Fast Dance in Oakland, California

by Jim Farrar (1986)

With the start of the World Series just a little over two weeks away, all the smart money is firmly behind the New York Mets, not just to win the National League pennant, but to make short work of whoever faces them in the Series.

Well, upsets are common enough in sports and, at any rate, I've never been particularly fatalistic, especially where athletics is concerned. A safer bet, I think, would be on whether or not the fans in the winning city riot and, given that, how many of them will get jailed and the dollar amount of damage that they do. Wagers should also be made on how many police cars are overturned, burnt, or otherwise defaced and/or demolished beyond the point of total recognition during what is euphemistically called the "victory celebration." Such violence, I think, is more representative of sports in America than the Mets will ever be.

So, before you settle down into your nice cozy chair in front of that new Zenith you bought especially for the Series, and before you open your first beer and before eating your first piece of "we-make-'em-you-bake-'em" pizza, just remember, as the camera pans around the crowd, and as sixty thousand frenzied fans do that inane act of mass fibrillation called "the wave," that the real show is up in the stands. The baseball game is merely a second-rate sideshow compared to the action that's taking place off-camera.

Let me explain. You see, I've been to a World Series. Granted, it has been thirteen years, but reliable sources, people who have been to final games in the years since, tell me that things haven't changed much: people still behave like rabid dogs looking for a leg to bite as soon as the final out is made.

The year was 1973 and Nixon was still in the White House, troops were still in Vietnam, bell-bottoms were still in fashion and I was still in high school.

I'd watched the first four games of the Series on television – the New York Mets vs. the Oakland A's – and I was champing at the bit, ready to get a glimpse of big-time sports firsthand. My brother had managed to get good seats right above third base. I'd grown up loving baseball, you see; I had lived baseball and had wanted to be a baseball player until reaching high school, when my coaches pointed out to me that my fastball would be considered as such only by persons lacking basic neuro-motor skills. I'd abandoned the sport, but only as an active participant. I was still a fan.

Game six opened with the A's, the home team, trailing three games to two. They had to win, which they did. The crowd was quiet that day, one might even say reserved. Next day, however, it would be a different story.

Before I go on, let me explain one thing. Oakland never has been much of a baseball town. During the season, crowds are generally small and seldom, if ever, vocal. If someone yells there's usually an echo and people look at him like he's crazy, on drugs, or both. This is during the season.

The World Series is a different story.

And so here I was at game seven of the World Series. A Media Event. Celebrities were running around like termites through balsa wood. Unlike the previous day, there was genuine excitement in the air. We had moved from the Land of the Living Dead into a frenzied and carnivorous circus that would have warmed Hunter Thompson's heart.

Actually, the viewer at home sees a better game than the average fan in the stand. But, damn, it's exciting as hell to be there in person. The game itself, as I remember, was nothing spectacular. The A's went out in front early and stayed there. By the fifth inning, the die had been more or less cast: the City of Oakland was going to have its second world title in as many years.

The level of energy in the stands was starting to build, like a rubber band being stretched to the point of breaking, relaxed, and then pulled even more taut. People were buying "colossal dogs," huge frankfurters on sourdough buns with sauerkraut and gobs of mustard. And, more significantly, they were drinking massive amounts of beer, which were being sold in half gallon "buckets" by vendors who were floating up and down the stairs a section at a time. There were a few fights, and policemen with helmets and nightsticks to break them up. In the section next to us, one of the celebrants threw up on the couple in front of him, a victim, I would imagine, of too many colossal dogs and buckets of beer.

As the game finally ended, fireworks were shot off over the scoreboard as the fans rushed onto the playing field. The players made a valiant effort to get off the field. Most of them made it. Those that didn't had every article of clothing that wasn't grafted onto their body torn off of them by the souvenir-hungry mob. Fans with shovels (God only knows how they got them through the gates) were out on the field digging up the turf, little mementos of the glorious day. Out in the parking lot, people were hugging each other and crying as if they were celebrating V-J Day all over again.

Later that night, we drove down to Jack London Square to check out the victory celebration. Aside from the policemen who were futilely trying to keep order, we were the only sober people within fifteen blocks.

A woman with two teenaged boys on either side of her approached me and asked "who you want to win, who you want to win?"

"The A's," I said.

"God bless you, sugar," she said as she hugged me, "life is grand, ain't it?"

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