The Old Ball Game
I’ve got a growing back log on my to-do list, given some recent down-time. So now when I started getting back on my feet, what was the first thing I did? Hunker down and start hitting that to-do list?
Hellz no—I went to the ballgame.
Oh, not just any old ball game, but the last game of a 3-game home stand between the Oakland A’s, and the hated New York Yankees. It was an amazing game, well, actually there was enough baseball played for two baseball games, as the two teams went 18 innings before Oakland ended it, beating the Yanks 3-2.
Come to think of it, I went to a double-header, so, bonus.
Baseball is something that I’ve kind of re-discovered in the last year… A friend got me to go to an A’s game last year, went to a couple more, and this season I’ve been to about four games. It’s a blast, although I’m still not so sure that I’m so much of a born-again baseball fan as just someone who sort of likes baseball, but really loves the Oakland A’s experience. The A’s Experience is about a lot more than baseball, it’s really about community, a really vibrant community, and being a part of it, and there is something about that feeling of community that takes me back to my childhood in Brooklyn, and another scrappy little team that was built around that same sense of community: The New York Mets.
My dad brought me up, to the extent that he was a part of my life, as a New York Mets fan. To fully understand this, one has to understand that the Mets of the early-mid 1960s were not the last-place-in-their division team with one of the worst records in Major League Baseball that they are today. No, that would have been a few steps up from where they were back then, which would have been the final sale bin of the metaphorical clearance basement of Baseball. They were pretty much the laughing stock of MLB until 1969, when it all changed, and the laughs stopped, World Series Championship-style.
So, being a Mets fan comes with a certain willing acceptance of, and appreciation for, the perennial underdog…A commitment to hoping for the best, expecting the worst, and being willing to believe in something when everything sane and rational runs contrary to that belief. In fact, “Ya gotta’ believe” became the team’s catch phrase in ’73, after it was first heard from relief pitcher Tug McGraw.
Being a Mets fan also comes along with a distaste, and (a possibly pathological) disdain for all things pertaining to the New York Yankees, as well as a vague recollection of some reasons for not totally loving the L.A. Dodgers. Reasons having to do with events of a distant past now shrouded in the mists of time.
I can’t really talk about the Mets, or my childhood, without talking about about my dad.
Dad, Walter William Luberts, Jr., or Bill, as he was known to all, passed away in 1999. At the time of his passing I hadn’t seen, or heard from, him in close to 25 years. I probably would not have even known about his passing if his brother, Ken, hadn’t declined to get involved with his funeral planning, and had some coroner in Nevada give me a call. It seems pretty much every one in the family was done with Dad… You see, Dad was a seriously flawed individual with multiple, serious, emotional and addiction issues…I’m talking about things for which he was hospitalized, a number of times, over the course of his life. He was pretty much out of my life, as a permanent fixture, by the time I was about nine or ten, and that was probably for the best, considering he did would make any serious attempts to deal with, or fix, those issues. He just continued to make everyone around him, including myself and my mother, suffer.
So, yeah, everyone was done with Dad, even his younger brother. It may sound cold, but when you’ve got someone in your life with serious mental health and/or addiction problems that they refuse to acknowledge, or get treatment for, some times the best, if not the hardest, thing you can do is get away from them until such a time as they decide to seek help. It’s hard to do, and truly just as heartbreaking as watching someone you love suffer, especially when talking about a family member, but if you’ve got someone in your life that’s in denial about these types of issues, not only can you not help them until they want to help themselves, but they will drag you down with them, wreaking havoc on your own life and emotional well being in the process. In the end, our lives are about the choices we make, and if are lives are not working out, learning to make better ones. Dad’s choice was to continue making bad choices, so he couldn’t be a part of our lives.
Anyway, I tend not to reflect on all the ways Dad was a more-or-less complete fuck-up, and instead think about all the great things he brought into my life, and all the ways he started me down the road, from the time I was a toddler, on a creative path that had a direct influence over who I am, and who I’ve become. In just the relatively few short years when he was a part of my upbringing, he opened the door for me into many worlds, and some of those worlds would develop into life-long passions.
Dad was, at heart, a really creative guy who could keep me enthralled, for hours, making crafts out of construction paper, using glue made of nothing but flour and water. He stuck his Voightlander camera in my hands when I was about five, then bought me my own Kodak Instamatic when I was six, and I haven’t stopped taking photos since. Later, on weekend visitations after my parents were divorced, we would spend hours building and painting and Aurora models, particularly the Universal movie monsters series and DC Superheroes, and watching baseball. New York Mets baseball.
Ya Gotta’ Believe
Again, back in the day, of the mid ’60s, a lot of folks wouldn’t consider the Mets a real baseball team…Not until the ’69 “Miracle Mets” won their first World Series with players that would become household names, like Agee, Jones, Kranepool, Harrelson, McGraw, and my boyhood idol, pitcher Tom Seaver. But Dad always loved his Mets, and baseball was always part of our weekend lineup.
I think my first trip to Shea Stadium, Which was built around the time of the 1963 World’s Fair, came around ’66 or ’67. In those early years, the Mets were just a scrappy little team started, in part, to take the place left by the Giants, and the Dodgers, after both franchises moved to the West Coast. It wasn’t easy being a Mets fan…Especially since we were usually subject to the scorn of, or butt of jokes by, New York Yankees fans. There was a tremendous sense of camaraderie between Mets fans back then…A community, very much like the one that we have here in Oakland around the A’s, a team who, as the Mets climbed up the ladder of success, became our rivals in a number of World Series contests, with their own cast of legends…Jackson, Hunter, Fingers, to name a few.
Those were great times to be a baseball fan…
Somehow time passed, and I became detached from sports…Baseball and hockey (NY Rangers) were my main interests, but fell to the wayside as I got involved more with the arts, and became intensely involved as a competitive chess player during my high school years—inspired in part by Fischer-Spassky, but, again, it was Dad who taught me how to play. Baseball was just no longer something that could hold my interest, and it would remain that way for over 30 years, until last Spring, when I discovered the A’s experience.
Oakland A’s baseball is more than just pro baseball…There’s also a strong sense of community here, both in and outside of the Stadium. It’s a team that for a long time hadn’t been at the top of their game, and has been largely overshadowed by the competitive success of the Giants. A’s fans largely represent a bunch of diehards who will follow and support their team through thick and thin. It’s kind of a blue-collar experience, and that takes me back to Brooklyn, and my Mets, in a way. Not that Oakland isn’t a much better team, and organization…They are a great team, playing very well, and it looks like they will win their division this year. There’s just a similarity that takes me back…
I’ve taken to riding bus and BART to the games, since the difference between that and driving/paying to park is about the price of a large draft beer, and it also enhances the sense of community that is the coolest part of the A’s experience. Wear an Athletics jersey and a hat, and you’re bound to be greeted with smiles from other fans headed to the game. Coming home you’ll find yourself approached by people with looks of concern on their face, “You coming from the game? How’d it go?”, or “Did we win?”
It’s a lot of fun.
Then there’s the stadium…Oakland Coliseum, currently known as the O.Co Coliseum…It’s a weird, dual-purpose, space that also serves the Oakland Raiders during Football season. Food and drink play a large part in the equation—They have an astonishingly wide selection of beers…Everything from Bud to Craft brews. There are other adult beverages on sale, but beer is the main fan attraction here. There is also a pretty wide variety of food, from standard stadium fare to Kahlua pork nachos. It all adds to the decidedly communal experience at these games…Oh, and to top it all off, the ticket prices are about half of what you would pay to go see the winning team on the other side of the Bay Bridge.
There’s a lot of talk/wooing/gamesmanship going on about getting the A’s a new stadium, possibly in the San Jose area. I think that would be a mistake for so many reasons. A’s Baseball is served up, and the fans are best served, from right where they are—in a creaky, old, stadium, in a crappy part of town, right next to the highways, and its own BART and Amtrak stations.
Oakland is a town on the rebound…There is a vibrant community of people here who are passionately committed to the town, and all it has to offer, from a thriving Arts scene to restaurants and museums, and sports, including the A’s. The Oakland A’s are as much a part of this town’s history, and community, as any institution, and are a large part of Oakland’s identity and sense of pride. The A’s fill a role in the community life of Oakland that can not be served from San Jose, or any other town in the Bay Area. The A’s belong in Oakland. Period.
I’ve taken to watching games on TV, bought the Major League Baseball app for my iPhone, and have generally been following the team. Still not sure if I’m rediscovering a long-abandoned passion for baseball, or just finding something special in being a part of the A’s extended community. Not sure if it matters.
Right now is a time of transition and change for me. Leaving Oakland is a reality that seems to be looming large on my horizon, and one that I have very mixed feelings about—I love this town. One thing for sure…If I do wind up moving out of the area, A’s Baseball, and the A’s Experience, is yet another item on a growing list of things that I will miss about Oakland, and fondly remember about my time here.