Noe Valley Voice July-August 2002

Family Adventures Close to Home:
Watching Baseball in Oakland

By Janis Cooke Newman

Don't get me wrong. I love the Giants. I love to watch Barry Bonds hit and Reggie Sanders run. I love to watch Robb Nen pitch and Tsuyoshi Shinjo steal bases. I love to just watch Rich Aurilia.

I also love Pac Bell Park. Where else can baseball fans get a bay view, seats practically on the field, and the opportunity to slide down a metal tube inside a giant Coke bottle?

What I don't love is trying to get tickets to see the Giants play at Pac Bell Park. With nearly every game sold out in advance, every time we want to take our son Alex to a game, we wind up hanging around Third and King streets for an hour, pleading to buy tickets for less than than $30 apiece. No easy feat when you're a family and want three or four seats together.

Which explains why on this summer Saturday, my husband Ken, Alex, and I are riding a BART train east to the Oakland uh, the Network Associates Coliseum, or what is known around San Francisco as The Other Ballpark.

"There's no A in mercy," Alex reads from a BART advertisement for the Oakland A's. "What does that mean?"

"It means the A's kick butt," my husband explains, thereby broadening Alex's definition of good sportsmanship.

The Other Ballpark chalks up points for how easy it is to get there. Like Pac Bell Park, it's accessible by public transportation. Two BART lines go right to the Coliseum.

When it comes to setting, however, the Coliseum gets shut out by Pac Bell Park. Instead of palm trees and a sailboat-filled marina, the Coliseum is surrounded by rusted train tracks, weedy lots, and graffitied storage containers. Fortunately, Oakland fans don't have to walk through this gritty landscape, but can pass over it on the pedestrian bridge that runs from the BART station right to the Coliseum gates.

"Are there any more Eric Chavez bobbleheads?" my husband asks a guard at the ticket window. Today is Eric Chavez Bobblehead Day and the A's are giving away 15,000 wobbly-headed dolls of the popular third baseman.

"Are you kidding?" the guard tells him. "People were lining up at eight this morning to get those things."

Getting up early on a Saturday morning to score a bobblehead is nothing for A's fans, who tend to lean toward the rabid side. As we enter the park, we spot one fan who is apparently so excited about Eric Chavez Bobblehead Day, he's dressed himself up as an Eric Chavez bobblehead. We see him moving through the stands, high-fiving everyone as his enormous papier-mâché head bobs up and down.

Once we're in our seats, we have to sidestep to make room for three teenage girls who have painted and sprayed their hair into Marge Simpson­high beehives in A's green and yellow.

Unlike some folks who go to Pac Bell Park just to eat garlic fries and soak up the scenery, A's fans go to see the game. And support their team. When the jumbo screen by the nosebleed seats lights up with a pair of clapping hands, these people actually clap. And stamp their feet. And shout, "Let's go, Oakland!"

In the first inning, when batter Miguel Tejada comes up to home plate, a fan in the bleachers who has brought a trumpet to the game begins playing "Tequila."

"Tejada!" the entire ballpark shouts, replacing the cactus-based alcoholic drink with the name of the hard-hitting shortstop.

By the fourth inning of this matchup with the Devil Rays, I can see that even with the colorful Giambi brothers gone, the A's still have personality. Adam Piatt can blast a Bonds-worthy home run. Jermaine Dye can run so fast, his legs are a blur. And Eric Chavez does indeed deserve bobblehead status.

When Alex hits his fifth-inning-I'm-bored slump, I take him up to the Stomper Kids Zone. While there's no giant slide or miniature ballpark to run around in like at Pac Bell, there is speed pitching, and T-ball hitting, and fielding practice -- kids swing at balls fired from an air gun. And the lines for all these activities are much shorter. The Stomper Kids Zone also has attractions for really little leaguers -- plastic climbing structures and rockers in the shape of inchworms.

After Alex pitches a respectable (for a 7-year-old) 32-mph fastball, we go searching for snacks. Like Pac Bell Park, the Coliseum does provide fans with plenty of places to purchase the two most important baseball food groups -- garlic fries and Krispy Kreme donuts. But the Coliseum goes Pac Bell Park one better, by offering something the Giants stadium doesn't. Tucked behind Section 109 is Your Black Muslim Bakery, which sells a fish sandwich it describes as "a taste of the hereafter."

"If this is what the hereafter tastes like," says my husband, eating so fast he's dropping pieces of breaded whitefish in his lap, "I'm converting."

During the seventh-inning stretch when we stand up to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," I suddenly realize that I'm feeling something I have never felt at Pac Bell Park -- hot. For the first time since moving to the West Coast, I'm watching baseball the way the rest of the country does, sweating and dying for a cold beer.

I finish singing and settle back into my seat, tipping my face up to the bright blue sky. As Terrance Long strides to home plate, I decide that I have just come up with the next slogan for the A's advertising campaign: There's no A in fog. M

Visiting The Other Ballpark

Getting Tickets: Getting tickets to see the A's does not involve any complicated street corner negotiations. Instead, you can get pretty much all the seats you want by calling 510-762-2255, visiting any outlet, or getting on the A's web site, Ticket prices range from $7 to $32, and kids 14 and under can get half-price seats in some sections.

Getting to the Ballpark: Both the Dublin/Pleasanton and the Fremont lines of BART will take you from San Francisco right to the Coliseum.

Janis Cooke Newman's book The Russian Word for Snow is available in paperback at Cover to Cover Booksellers on 24th Street. Newman will also be teaching a creative writing workshop for teens (12 to 16) this summer at Cover to Cover. Call the store at 282-8080 or e-mail for more information.