The Oakland A’s, surging mightily in the second half of the season, finished this week in first place in the Western Division of the American League. Across the Bay, the Giants (with an identical 94-68 record) are at the top of their division in the National League. At times I’ve rooted for both these local teams, but they could face each other this year in the World Series. The whole situation reminds me of this piece. Originally published in the Contra Costa Times, May 21, 2005 and recently republished at Giantspod.net
Here’s my dirty little secret: I am a bicoastal baseball fan. I root for both the Giants and the Athletics, who play on opposite coasts of San Francisco Bay. This duality is heresy for many baseball fans, who call me a “bad fan” and consider sports loyalty an absolute, one-sided affair, even in a two-team market.
But how glorious to have two clubs to follow! When one wallows in mediocrity, the other is often a contender. One of my teams plays at home every day. If the other is on the East Coast, their starting times are staggered, and I can listen to or watch two games a day – an embarrassment of riches, for sure.
I first contracted this affliction shortly after the players’ strike of 1981. After filming an interview with manager Billy Martin in the A’s locker room, my producer and I slipped into the lower deck stands of the Coliseum behind first base. My professional film camera was our only ticket.
It was a brilliant afternoon, and I reveled in the sudden accessibility of the game I had loved from afar as a youth. The next night I dragged my wife to a game and started to follow the A’s on a daily basis. But at that time we lived in San Francisco, a few minutes from Candlestick Park, and I often slipped out to watch the Giants too.
Duality did not always afflict me. I grew up in the New York area, for a half century the only three-team market in baseball history. As a kid in Brooklyn and Long Island, I was the only fan in my family, and I followed the Dodgers of Snider, Campanella, and Reese, intrigued by their nicknames – Duke, Campy, and PeeWee. Then one fateful day those infamous Bums of Brooklyn rocked my world by announcing their move to California, along with the Giants (a team I knew or cared little about, though my ten-year-old mind was dimly aware they had a player named Mays who was pretty good).
Suddenly New York was a one-team market, and the previously hated Yankees became my hometown heroes. I pedestaled Mantle, Skowron, and Berra – the Mick, Moose, and Yogi. What kid could resist those names? I watched games on TV but never went to one. And I discovered that baseball on radio evoked vivid scenarios in my imagination.
After high school, my interest in sports waned. My Vietnam-era generation disdained athletics as pointless and non-intellectual, and in college I found other interests. I moved to the Bay Area for graduate school, totally missed the A’s three World Championships in the early 70s, and continued to ignore baseball, and all sports, until that day in ’81.
My baseball epiphany that summer blossomed into a full-fledged obsession. My wife and I celebrated Mother’s Day in ’84 with our infant daughter at Candlestick and dragged my parents and our toddler to see the A’s the following year. My mom rekindled a passion for baseball, muted since her youthful days attending Dodgers games at Ebbets Field. I basked in the occasional glories of the A’s and the Giants and – no fair-weather fan – I supported them through their frequent setbacks.
Life was good… until 1989, when the A’s and Giants faced each other in the World Series. This Battle of the Bay conflicted me. I glommed a ticket to the third game of that series at Candlestick (along with several hundred thousand others who now claim they were there), after firmly deciding I would root for Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, and Rickey Henderson of the A’s, then leading two games to none. Or… should I cheer for the underdog Giants of Will Clark and MVP Kevin Mitchell, playing their first Series game at home? Half an hour before the scheduled start, the earth rolled, shook, and shimmied. I considered the possibility that the weight of my indecision caused that quake, but ultimately, I decided it was a freak coincidence.
Somehow I survived ’89 unscathed, my bicoastalism intact, but interleague play has challenged me again. Early this year, I took my teenage son Danny to a Giants-A’s game and flashed back to my confusion in ’89. I decided to root-root-root for the home team and wore black-and-orange Giants regalia, but Danny wore a green A’s cap and an A’s T-shirt peeking out from under an open Giants jersey. People gaped and gasped and hooted as we walked by. “Dude, pick a team!” someone yelled.
Indeed, Danny’s friends rag on him about the dualism he contracted from his dad. “You have to root for one team to be a real fan,” says a girl in his school, a true-blue A’s rooter who likes them because star pitcher “Barry Zito is so hot.” Another friend, a Giants supporter, barely acknowledges the existence of a team in Oakland that plays in “that other league where the pitchers don’t even come to bat.” But to me, the difference in the two leagues is fascinating. Aren’t we better fans if we watch two games a day?
Why is this so heinous? Is adoring two teams like two-timing a lover? Are we cheating on the Giants if we also root for the A’s? Why are we “bad fans,” just because we choose not to choose? True, no other two-team market has many dual-allegiance baseball buffs. In Chicago, the Cubs and White Sox share a legendary geographic rivalry, and few in New York favor both the (once-again-hated) Yankees and that newby expansion team, the Mets. In LA, the Dodgers and Angels have separate followings.
BUT (and here’s my other dirty little secret) I have discovered dozens of other closeted bicoastal baseball fans in our region. Perhaps it’s the pragmatism of the West Coast, the refreshing weather of Northern California, the tolerant liberalism of the Bay Area. Maybe we are just indecisive – or weird.
Whatever. I remain bicoastal and unrepentant. And now… I’m out of the closet.