It is the perpetual curse of the Oakland Athletics Baseball Company to always be upstaged by some damned thing or another.
And it is the perpetual charm of its obstinate fan base to keep its middle fingers raised and its voices high in the face of such daunting odds.
Thus it was one more metaphor on the compost heap that their 49th opening day (well, night) decided to go up against the best finish to an NCAA national championship game since an athletic booster first discovered that cash couldn’t be traced.
Not that it would have mattered much. The A’s have known life under the radar almost as a condition for existence, so why wouldn’t Villanova beating North Carolina in jaw-detaching fashion be an unusual event? It is, as they say, The Way Of Our People.
They have fought heroically against the unstoppable tide of indifference seemingly throughout their history, and 2016 has been, if anything, a better version of the usual. The Giants have shaded them with even-year mythology. The Warriors have obliterated them both with their physics-mocking ways. The Raiders keep looking better on the field while trying to get to a different field, robbing the A’s of their first real chance at civic leverage in franchise history, and the 49ers have made quite the obnoxious fetish of their new children’s classic, Find (And Then Lose) Colin.
Even their ballpark, which somehow manages to make massive slabs of Stalinist-gray concrete look rickety, has lost its name. Overstock.com has decided to take its shorthanded brand back, and O.Co is now Oh.No, adding to a proud legacy of names that never even came close to catching the locals' imagination. Hell, its first official corporate name, UMax, lasted only long enough for interns to pass out press packets and then whisk them away minutes later when the deal the building’s keepers were announcing fell through.
And the club is hesitant to call it by its alternate name, HMS Septic.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Rich Hill not sharp, A's fall on Opening Night]
But enough if this witty banter. The A’s inched closer to winding up their first half-century in Oaktown By The Sea against one of Major League Baseball’s other leading nondescripts, the Chicago White Sox, and lost, 4-3, in a game in which almost all the action happened in the third inning.
In other words, a seven-decker meh, with a side of what else have you got?
Well, here it is. The fan base. The stubborn, obdurate, we-don’t-take-orders-and-we-don’t-take-a-powder fans who waited for all the orchestrated noise and hoop-de-blah of the pregame show to end to begin a fervent and unprompted “Let’s Go Oak-Land” chant that was just their way of saying, “Okay, cut all the crap. We got this.”
And this was hours after they learned that their best pitcher, Sonny Gray, was scratched from the Opening Night start because of food poisoning caused by some dining experiment that probably included clarified butter, warm beer and very indifferent pork.
This, above all other reasons, is why the A’s must survive and thrive – the indefatigable core of a fan base that has made itself love what most folks ignore, and defend what everyone else mocks.
Oh, fewer than half of Monday’s 35,067 will be back in the building Tuesday night. Some of the one-timers were the people filing out of the bowl after Billy Burns was picked off first by White Sox catcher Dioner Navarro to end the seventh inning.
And many of those will be across the way to watch Timberwolves-Warriors Tuesday, because as defiantly un-hip as the A’s remain, the Warriors are Oakland’s hottest export since Al Davis first adjoined his middle finger to authority’s unbelieving eye.
But the ones who fled were outnumbered by the ones who stayed, because while, beating the Chicago White Sox may not seem like a big deal to you, just as puppy love matters only to the puppies, it mattered to them, damn it. They gave up Villanova cheating the reaper and grabbing the nation by its drooping eyelids for this, and they would stay until the ultimately bitter end, waiting perhaps in vain for the day when they will be the Warriors rather than the Warriors, and everyone, from the nation’s media to the local politicians, will finally have to come to them.
Them. The defiant, Bernie-Leaning A’s fans who still know how to put Macho Man on the scoreboard between innings as some sort of statement on the transitory nature of fashion. They head-bang in unison, they complain when the music gets cut off too early, and if they don’t like the entertainment, they just go ahead and make some of their own . . . waiting for the day when they get to be the center of the universe without being upstaged by East Coast bias or earthquakes or a skinflint owner or a football-blind political structure.
Until then, of course, there is beer. And one-run losses to toughen them up for the good times ahead.