Slide Jeremy! Slide!
Oakland A’s fans have anticipated this weekend’s series against the Yankees. The Yankees are always a big draw on the road and this year is no exception, since it is the last time Derek Jeter will be on the field. Jeter is in his twentieth and final season in the pinstripes and baseball fans all around the country are showing their appreciation for the star shortstop.
The A’s stadium, with the third deck closed off and a reduced capacity of 36,000, was sold out last night. Tickets will be hard to come by today and tomorrow also. The A’s fans love their team and the faithful come out to watch their “Green Collar” baseball through thick and thin. They are out there even on foggy Wednesday nights when another small market team, such as the Kansas City Royals or Cleveland Indians, are in town. But ever since the San Francisco Giants moved out of Candlestick Park and into their palace in the hottest of neighborhoods in the hottest of US cities, Oakland A’s games have been a second thought for many Bay Area baseball fans. No matter how good the teams have been the past few years, the dilapidated and tired ballpark and its undesirable location doesn’t lure the spendthrift and social media-tethered type of person who heads out to the Giants games to see and be seen. Today’s consumers demand the “fan experience.”
But this weekend is different. Many, including a friend who follows the Giants and wearied long ago of the A’s fans teaching her young children a new and ugly vocabulary, joined the A’s core fans to watch Jeter once more. She and her children, now adults, went out to the yard last night and saw the Yankees take the first game of the series in a convincing 7-0 win. And yes, a woman in their section had them reaching for their remote control mute button.
I was aware of Jeter when he joined the Yankees in a twentieth century way. The morning paper’s box scores were a reliable source back then. But I received a full appreciation of his abilities in the 2001 American League Division Series, when he showed the presence of mind and had the physical agility to back flip a relay toss to Yankees catcher Jorge Posada, who tagged out Jeremy Giambi at the plate to preserve a 1-0 lead. These were the days when 55,000 would fill the stands for the big A’s games. Every one of them out there that Saturday afternoon couldn’t believe what they saw.
We were watching from our living room. Barry Zito held the Yankees to two hits through eight innings, but one of those was a solo home run by Posada in the fifth. In the bottom of the seventh, with Giambi at first and the A’s trailing 1-0, Terrence Long hit a ball into the right field corner and it seemed that we’d have a tie game. Giambi wasn’t a fast runner, but everything seemed in order. We saw Giambi pushing around the bases as the play developed and as he approached the plate, we shouted out in unison, “Slide! Slide!” We weren’t alone. Ramon Hernandez, the next A’s hitter was signaling and yelling for Giambi to slide. I think all 55,000 A’s fans in the stands were doing the same.
Jeter ruined it for all of us. The A’s lost the game 1-0 and although they took the first two games of the five-game series in Yankee Stadium, the A’s lost the series as well. Some of us are still yelling, “Slide! Slide!”