I hadn’t been to Oakland in almost a decade due to living in Los Angeles for what seemed like a lifetime. This visit reminded me that I once knew a girl who lived here with short, blonde, finger-wave style hair done with a sort of Mae West flair… a precious time of pre-internet and seemingly pre-insanity seen through the lens of a murky jar.
This girl lived above an Ethiopian restaurant on Telegraph Ave. and the smell of the food permeated the hallways. The memory must have happened in 1999 because I remember being kind of tipsy in her room while she was at work, and the A’s were playing on a broken, tiny black and white TV she must have found in an alley. (This was common for the young and destitute in the 80’s and 90’s) There was a babyfaced phenom rookie pitching named Tim Hudson, and I watched him toss a colorless complete-game gem before I dilly-dallied the 15 blocks or so in a rainstorm that was vertical and polite to the record store where she worked. Floating and ignoring beggars with dead eyes and an empty, automatism hustle, while mingling with the outlandish and counter-cultural. The break-up happened soon thereafter and was concluded quickly and quietly with a mutual shrug.
We remained friends after breaking up, but I haven’t seen “Mae West” in about 15 years after inevitably drifting apart. We both grew older and created new myths, and reflecting and jotting these moments down on paper is a state of autobiographical surrender to the void. Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’… Thanks, Steve Miller Band…I’ve always liked that song.
I now have horizontal creases on my forehead that I noticed beginning to develop years ago but only recently started to recognize as the onset of my inevitable material decline–as such, the sensibility of myopic, youthful indifference has been liberated and humbled. We spend our time in a dream, don’t we?
Around 1993-1995 I completely lost interest in baseball. Being in my early 20’s, my childhood interests waned and became passé–as they tend to do–and in my delusional mind, my new interests were a bit more sophisticated and engaging in an era that offered no safe landings. My interests in music and punk rock chiefly were blossoming into a near obsession: my friends and I tended to be critics who viewed the dominant culture of the day not with occasional skepticism but with permanent hostility.
In addition to joining a garage band, I was also delving into the often knotty literary and modern art worlds: doing my duty as a young person trying to “figure it all out” with a speculating, cynical, and sometimes critical mind. And as much as I loved to scan the box scores and catch a game or two, I just didn’t have time anymore with my band-mates, job, and girlfriend needing my immediate and rapt attention while I was learning how to piss standing up as a screwed-up human being in the paint-by-numbers slacker jungle I had created for myself. The coming-of-age ritual of being handed knowledge was tempered by the realization that it meant eventually outgrowing the certainties of youth.
F. Scott Fitzgerald thought that one of his pals had invested too much time writing about baseball. “A boys game,” Fitzgerald said, “with no more possibilities in it than a boy could master, a game bounded by walls which kept out novelty or danger, change or adventure.” I couldn’t stomach Fitzgerald’s stuffy writing and disagreed vehemently with this statement. (I valued Descartes’s opinions much more, and wasn’t his vocation to think about thinking?…the absolute essence of the game)
So after reading a tiny smattering of the classics: Genet, Hemingway, Hesse, Didion, Auster (yes, and even that Post-Burroughs/Warhol/Patti Smith deluge we all overdosed on in our late teens/twenties) –I decided one day through a haze of mar-eee-wanna smoke that baseball was indeed a cerebral sport more suited to a literary rather than pictorial culture and returned to it for the ’96 season. The A’s were still the same pile of dung that I had flushed 3 years earlier, finishing 3rd in the West with a 78-84 record, but the game was interesting to me again, even fun. It was a catharsis that I hadn’t needed before as my identity was becoming more complex and fluid.
This was to be Mark McGwire’s last full year with the “Elephants” (his trade the next year was devastating and truly the end of my childhood) and he finished with 52 homers. This was also Jason Giambi’s first full year and he finished with a pathetic (for that time) 20 round-trippers. I attribute this to youth and the lack of steroids–a reputation that would turn out to haunt both players. Terry Steinbach was typically solid behind the dish; and a fan favorite with a funny name, Geronimo Berroa was coming into his own. There was also a curious player, Ernie Young, who hit 19 homers that season, never to hit more than 5 in any other season in his career.
As I enjoyed another season of watching my lovable losers, I decided that baseball not only doesn’t acknowledge the passage of time, it ignores it. Then began my post-adolescent and lifelong obsession with the game that has taken over my daily existence with mind-boggling statistics and a mystifying yet comfortably unorthodox visual affair. I find that the more I know about this game, the less I know about this game. It keeps unfolding in ways I could never imagine, offering the viewer roller-coaster emotions, knee-jerk reactions, blissful states, and unadulterated anger in the vile pits of hell. This cruel game can also make an atheist recite prayer and a logical individual superstitious without apology or regret. Time seems to stand still and then speeds up again, with the changing of the seasons in the forefront amidst implied mortality–and shaping a world in which play seems vital.
Spiritually and morally, everything in life is a compromise. These are the kind of revelations that clank around your grey matter when you are experiencing day 15 of quarantine. I know what you’re thinking: tell that to the people hoarding everything. I haven’t showered in 2 days and my hair can only be described as “putting your fingers in an electric socket.” You can only read books, watch movies or scroll through social media (where the practitioners of uppity, hollow slogans are having a field day) for so long before tediousness stalks you like a hungry coyote. These days are a like a horror movie for a hypochondriac. The stores are out of bread, rice and toilet paper. We must distrust our natural inclinations to go out to eat or drink and socialize. I go for evening strolls and the streets remind me of Vincent Price in Last Man on Earth. And even though, by my estimation, we are all experiencing existential distress on some level or another, I thought I’d share a bit of the media that I’ve been digesting. For some reason or another.
Music: Duran Duran “Rio”– this album is silly, poignant, sexy and stupid. I haven’t listened to much music but this seems just about perfect because of its ability to see life the only way someone who has eaten the red pill can. And palm trees. Lots of palm trees.
TV: The Muppet Show– The jokes are corny and it feels like a psychedelic trip, but damned if you don’t forget that a pandemic is happening as you’re watching 70’s has-beens interact and sing with crazy animals, monsters and umm…Gonzo. Jim Henson was a genius.
Movies: Bad News Bears– Billy Bob Thornton plays the alcoholic, washed-up, ex-baseball player coach of a bunch of misfit kids on a little league team. A decent, funny remake of the 70’s classic starring Walter Matthau. Disappointingly, BBT never did ask for some french fried potaters mmm-hmmm. (Slingblade will forever be his best role) Highlight of the movie is when coach passes out on the mound while pitching BP.
Green Room– A touring punk rock band gets talked into playing a gig at a nazi skinhead shithole club in the middle of nowhere. Highlight of the movie is when they cover the Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” throwing the crowd into a hissy-fit. One of the band members stumbles in on a dead skinhead girl and all hell breaks loose in a bloody mess of punks, skins and random weaponry. Patrick Stewart stars as the leader of the fascists in a strange roll that really works for him at this junction in his career– strange that Captain Picard doesn’t anymore.
I was sad to hear about Kenny Rogers floating to the Great Beyond a few days ago. My mother loved “The Gambler” and would proudly wear his tour t-shirt when I was a child. His death was sort of a revelation as I had forgotten about the baseball player Kenny Rogers. My friends and I would always snicker whenever we came across his card in a wax pack. Rogers had a solid season with the Athletics in 1998 going 16-8 and pitching a workhorse-like 232 innings before being shipped to the Mets the next season for Terrence Long. Long, of course, turned out to be a bust while The Gambler (the baseball player) went on to play 9 more seasons before retiring at age 42. Rogers most famous moment on a baseball field came in 1994 when he pitched the 14th perfect game in ML history against the Angels. Kenny Rogers most famous moment came when he did the duet “Islands In the Stream” with Dolly Parton. R.I.P. Kenny. (the singer)
The following was taken from Mike Piazza’s autobiography, “Long Shot.”
…I wouldn’t have felt (my age) at all if the music in the clubhouse weren’t hurting my ears the way it did. When it comes to music I feel like I’m as open-minded as anybody out there, but (the A’s) had a young roster and, well, man. I like rap just fine–hell, I was wearing gold chains back when Olivia Newton-John was getting physical–if it’s classic rap, or even the new stuff when there’s a strong rhythm to it. As a thrash-metal guy from way back, I feel like I can handle some rough language and graphic lyrics; but some of the more contemporary rap is so blatantly hard-core that even an old Slayer and Anthrax man like me has a tough time dealing with it. I guess it’s a matter of age and tradition both. You have to understand, I came up with the Dodgers when the stadium music consisted exclusively of Nancy Bea Hefley at the organ. When that was cutback to modernize the atmosphere–to make the ballpark sound like every other ballpark–they turned to entrance music, with each player picking a theme song. With the Mets, I recall Tony Tarasco coming to the plate to an X–rated, in your face rap number that had the whole stadium sounding like a bad-ass clubhouse.
These are the dog days of summer. The days when you buy chopped fruit from a street vendor, wear breathable shoes, snicker at people wearing cargo shorts, wear a light sweater at night, and perhaps even kiss a summer fling. There are blasts from boomboxes (cell phones) and people lounging and splashing in the river. There are people sitting on porches with a can of beer and with no hope of ever getting anything done that day. The days are getting shorter and the baseball season is slowly coming to an end, as if a lovely friend was planning a vacation for 6 months. When it ends it would have been a deep and complicated relationship full of thrills, contemplation, happiness, anger, and finally…heartbreak.
Recently my “baseball buddy,” Manny and I decided to take in Game 1 of the Pacific Coast League playoffs this past week with The Sacramento River Cats (S.F. Giants) squaring off against the Las Vegas Aviators. (Oakland A’s) I was particularly interested in this game because Daniel Mengden was on the hill and he and his handlebar mustache had spent a significant amount of time as a starter in Oakland this season, doing a pretty solid job before being sent down. There were, of course, a smattering of A’s prospects that I wanted to see in person although most had been called up when the rosters were expanded a few days prior.
Manny and I did our usual “pre-game” routine of a twelve pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon in the parking lot complete with the musical stylings of Slayer and the Circle Jerks. We stumbled into the stadium right around game time and settled into our seats a few rows behind home-plate. This game was announced around 48 hours earlier and was only attended by 3000 and change making the atmosphere close to a funeral. The catatonic-like atmosphere only got worse as the Aviators took a 6-1 lead in the third inning, turning anyone in the place not wearing green and gold into a virtual zombie. This was quite the opposite of an MLB playoff game in every way possible.
He got one!
In a desperate attempt to liven up this experience, we had decided to walk around the stadium and take in the game from every angle possible every inning or so. This turned out to be fruitful as I had a moment of kismet when a ball was smoked down the left field line, arching foul and entering my outstretched hand on one hop moments before going over the fence. Manny returned from the bathroom and I told him he looked liked 10 pounds of shit in a 5 pound bag moments before tossing him the ball.
“Can I have the ball, dude?”
Of course you can.
It was time to go. The game was in the bag and Manny had his foul ball. It was a beautiful, breezy night and I walked across the Sacramento River before biking home and immediately retiring to bed.
My middle school science teacher was a die-hard Giants fan. Our class listened to the ’89 NLCS game 5 clincher against the Cubs and Mark Grace on a portable radio while she scored the game on the chalkboard. (do these specimens of archaic learning still exist? and does anyone actually score a game anymore?) I pretended to read about black holes and sun spots while my eyes glossed over, staring at absolutely nothing with a slack-jawed bovine expression, my fingers tracing the hieroglyphs gouged into the wooden desk, blackened by grime. Someone had drawn a heavy metal logo and the words fuck this class on one of the pages next to a supernova. I stared at that primal expression for quite a while. I can’t really explain why.
“Yesterday we explicitly agreed to quietly do our work as long as we could listen to the game,” she said.
We knew that this was a faulty agreement as she was going to listen to the game regardless of whether we agreed to the shoddy terms or not–and besides, some of us weren’t Giants fans. I couldn’t give a toss about the Giants or the wonders of the cosmos at that time as I was more interested in girls and boobs–and not necessarily in that order.
We had spoken about Carney Lansford a few days earlier and his time with the Red Sox. Her boyfriend was a “Southie” from Boston; a second-generation working-class, red-haired Irish Mick from a long line of drunks, thieves, and lowlifes. He had escaped the sludge and went to some long-forgotten East Coast university, and he and his stoner buddies would go to Fenway Park on weekends where they had acquired an affinity for Lansford. Of course, she thought all of this was cute and clever and was terribly pleased by it.
“No offense Mrs. Carpenter, but besides Will Clark, your team just isn’t very likable.Rick Reuschel looks like a fat, middle-aged divorced dad and Scott Garrelts looks like a skinny, nose-picking dork.”
It was true. Both starting pitchers looked like the antithesis of an athlete but resembled the perfect working-class early 20th-century farm boy/sandlot/baseball player. Some fans–probably the nerdy, isolationist type–can get behind that “average joe” persona and root for them passionately, but in the era of super athletes like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders, I would always inexplicably choose the latter over the former.
“Let us not forget that your friend Carney Lansford looks like an accountant,” she said as she swallowed what was supposed to look like aspirin to the general viewer. A few classmates had theorized that she popped Vicodin on occasion because of her seemingly more “relaxed” state as the day wore on. This wasn’t a great choice as it ultimately led to bouts of throwing up in the garbage can.
Carmen was destined to become an A’s fan from birth, born and raised in Oakland, the child of a 60’s era, black leather jacket clad Huey Newton revolutionary/Berkeley professor and a teenage beauty pageant queen and Cuban refugee. The professor met Zoe at a small community theatre in Palo Alto where his future wife was performing as “Bianca” in Othello. He loved her adaptation and asked her to dinner where they proceeded to eat oysters and wash them down with a dry Cabernet. The oysters must have worked as Carmen was thrust into the world soon thereafter, not even a year later.
The girl became an A’s fan at a young age and would hang out at the Coliseum often on weekends with her high school clique. They would sneak in alcoholic lubricant, snacks and a transistor radio while loitering in the bleachers on lazy Indian summers; sunbathing while listening to the Talking Heads and giving the bleacher creatures something to gawk at between innings. Her favorite player was first baseman Chris Carter because “he was this absolute monstrous, beautiful black man blessed with a pleasant expression on his face and an easy, almost lackadaisical ambiance.”
In the unfit roads of adolescence there are bound to be a few bumps on the way, and Carmen felt these at the hands of the Oakland police. “I had a malleable mind at the time and some friends had influenced me to steal clothing and such. I got busted stealing some door-knockers (earrings) that had my name in the middle. It was so obvious.” When she was busted a second time for stealing art books it was “time for a re-examination of the program.”
Hard work and diligence paid off in 2008 as Carmen graduated with a degree in economics from SF State. She now works as an editor at the San Francisco Weekly. “The Weekly is often given to smart-ass editorializing that seems more geared to getting a reaction than making a concrete point, but it’s fun.”
“I’ve learned that we can be one person’s saint, another person’s genius, and someone else’s imbecile; and this is exactly why I do whatever I feel like doing every day without even an inkling of what anyone else thinks about it.”
Harry was one of those flower children from the 60’s who hitch-hiked to Height and Ashbury from an Iowa cornfield and never left. The pull of drugs, sex, music and the radical politics of the time were an overwhelming factor for someone who loved people and having a good time. He met a girl named Darlene who was 19, had long blonde hair and was so with it that she could quote Karl Marx and roll a doobie at the same time. Harry and Darlene were on and off for about 5 years until she split with a Hells Angel from Lodi. This turn of event was an eye-opener for Harry and he realized that sub-cultures consummating into capitalistic entities do what they normally do–die off. Charles Manson hadn’t helped matters much with his shenanigans in Los Angeles and the hippies of the 60’s that had survived drugs and prison were blossoming into tax-paying citizens and looking for something else to do. So was Harry. Harry eventually moved to the much cheaper Oakland side of the Bay and got a square job working at a Co-op grocery store. He also started going to baseball games at the Oakland Coliseum in the 70’s and the timing was perfect to mold him into a life long A’s fan. The A’s won 3 straight World Series and had great players like Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson and Sal Bando. He liked that these guys were brash, outspoken and had long hair and afros. These were his guys. Harry is now 67 and lives in Petaluma, California in his “Château Relaxo.” I recently sent him to check out the A’s and the Royals during a Spring Training game in Mesa. Here is his report:
Mesa is an uncultured bubble community with no sense of inspiration–it is flat, hot, dusty and the only thing to do is eat, get drunk or cook meth. I checked into my hotel and decided to eat at “Connie’s” the diner next door. Now I know why I never see dead animals on the roads, they’re all in the restaurants. Talk about the heat. The damn pool water gets as hot as the outside temps. I met a sweet Mexican girl named Lola who was going to the game the next day. We drank rum, listened to the Eagles and talked for most of the night. She gave me a kiss on the cheek and promised to buy me a beer if she saw me the next day. You’d be surprised how easy it is to find someone like me in a crowd of only 5,000 people.
The next day I was a tad bit hung over, yet giddy as I took a couple of puffs off the pipe and downed a few beers in the parking lot. My Prius was gasping for air. Hohokam stadium is a smallish park that seats about 10,000 and has a majestic view of the sky. I live in a part of California that is so lush with greenery and downcast that anything wide open and infinite like this is a bit strange, yet it was pleasant. I have been an A’s fan for the better part of 40 years and had never been to Spring Training. Bucket list.
The vibe and weather were very relaxing and the mixture of baseball, sun and the night before had me falling into a sort of meditative slumber, and then I would jolt awake during every crack of the bat. I imagine it would have been quite hilarious from an outsiders perspective. Around the 4th inning I felt someone shaking me from behind. It was Lola. We went and had a few beers while walking around the stadium. She was a beautiful brown-skinned girl from the 70’s that came from a traditional Catholic family and didn’t look a lick like her age. She had strength, wisdom and a beautiful smile.
Oh, yeah. The A’s won 6-4 as my favorite player Stephen Vogt went yard twice. This vacation was turning out to be quite nice. That is all from my Spring Training report. Harry over and out.
The Athletics’ young pitcher and top prospect Kendall Graveman was absolutely shelled in his last two starts and subsequently sent down to (AAA) Nashville. The problem? The downward sinking and cutting action on his pitches that he used to get ground balls during his impressive spring training is missing. I have no doubt that the young man will be back soon, and as an effectively solid MLB starter once he gets properly schooled in the muscle memory category. He is already well schooled in the Bull Durham school of baseball interview clichés, “It’s just something that I’ve got to go back to work on…continue to work and not give up.”
My advice to the youngster while he is in Nashville is to learn about the rich history of music that the city has spawned. Here is but a very small list of bards that were born there:
The Allman brothers: This “southern rock”styled group had a string of hits in the 70’s. Unfortunately their leader, Greg Allman was killed in a motorcycle crash in 1971. They have re-united on multiple occasions in recent years to the confusion of everyone but their accountants.
Boone getting cray cray.
Pat Boone: All American, squeaky clean gospel music singer and Christian who confused everyone by putting out a “heavy metal” record and promoting it by dressing like Al Pacino when he was an undercover cop looking for a killer in the San Francisco gay club scene. The 1980 cult-classic “Cruising” is a must watch for any movie buff with a sense of humor. You can pass on the Pat Boone, though.
Miley Cyrus: Does this even count as someone with musical talent? Apparently her dad, Mr. “Achy Breaky Heart” was recording in or around Nashville when she was conceived because the whole thing reeks of STRANGE.
Donna Summer: I was bummed when I learned Summer had died in 2012. She had great success in the 70’s with some disco smash hits that will stand the test of time and that are still embraced by gay clubbers. She also gets bonus points for being in a psychedelic rock band in the 60’s called “Crow.”
Johnny Cash: Well, technically the “Man in Black” wasn’t born in Nashville, but he did die there in 2003. For those of you living under a rock, Cash can be seen as arguably one of the most influential country music singers of all time. His most famous album “Folsom Prison Blues” was a standard on my turn-table for many years. A little known fact–Folsom, which is 23 miles north of Sacramento, my hometown, is quite the quaint and conventional little town full of cow-licked, barefoot little hicks munching on cotton candy.
Tammy Wynette: Wynette was called “The First Lady of Country Music,” and is arguably the most influential woman of the genre. She sang beautiful, time-tested songs about loneliness, heartbreak and the difficulties of relationships. Her most famous song, “Stand by Your Man” is one of the greatest selling songs in the history of country music. Wynette died in 1998 at the age of 55 and is buried in Nashville.
Most of the Athletics sights in internet-land played the typical baseball writing game of follow the leader and were frothing at the mouth at the signing of Barry Zito. We here at the ‘Fro, however, felt a keen sense of bafflement and confusion. Zito, A) didn’t play last year and B) had ERA’s of 4.03, 4.15, 5.87, 4.15 and 5.74 his last 5 seasons. To put it bluntly–he sucked.
And as much as we admire Charlie O. Finley and Bill Veeck for their “circus like” candor, I just didn’t see Billy Beane, the paradigm of rational thought, as nostalgic, a clown-enabler or the type to give into Zito’s sense of entitlement to waste a Spring Training spot that a young player could desperately need to further his career. Zito, although once an Athletic, had erased any positive emotion from my mind when he signed with the Giants–all but stoking provincial animosities and spitting in Oakland’s face. Due to popular belief, emotions still exist in baseball, although the numbers-crunchers would tell you otherwise. They try to rationalize the signing with “low risk-medium return” hyperbole to the point of vomit inducing fervor, all but erasing the “gut feeling” that made Earl Weaver so successful. Perhaps the Athletics would have been better off using the 1 million they gave Zito to hire some people who actually NEEDED the money to help promote and to get “fringe fans” to buy tickets. It is common knowledge that their promotional representation in the Bay Area is a mockery to the fan base that is consistently criticized in the media for lack of support….
Jason Giambi retired, finally ending his reign as a PED user, MVP, lovable lug, Yankee, douchbag, party boy, laughing stock of New York and finally, grizzled, useless DH. (The above sentence bringing to light Tina Turner’s “We don’t need another hero” in my synapse hell.) Oddly enough, Giambi was quoted as saying, “I’ve done everything I can in my career.” Touche, Jason. In the end Giambi was seen as sort of a rascal despite his Yankee short-comings…and I’ve always had a soft spot for rascals…what would life be without them? Now Giambi can finally experience what other baseball retirees had to go through– the life of an Average (albeit wealthy) Joe, where no one knows who you are and no one cares until you show up at a fan-fest or baseball card show in a lonely, trash strewn strip mall. Good luck, Jason.