Way back in April, I made my very first trip to California and took in the San Diego Padres' home opener at PETCO Park against the Los Angeles Dodgers. I never got around to writing a Shock the World post because right from beautiful San Diego, I had to fly to Minneapolis for work, where it was snowing during the second week of April, and then returned home to play catch-up at work.
What I can say is that PETCO was a beautiful ballpark, the San Diego fans were pretty cool and the Padres won. I also met a Red Sox fan named Jared there, who had recently moved to San Diego and proceeded to take me and my co-worker out on the town afterward. He wasn't so bad for a Boston fan.
Anyway, since I failed the TSFJ masses by not recapping the trip, I was determined to not let it happen again, particularly as I looked to take in a baseball game or two during my vacation out to San Francisco that began during the final few days before the MLB All-Star break and concluded after the game itself. So as I prepped for my trip to the West Coast, I scanned the schedules of the San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics, with the high hopes of taking in a game at the gorgeous ballpark formerly known as Pac Bell in San Francisco and then checking out one of the oldest, least aesthetically pleasing stadiums in Oakland. Unfortunately, it looked as though a trip to AT&T Park was out of the question, seeing as I was scheduled to land at the San Francisco Airport at 11:33 a.m. PST and the Giants were set to take on the New York Mets in their final home game before the all-star break at 12:45 in the afternoon local time.
For reasons still unknown to me, Major League Baseball has gone to this Wednesday afternoon docket, and it looked to really screw up my plans to take in a game at what many baseball fans have described as the most beautiful ballpark in the league. If the game was at a normal 7:05 evening time, I'd have no trouble getting there. So I resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn't get to see a game in the Giants' stadium during my summer stay in San Francisco, because the following day they traveled to San Diego for a four-game set before the all-star break. Just my luck.
However, the A's were actually hosting the Red Sox in the final weekend series pre-break, and my dad and I targeted the final game of the unofficial first half on Sunday afternoon, where we'd meet Mr. Editor-in-Chief, Eddie Maisonet. So at least there was that, though I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little bummed out to be missing a trip to AT&T.
But then a funny thing happened. Even after a slight delay in our layover flight out of Minneapolis en route to San Francisco, we got to the Bay Area in good time, and when we went to see if we could check in early to our rooms, I saw the Giants starting to take the field on one of the lobby televisions. When we were informed that our rooms weren't ready and we had some time to kill, I immediately said I wanted to go to the game. I could see Matt Cain tossing his warm-up pitches on the mound as 12:45 approached, and the stadium was about a 15- to 20-minute walk from our hotel. My dad wasn't up for it, but my sister was … so we took off on foot toward AT&T Park.
As we got about a block from the stadium, we saw a few scalpers, and I stopped to do some negotiating. This is nothing new for me, as back in the day especially my buddies and I used to haggle scalpers for good seats at Veterans Stadium during our teenage years with regularity. So I got a good price for some outfield seats … only to be duped quickly by the old put the right ticket on top and a ticket from the previous day below. Thankfully, when I handed my sister her ticket, she checked it out and caught the error. So being the angry Philadelphian I am, I went back to the scalper and gave him some shit … though not too much. He was nothing like the Philadelphia scalpers I am used to, who'd simply say no refunds and go fuck yourself. He simply took my set back and gave me a real set to that day's game. Quite painless, I have to say, though I'm ashamed I let the situation happen in the first place. Rookie mistake by a veteran. I deserve any and all ridicule anyone wants to heap upon me.
However, when push came to shove, I got two tickets to the 8th row just left of center for less than face value, and we headed toward Willie Mays Gate to enter the ballpark. While in line, a lady in front of us said, exacerbated, "Cain is already out? What's the matter with him?" Quite a good question. By the time we got to our seats in the bottom of the first inning, Cain was already out after getting shelled for three runs on two hits and three walks while only getting two Mets out. I repeat, Matt Cain — this guy — couldn't even last an inning against the lowly Mets and upped his season ERA to 5.06 at the time. Crazy.
Now the game itself was nothing to talk about really. After falling behind 3-0 in the first, the Giants got rolled 7-2 on a relatively warm, very sunny afternoon. But while the game was underwhelming, the atmosphere was fantastic. I walked around a little bit, taking a stroll to McCovey Cove, checking out the placards of all the Giants to hit 500 or more home runs, noticing the subtle and underplayed larger plaque for Barry Bonds' 756, drinking some brews and talking to a group of older gentlemen sitting in front of me. There were about four guys in front of us, ranging in age from I'd guess 50-70, talking baseball nonstop. The eldest of them was talking about how much Brandon Belt stinks, who is kind of reminiscent of Mets first baseman Ike Davis. Another guy was wearing an A's hat, and when I told him I was going to Coliseum on Sunday, he said, "We play better baseball over there. The stadium's not as nice, but the baseball is better." Seeing as the Athletics are in first place and the Giants at the bottom of the standings, I didn't doubt him.
Without question, given the aesthetics, the weather and the fans, AT&T was as good of a fan experience as I've ever had at a baseball game. The older crew near me was made up of baseball die-hards, evident that they had gone to hundreds of games together over the years, and the other fans around me were congenial and happy. It was strange to be around fans that genuinely didn't annoy me in the least, which is rare.
I thoroughly enjoyed the stadium and my experience at the ballpark all around — drank a few brews, ate some grub and got some sun. Then it was off to explore the city, which I did a lot of during my week in the Bay Area. During my time there, I did all the touristy things one does, including hopping on a cable car, checking out Lombard Street, hitting up Fisherman's Wharf, touring Alcatraz (so awesome), eating in Chinatown, taking the long, steep steps up to Coit Tower, hiking up Twin Peaks, hitting up Haight Ashbury and strolling through Golden Gate Park, checking out the Golden Gate Bridge, trekking to the Muir Woods to see the Redwoods (incredible), checking out Sonoma and Napa Valleys on a wine tour, getting an awesome burrito in the Mission, taking a long trip down the Pacific and viewing the scenic 17-Mile Drive, checking out the ocean, the bay, the art galleries — a ton of stuff. And included in that was a few meet-ups with Ed and a couple trips to Oakland.
On Thursday night, after I had a full day of Alcatraz and Coit Tower among other adventures, I met up with Ed, as well as resident TSFJ boxing and MMA expert Paul Navarro, along with a couple of their buddies. We drank it up in San Francisco before heading on over to Oakland, where more drinking and ogling women resumed. It was a great night out, downing the whiskey and learning more about Paul while catching up with Ed. I won't discuss all the topics we brought up to protect the innocent, but suffice to say we had a good time.
Then after packed days Friday and Saturday — highlighted by the Redwoods and wine tour Saturday — my pops and I took the BART out to Oakland after securing tickets to see all-star Bartolo Colon and his rejuvenated arm go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox, two first-place teams going at it. We got off the subway right at the Coliseum, and my dad decided to head in while I waited for Ed to arrive. Apparently he was taking care of some women business in the a.m. to come kick it at the game in the afternoon.
I secured a bag of peanuts and a Vitamin Water to hold me over in the warmer, sunnier Oakland climate — it was 58-70 degrees every day in San Francisco, with the sun only occasionally appearing but no rain at all, perfect hooded sweatshirt weather (aka heaven for me) — and saw Ed arrive sporting a slyly deceptive Atlanta Braves hat in Oakland Athletics colors. Of course he did.
Anyway, Ed and I grabbed some beers before we met my dad at the seats on a beautiful, sunny day, not a cloud in the sky, and we settled in for a good game. With Colon and his All-Star stuff going, we figured it'd be low-scoring. However, there was potential for anything to happen given that the Sox were trotting out a rookie named Brandon Workman for his first career start.
As it turned out, we got the pitching duel we expected. Colon was doing his thing through five innings, holding the Red Sox scoreless … but he was being bested by the rook making his first start. Workman was dealing, no-hitting the A's through five and facing the minimum number of batters, as the lone base-runner, John Jaso, was part of a strike-em-out-throw-em out double play after walking. Talk about crazy.
Speaking of crazy … there was a group of four young ladies sitting in front of Ed, my father and me, and one of them was a hideous, scrawny, short-haired, gap-toothed Red Sox fan who was wearing a winter-type vest in California in the summer, and she was annoying as hell. Getting drunk and carrying on for every Red Sox hit and/or run, she began to annoy just about everyone. Unlike my experience at AT&T, I got extremely sick of her real quick. Thankfully, it was Ed who was closest to her and had to deal with her and her friend standing up and blocking his view for a while. Like my grandfather used to say, "It could be worse — it could have been me."
Back to the game. As the A's were getting no-hit, Colon started to struggle a bit in the 6th, giving up three straight singles to put Boston ahead 1-0. And at that point, it looked as though one run would be plenty for the Sox, seeing as Workman took his no-hitter in the 6th, got yet another 1-2-3 inning and was, as Ed tweeted, just three innings away from a no-hitter. (Coincidentally, while I was out in San Francisco, Tim Lincecum turned back the clock and tossed a no-hitter in San Diego.) Then when the Red Sox added another run in the top of the 7th, it looked to be as good as over.
However, while Workman was tossing a no-hitter after six, his pinch count began to climb. You could see the rookie beginning to tire a little bit, and when Coco Crisp beat out an infield single on a great diving stop by Dustin Pedroia to lead off the seventh and break up the no-hitter, Workman got a little flustered. Two batters later, Josh Donaldson — who has been fantastic all season for the A's — blasted a two-run homer to left center to tie the game. Just like that, a dormant offense had tied the game on its first two hits of the day. Baseball is a funny game.
At that point, even though it was a beautiful day and a great game, Ed said he just hoped it didn't go into extra innings, which is funny because my dad didn't want the game to go to extras either. Personally, I was good either way, though getting sun-burnt meant the sooner it was over, the better.
But wouldn't you know it, the game did go to extras, because of course it did — 11 innings in fact. The reason it went 11? Two baffling, boneheaded plays by the home team played a part. Now, the Oakland A's are a funny team, a roster made up of cast-offs and the like in Billy Beane's Moneyball mantra due to Oakland's low payroll. That makes their lineup a bit unconventional. How unconventional? Well, their cleanup hitter in the game was Jed Lowrie, their shortstop (and former Red Sox infielder) who has 42 career home runs and just seven bombs this season. A power hitter, he is not, which makes him an odd choice for the four hole, but that's the A's for you.
Anyway, even with Lowrie's lack of pop, he's been fantastic this year and has nearly as many doubles already this season (24) as his career high of 25 back in 2008. So when he came to the plate with nobody on and two outs in the bottom of the 9th in a tie game, naturally you are hoping Lowrie can find a gap and get in scoring position for Oakland's true power hitter, Yoenis Cespedes (the Home Run Derby champion). Instead, Lowrie tried to bunt his way on, to no avail. So to make this clear, Oakland's cleanup hitter tried to bunt for a base hit in the bottom of the 9th in a tie ballgame. That's insane, even if Lowrie is not your typical four-hole hitter. So on to extras we went.
Then, after the Sox failed to plate anyone in the top of 10th, the A's had a golden opportunity to end the game and head into the All-Star break on a winning note. The aforementioned Cespedes led off with an infield single that saw him wind up on second base thanks to a throwing error by Boston shortstop, Jose Iglesias, with the ball hitting a chair in the dugout and bouncing out. It was the perfect setup for Oakland, with the left-handed Josh Reddick — another former Red Sock — up. Reddick could pull the ball to the right side and get Cespedes to third with just one out, meaning a sac fly could get the winning run home or pretty much anything out of the infield. Instead, Reddick continued his struggle of a season by striking out, failing to do his job.
That's when Cespedes lost his damn mind. With the winning run already in scoring position, Cespedes decided to take off for third to try and get 90 feet from home with less than two outs. He did not make it, getting gunned down easily by catcher Ryan Lavarnway. Now, Cespedes isn't the slowest guy in the world … but he's also not the fastest, certainly not known as a base-stealer. That doesn't mean he can't steal bases — he had 16 steals last year and has five this year. But he's not a base-stealer, not the fastest base-runner and certainly not a guy you give the green light to to attempt to steal third. Especially in that position of the game. If you're Jacoby Ellsbury, maybe you try to swipe third there. Maybe. And if you do, you absolutely have to make to make, no questions asked. The play shouldn't even be close. Cespedes was out by quite a bit. With Cespedes' boneheaded base-running blunder, the A's went from having the winning run in scoring position with one out to two outs and nobody on just like that. That is what you call stupid baseball, and I fucking hate stupid baseball.
Nate Freiman then grounded out, and on to the 11th we went.
That's when things got dicey for Oakland. Reliever Ryan Cook was in his second inning of work, and after sandwiching a walk between two outs, he walked Mike Carp to put two on and two out, the go-ahead run on second. Then he hit Lavarnway with a pitch to load the bases, and the fans that remained were none too pleased. However, Cook bore down and got Brock Holt on strikes, tie still intact.
That's when Josh Donaldson decided to play hero again, driving in his third run and nabbing the game-winning RBI with a two-out single to plate Chris Young, who led off with a walk. Donaldson drove in all three runs, the A's got the victory and the crowd — minus that annoying, hideous young lady — went home satisfied.
And I have to say, while the Oakland Coliseum certainly cannot compete with the newer, nicer ballparks built over the past 25 years or so, it was not nearly as bad as I expected. Having known Philadelphia's own concrete slab extremely well during my childhood and young adulthood, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that the Coliseum is way nicer than the Vet ever was. And while it is indeed a concrete slab, the concessions were nice, it is roomy and the field is actually pretty nice as well.
From there, my dad headed back to San Francisco to catch up with the family, while I headed over to Ed's crib to chill and catch up. We hung for a while in his nice abode, he hooked me up with nice TSFJ swag and I departed back to the other side of the Bay as Ed prepared for his new gig on Monday.
All in all, it was a blast shocking the world in the Bay Area. I loved it so much I didn't want to leave. Though after watching the All-Star Game on Tuesday night, that's exactly what I had to do, going back east to the unbearable heat and humidity … and stuck watching the mediocre Phillies tread water. Get me back to San Francisco.
Reverend Paul Revere, aka Joe Boland, is a sports blogger out of Philadelphia whose life revolves around sports 365 and a quarter days per year. Keep up with Rev at his own personal blog, The House That Glanville Built and on Twitter.