Oakland Athletics, 2017

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There is a standard admonishment stated at the beginning of every Major League Baseball game broadcast that all accounts, descriptions, etc., without the express written consent of Major League Baseball are strictly prohibited. Which means I can’t write about a particular game I attended, lacking, as I do, the requisite express written consent. Instead, I’m going to write about this year’s Oakland Athletics experience in general, having attended two games so far in this still young season.

Both games I attended were Wednesday games with a 12:30 p.m. start time. Most weekday games are played at night so that people who work during the day can attend in the evening. The Wednesday games precede team travel days prior to a road trip. My work schedule having now changed, I am able to attend day games during the week and I promised myself I would go to as many of these Wednesday games as possible. There is nothing quite so indulgent as whiling away a few hours in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, when so many others toil. It feels sinful, but I am going to get used to it anyway.

The big news for the Athletics this year is not so much the team itself as the changes made to improve the fan experience. You might ask what could improve the fan experience when the Athletics home field occupies the Oakland Coliseum, known by fans throughout baseball as one of the less desirable stadiums. There are some reasons to think that. The Coliseum was completed in 1966. It is also a duel use stadium. In addition to the Athletics, the Oakland Raiders also play home games there, for the time being (more about that later). Also, despite the age of the stadium it does not have the sort of legacy, or shall we say “vintage” appeal of places like Fenway Park in Boston, or Wrigley Field in Chicago. So, it’s old, but not old enough or quirky enough to have any cachet.

Well, it turns out, the Athletics organization has done an admirable job making the most out of what they had to work with. This is due to the efforts of the new team president, a guy named Dave Kaval. The previous public face of the Athletics organization was a guy named Lew Wolff, who decided to sell his stake in the team and leave the organization. Mr. Wolff was know by most fans of the Athletics as the guy who tried to move the team out of Oakland. So, one big change to improve the fan experience is not having to think about him, or worry about the team leaving town. In fact, for me personally, that’s probably the most important change, and the Athletics organization seems to think so, too. They have branded the Coliseum with signs and banners with the declaration “Rooted in Oakland,” with a background of iconic symbols of the city, like shipping cranes (you have to be local to “get” that one) and the stylized symbol of the oak tree that serves as the city’s official logo.

And they’ve tried to lend some vintage cred to the place by naming the baseball field after one of the greatest Athletics, Ricky Henderson, so now it’s Ricky Henderson Field. They’ve also added a mechanized sign in center field in the shape of the words “Holy Toledo!,” which was the tag line of the great sportscaster Bill King. When they play the Star Spangled Banner, the words are washed over with a waving Stars and Stripes. And, in a stroke of genius, they have expanded the “interior” of the Coliseum to include an area outside of the physical stadium in the space between the Coliseum and Oracle Arena. They’ve named this area Championship Plaza, spruced it up with some artificial turf, picnic tables and, best of all, food trucks. Now, instead of being limited to the food and beverage concessions inside the stadium, you can get your food from one of the trucks and take it back to your seat. The difference in the quality of the food cannot be overstated.  The prices are much more reasonable, as well.

The concept of bringing the outside inside extends to what used to be called the West Side Club; now renamed “Shibe Park,” which harkens back to the days when the Athletics were in Philadelphia. There is an elevated patio area that adjoins Shibe Park and overlooks Championship Plaza; kind of like someone got the idea, “Hey, why don’t we open these doors and let a little fresh air in!” Shibe Park has also been upgraded from the old West Side Club configuration; it’s got a billiard table and a ping pong table. There is also a kid-friendly area on the patio with amusements such as a pitching cage, face painting, etc.

Someone told me that Kaval is not the one who came up with all these ideas; that he got these ideas by listening to the fans. If that’s true, it’s consistent with the feel of the Athletics organization these days. For the longest time fans of the Athletics have been saying, “Don’t leave! We’ll support you! We love you! You can stay in Oakland!” It really feels like someone listened, and perhaps that’s the biggest upgrade of all. You see, Oakland is about to lose the Warriors to San Francisco. And the aforementioned Raiders have a deal for a new stadium in Las Vegas. Both teams will leave Oakland in a few years. It feels good to know that at least the Athletics are committed to staying.

Now, as for the team itself, the season is still young and the Athletics have a way of outperforming and surprising people. A few years ago they beat the Texas Rangers (a far better team on paper) on the last day of the season to win the division. Then there was the “Moneyball” team with that crazy 22 game winning streak. They had a terrible record at this point in that season and they went to the playoffs. So, who knows what will happen. They’re a few games under .500 right now. All I know for sure is that the Athletics won both games I attended so far. Those Wednesday games; gotta love ’em.

Let’s go Oakland!

 

 

New York City Part One: LaGuardia

We flew into LaGuardia because the airline I use doesn’t fly into JFK, which is a bummer. You know how a certain candidate for president kept saying during the campaign that some of our airports are like what you’d find in a third world country? He surely must have been thinking of LaGuardia. The place is, to put it mildly, an anachronistic dump. I took a trip to Costa Rica a couple of years ago and the flight was not direct; it had a stop in El Salvador. The airport there is much nicer than LaGuardia.

I live in northern California and most of the time I fly out of the airport in Oakland, which is an OK facility. I mean, we’re not talking Inchon in Seoul, by any means, but it’s fine. It’s shocking to report that the airport in Oakland is like Inchon as compared to LaGuardia.

We got off the plane at the B gates, which has like 28 some odd separate gates for departures and arrivals. 28 gates, and one restroom, with a sad sign posted letting you know that it is the only restroom for the B gates. Go inside the men’s restroom and there are three stalls and four urinals. The handicapped stall was “temporarily unavailable” so the one restroom was not even ADA compliant. Another stall had overflowed and there was some poor sap with a mop and bucket trying to clean it up. You have to go outside the security cordon to get to another restroom, so if you’re waiting for your flight to depart out of the B gates, or you just arrived at the B gates, you’ll be waiting in line should nature call.

You know how most gates have a “this side” and a “that side?” At LaGuardia B gates, there is no this side and that side. Instead, the concourse is so narrow, there is only “here we all are in the middle,” with no bump outs for the modest concessions. For arrivals, there is a sign directing you to the baggage claim, and when you get there you’ll see the lone carousel, so you don’t have to guess which one. When it starts up there is a high, thin, screeching sound like the guy playing the one string Chinese orchestra instrument at the farmers’ market in Old Oakland.

After we collected our luggage (my daughter’s bag was somehow ripped badly in transit), we went outside to a scene of absolute chaos. We tried to get a Lyft cab. Our driver was calling us and texting with apologies that the airport security forced him to drive right by us so as not to block traffic. The security people were out in the middle of the road screaming at the top of their lungs. I don’t really blame them, because the traffic was so bad and it was raining. To top it off, the cover over the waiting area leaked, so we were getting soaked while waiting for the cab to cycle around again.

There is no direct subway connection to LaGuardia; you have to take a bus from the airport to the nearest subway station.

The good news is that my trip to New York City was great, despite the awful, horrible experience at LaGuardia. If you can possibly avoid this airport you’re doing yourself a real favor, at least until they complete the $4 billion renovation.

A Strange Kind of Pride

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I work in downtown Oakland, California and I took this photo a couple of blocks from my office. This is graffiti painted on the wall of a construction site. It’s funny how the graffiti depicts a rat doing the deed. Here’s another photo farther down the same wall.

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If you don’t live in Oakland you may well look at the graffiti in a very negative light and think that it reflects poorly on the city. Here’s another photo I took about a block away (in fact all of the photos I’m posting were taken in a three block area of downtown).

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So, it’s not cool to deface a storefront like this, even though it’s empty and undergoing renovation inside, as indicated by butcher paper on the inside of the windows. This particular graffiti has been there about two weeks and there has been no attempt to clean it up, which I put down to a combination of the likelihood that the people who lease the building are probably waiting until the interior renovation is done, and a sense of futility in the meantime. I’m sure they’ll clean it up before the new business opens at that location. There’s a separate question, though, as to whether it should be removed. You’ll see why in a bit. Obviously, removal is up to the property owners and the business leasing it.

If it’s not cool to deface a storefront, what about a non-street facing wall next to a parking lot?

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I think this graffiti is of a quality that it adds to the urban landscape. I have no idea whether the property owners gave permission for this, but I could imagine a business or building owner doing that. If you still haven’t migrated at all toward the notion that graffiti is ever a good thing, what about this?

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Again, I have no idea if this was approved by the building owner and/or the business. I do consider it a positive addition to the urban landscape. It’s cool to walk around this part of Oakland and be confronted by the imagination of these people, who I suspect are locals. Why do I think that?IMG_2451

This doesn’t look like the other graffiti and I doubt this was an unauthorized job. It does show that graffiti has gained a grudging acceptance in this part of town. It’s achieved critical mass, as exemplified by this…

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…or this.

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There are smaller works, like this…

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Again, I don’t know in any given instance which of these works were approved. I just know that I enjoy them when I’m walking around at lunch. One more:

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You’ll notice the “Love Oakland” on the left hand side of the frame. It seems that an unlikely confluence of societal forces are creating an unconventional art district in the heart of downtown Oakland. This is the type of thing that is unlikely as an official civic project, which makes it all the more special. It makes me proud of the region where I live.

I love Oakland.

Full disclosure: I live next door in Alameda, but I lived in Oakland for many, many years, and work there currently.

Urban Legend

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A few posts back I wrote a haiku poem called Cranes in the Sunset and made a passing reference to the Oakland shipping cranes being the inspiration for the walking war machines in The Empire Strikes Back. My unofficial fact checker quickly replied to the post and said that George Lucas himself had denied any connection between the two.

I won’t argue with Mr. Lucas if he said that, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve encountered that connection over the years, both in print and verbally. You can even buy a t-shirt like the one pictured above. The myth was repeated so many times that Mr. Lucas felt compelled to set the record straight.

It goes to show how something can take on the force of truth through simple repetition.

The Dumbest Traffic Light in the World

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Do you notice something odd about the placement of this traffic light? That’s right. There’s no cross street.

The light resides in the middle of a standard, otherwise unremarkable, city block, in the Chinatown neighborhood of Oakland, California. You’ll notice the crosswalk markings in the street. The building I work in is on this street and I can tell you from experience that very few people cross the street there. There’s a garage entrance on the other side of the street, out of view, but it’s presence doesn’t warrant a traffic light.

Just so you know I haven’t gone crazy or succumbed to dementia, there’s a reason I’m writing about this. Have you ever driven a car in Oakland’s Chinatown? If not, I can share that traffic laws are not enforced there.

People double-park in Chinatown all the time. People jay-walk and even the city-provided walk signs are set up to allow people to cross the street diagonally. I have no problem with any of that. It’s well established that different cultures have different traffic practices. I live in a diverse region so I accept it.

Except that the dumbest traffic light in the world exists in the context of what is otherwise a traffic-law-free zone. My solution is to ignore the traffic light and pay attention to any stray pedestrians who happen to be in the crosswalk.

Running a red light on the way to work each day is a liberating experience.

A Busy Saturday

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Is it weird to like a hospital? I would have thought so until I went to the new Kaiser hospital in Oakland. Here’s a photo of the waiting area for the orthopedics department. I’ve been going there with my daughter because she broke her leg snow skiing last February. She’s all healed up now and ready to have the rods removed later this month.

Anyway, the new hospital is beautiful; another word I would not have associated with a medical facility until now. Here’s another photo of the interior. This one’s next to the cafeteria. The photo is of a mural made up of thousands of images of Oakland residents, arranged to create a panorama of downtown Oakland near Lake Merritt.

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As inconsequential as it may seem, I think there is value to aesthetics when it comes to a medical facility. It makes going there less intimidating and reduces the stress one usually associates with health concerns. Here’s one final photo; this one is also next to the cafeteria. It shows a container of spa water put out by the staff.

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I went to the hospital lab yesterday to have blood samples taken as part of my annual physical. By the way, I really like my doctor. He’s an elderly guy with a Southern accent that sounds exactly like Andy Taylor from the classic TV show Mayberry RFD.

After the lab work, I took a smoking cessation class. Yes, I smoke. Not much; I average about 7 cigarettes a day, but still. I had quit three years ago by going to a hypnotist. I started again after my wife died of cancer. She never smoked and barely drank. Who said life was fair? I realize it’s counterintuitive that I would start smoking again after that terrible event. I don’t claim to understand it myself. The good news is that I am going to quit again.

So in the class they helped me draw up a plan to quit. One of the things they tell you to do is to let others know you are going to quit so that you are more committed to success, which is why I’m telling you this. My quit date is January 1, 2015 (I know, I know). But it’s not a New Year’s resolution, really. It’s just that I’m supposed to be doing certain things to prepare, such as to start using a nicotine patch, in advance of the actual quit date.

I plan to blog each day about my quitting experience. It should be fun.

After the smoking cessation class I went to the car dealership and bought my leased vehicle. If you read my post about the SF car show, you’ll know why. Just as I was about to leave the dealership, a few hundred protesters marched by. I had only seen the protests on TV, so it was interesting. Here’s a photo (not a very good one).

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Of course, the protesters were there because of the controversy surrounding deaths from police shootings, the most recent being the shooting of a twelve year old boy brandishing a toy pistol. The death has been ruled a homicide by the medical examiner. There’s video of the incident. I would assume that there will be an indictment in the case, but based on recent history I’m not holding my breath.

OK! I need to go buy a Christmas tree. Happy Holidays!

On Any Sunday

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Wow! The Oakland Raiders have just defeated the San Francisco 49er’s, likely ending the 49er’s playoff hopes for this year, and possibly ending the 49er’s coaching career of Jim Harbaugh. There is speculation that Harbaugh will leave San Francisco at the end of the season to take the head coaching job…in Oakland.

That’s a weird aspect of this win for the Raiders. More about that later.

First, the Raiders’ quarterback, Derek Carr, was outstanding today. He’s the reason they won the game.

Second, no one saw this coming. Not realistically, anyway. The Raiders lost last week in a blow-out. There was absolutely no reason to think that a team with one win this season would even be competitive against the 49ers. The Raiders had nothing to play for except pride.

This is what I love about sports. The intangible elements somehow come into play from time to time and dictate an unexpected outcome.

So, on the question of whether Harbaugh moves to the Raiders, I think this game made that unlikely. This game is a manifestation of Harbaugh’s recent problems controlling his team, as evidenced by unattributed reports from 49er players that he has lost the confidence of the players.

It would be interesting to see if Harbaugh could help turn around the Raiders, but I think it would be more interesting to witness the second coming of the last great Raiders coach, Jon Gruden. If I had a vote, I’d take Gruden over Harbaugh any day. He’s won a Super Bowl, knows the Raiders organization as well as anyone, and doesn’t carry the baggage of Harbaugh’s recent problems.

I sign off with a hopeful comment: Go Raiders!

Garbage Time

Raiders Losing

The picture doesn’t tell the story. All the really bad shots have been taken off the website already.

I was a Raider season ticket holder for 10 years. I quit when I took my daughter to a few games and figured out it was an inappropriate atmosphere for an infant. Now that the Raiders have become an embarrassment, I’ve concluded that they are inappropriate for adults, as well.

At least for this season. Gawd, it’s pathetic that I can’t be more definitive and just cut the cord; say Adios to Raiders fandom completely.

For I have seen this season, and, in particular, last Sunday’s game.

This is the first and probably the lone post I will ever do flaming a sports team. That it is focused on a team I care about is a measure of the shame I feel after witnessing the completely lame Raiders performance against a team, that, while competent, is not on the level of the Kansas City Chiefs. The Raiders beat the Chiefs last week (their first win in over a year), which makes the manner of this week’s loss that more ignominious.

The Raiders lost.

But more than that, they didn’t score.

At all.

Zero.

Meanwhile, the other team (who I won’t mention; this post is not about them) scored 52 points.

The Raider’s season was lost way before this latest humiliation. It was already garbage time. But garbage time exists in the context of a game, or a season, or in general. This last game was garbage time in any possible context; the pure manifestation of an NFL franchise in the process of creating bad, no, unacceptable, content.

They’ve been doing it for years now.

I don’t presume to know how to lead the Raiders back to greatness, but here’s a thought.

Mr. Davis, please realize that, while you may one day possess the smarts to make the right hiring decisions to restore the team to greatness, you can retain ownership, but for the time being, the key hiring decisions should be made by someone who has more football experience than you have. The only hiring decision you should make, with close consultation with trusted experts (and with listening to people you don’t necessarily trust; you want to know what your enemies don’t want you to do); is to hire someone to make key decisions for you.

This Sunday the Raiders play the 49ers. I have cognitive dissonance around this game, because the Raiders’ season is already over, while the 49ers need to win to have a plausible chance of making the playoffs.

As it stands now, I prefer rooting for the local interest than rooting for garbage time, as much as that hurts.