Opening day in baseball triggers so many memories and opens the nostalgic floodgates. I’ll never forget walking into the Oakland Coliseum – probably the nastiest stadium in all of sports – and being completely overwhelmed with the majesty and grandeur that hijacked my senses.
I noticed the urinal trough in the men’s room with all the drunken idiot fans, but all I banked in my memory vault was the smell of the manicured diamond and a variety of grilled game-day concoctions. I overlooked the inebriated boo-birds yelling all things unholy and foul and was consumed only with the anticipation of what would happen when Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco came to the plate. The anxiety of the game hanging in the balance with Dennis Eckersley on the mound going for the save was almost too much for a nine-year-old and his best friend to handle.
Exiting the ballpark and traveling home was no less of an experience. Anyone who has ever been to northern California knows the BART. It’s basically a medieval version of TRAX, only elevated above the streets. The cars were packed with fans making their way to wherever they were going (probably for another beer), but the destination didn’t matter. The “Bash Brothers” home runs, the “Eck” save, the Ricky Henderson stolen bases, all things Oakland A’s were bantered about. Trivia was asked and answered, and we were all family for that ride home.
As I have aged, the mystery has faded and the curtain was pulled back. The “Bash Brothers” were on steroids, even though fans vehemently denied it at the time. Ricky Henderson was all about “Ricky” and probably a little imbalanced. And those same fans that were family that night probably broke into one another’s home the next day or even shot a fellow fan the following night. Oakland is a rough area no doubt, and it turned out the A’s clubhouse wasn’t much better.
A few years later, across the bay was literally another “Giant” sports figure: Barry Bonds. He took being a San Francisco Giant to the next level by rubbing on the cream and the clear and sticking needles in his body, making him gigantic. He probably didn’t know his head would get so big, and not in a figurative sense. His hat size honestly grew more than a size or two.
From where I sit, all the negatives pale in comparison to the mystique of making your way through that tunnel, stopping to get a program and a bratwurst and seeing the field come into view as you make your way up the stands. That early imprint on my consciousness will never leave and probably causes me to overlook a lot of the failings of sports and the athletes that participate.
Family is family, relationships are what they are and finding a way to make a living is vital.
But can we all agree it’s ok to just let sports be sports?