kent are gone? San Jose? Please, take it.

Or you, Bud “I killed the 1994 season” Selig, who must be frothing thinking about “consolidation”—where in the hell will your beloved Brew Crew, those perennial losers, be when the hammer comes down? Oh, that’s right, I forgot, you’ve got yourself one of those new-fangled stadiums, the panacea for baseball’s ills, the veritable opera house of the 21st century for the corporate fan. You and your toupee make me sick, you old lying used car salesman.

On to the villians closer to our heart, Schott and Hoffman. Will you please look in the mirror, fellas? You’ll see a couple of guys who’ve made a killing in Bay Area (only the richest metro area in the whole world) real estate, bought a ballclub for fun, and now want to bail out when the going gets tough. “Just business,” you apologize weakly. NO IT ISN’T, SCHOTTMAN. It’s baseball, the greatest game ever, and don’t mess with it, hear?

You can start by paying Jason a couple of extra million this year, for Chrissake. You’re paying Johnny Damon 7 million and you can’t pony up some more dough for the MVP?! And guess what—Damon will surely walk after this year if he sees a franchise too cheap to secure its star player, to say nothing of its manager. You mean to tell us you can’t afford to pay uncle Art a paltry one mill a year for a couple of years? I’d say he’s earned it.

Cinderella—I mean major league baseball--will turn into the scariest, ugliest, most deformed rotten pumpkin America has ever seen on Halloween night this year. Yes, that’s when the “collective bargaining agreement” (the fans get collectively screwed while Selig and his rich buddies make a bargain with the devil) expires. And we all know what that means. You think the last one was bad—just wait, pal, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

And now the prospect of the A’s leaving town is real. As Colonel Kurtz said in “Apocalypse Now”, ‘the horror.’ Even with Mount Davis, which most us diehards have learned to accept, and the huge foul territory, (live with it!) the Coliseum is still a great place to watch a ballgame. What is the matter with it?

I used to think that only eastern and midwestern ballparks were rich in sports lore. I’ll never forget walking into an empty Municipal Stadium on Lake Erie several years ago (before its date with the wrecking ball) and looking up into the expanse of steel-gray seats climbing to the heavens and hearing the ghosts of thousands of blue-collar immigrants, screaming for their heroes—Jim Brown, Frank Ryan, Bob Feller, Jimmy Piersall, and the martyr, Ray Chapman, struck down in the prime of his career by a Carl Mays submarine.

But the Coliseum (let someone else call it the “Net”) has its own glorious history. Although relatively young, this is a stadium with a wealth of baseball tradition, starting with the mustachioed princes of the 70’s. Who among us doesn’t long for those days when individualism flourished and teams were teams, rather than a collection of high-priced jerks who would come through town for a season or two and leave for more jack? I close my eyes and see Reggie, Sal, Vida, Blue Moon, Campy and the spirit of Catfish. I awake momentarily from my reverie and drift back into an alpha stage, where Eck sprints in from the bullpen and saves another one for Stew, where Rickey slides into third headfirst and Jose and Mac hit 500-foot homers and bash each other afterwards.

And then I awake, and I have to pinch myself, not because the dream was so real, but because, dammit, the current edition of the Athletics is so real, and real good, RIGHT NOW. And you jolt me back to reality and say, “it’s only a dream, because the team can’t stay here.” Why not? “Because they don’t draw flies, and they need a new ballpark”, you say. And I nod, painfully, “you’re right, but where will they go? What lonely baseball-starved American city will take them? Isn’t that our only chance, that nobody is ready for a new team in their town?”

So we are left with the hope that nobody wants the A’s. For now—but that will change. There’s always some Denver, or Tampa Bay, or Toronto, or Sacramento (God forbid) that will step up to the plate and open its purse. That, unfortunately, is the scenario. With low revenue and no new stadium in the works the A’s days at the Coliseum are numbered. Am I being pessimistic, or realistic? Jack London Square park? I don’t think so…

But I will do my best, I’ll do whatever I have to do. I won’t give up hope. I’ll stop buying half-price tickets (and stop cavalierly sitting in my favorite seat in section 213). I’ll stop bringing my healthy delicious lunch (and live on Louisiana Hots and garlic fries—and Maalox). Hell, I’ll even park in the goddamn $10 lot if I have to (and forego my ritualistic post-game walk out to Independence Way). I’ll do anything to keep the A’s in Oakland. There’s something about the sound of the Portland, or Washington, or Sacramento (NO!) A’s that depresses me.

My son was born the day after the A’s got swept in the ’90 series by Lou Piniella’s Reds, and if it wasn’t for that momentous and joyous event, the Athletics defeat would have sent me into a tailspin from which it might have taken years to recover. And now, finally, we got ourselves a team.

Dark clouds are out there, and I just saw lightning and heard thunder, believe it or not. So I know you must be listening. Please, lord, now that we’ve got hope, don’t take it from us—we’re so close to the Promised Land.

by Peter Elman