As the teams’ fortunes have changed in the Bay, so too has the feel and the sound of the crowds at the O.co Coliseum in Oakland as the Oakland Athletics host the San Francisco Giants.
And no wonder. The Giants have rediscovered the “June Swoon” with an awful month-and-a-half of baseball. The Aâ€™s are on fire. They’ve won six of seven and two of three so far against the San Francisco Bay area’s long-standing golden child. It seems once again Athletics fans have found themselves ready to put their hearts and souls behind a franchise that has continually let them down in the past, either by rebuilding efforts or by first-round exits in the postseason.
It’s a tough sell for fans because of those two reasons, but itâ€™s also no secret the A’s play in a dump and don’t want to spend the money to build a new ballpark.
Attendance has been bad for years. During the recession the team was at the bottom of attendance figures, bottoming out with an average of 17,300 fans in 2009. It was not uncommon for fans of the opposing team to have a louder voice than the home teamâ€™s supporters.
But unlike those years, this yearâ€™s A’s are not in the midst of another Billy Beane rebuilding effort, but appear to be a team in the middle of a championship run. The recent trade with the Chicago Cubs for two starting pitchers hasnâ€™t hurt appearances and has given fans more reason to believe this year could be different. Attendance averages 24,000-plus, the most since 2006.
No one sounds like they’re just happy to be here, least of all Aâ€™s Manager Bob Melvin. At the post-game press conference, Melvin talked about how fan support helped the team quickly forget a three-game sweep in Detroit earlier this week.
Melvin said, â€ś(The Detroit series) seems like it was quite a while ago now. I think weâ€™ve been swept three times this year and come to play good baseball after that. A lot of it has to do with when you get back here (to Oakland.) At the end of a long road trip and then [to] come back here … You know the fans get us going and itâ€™s a completely different atmosphere and you forget all about what happened.â€ť
Giants outfielder Hunter Pence certainly felt the increased enthusiasm. After he missed making a catch on a bloop hit by Jed Lowrie in the third inning, the fans let him have it.
Melvin could hear them from the dugout. â€śYou could hear them out there giving him the business.â€ť Pence made a sliding grab on a liner by the next batter, Alberto Callaspo, then ran waving his arms and putting his hand to his ear.â€ť
After the game, Pence admitted he wasnâ€™t exactly blocking out the Aâ€™s faithful.
“They’re a lot of fun out there,” Pence said. “They’re creative, they’re rowdy, they’re loud. It’s a baseball atmosphere that’s fun to play in. They razzed me a little bit, then I kind of made a play. I was a little fired up.”
Melvin said better competition has also helped ratchet up fan enthusiasm. â€śIt’s always been a rivalry. I think the fact they’ve won a couple world championships and we’ve been better the last few years has made it even more so -at least for the attendance here and so forth. You can’t help it if youâ€™ve lived here a while to feel a little something extra going on, especially when youâ€™re watching the crowd and seeing the interaction between the Giants fans and the Aâ€™s fans. That just may be me but I think the players feel it too that we have two good teams in the area and they get together and it’s an atmosphere like this there’s a little more to it.â€ť
This yearâ€™s A’s look different and sound different. Management has stood behind the team and improved it in July. They have the best record in baseball. And for once, they don’t sound like they’re just happy to be here. They sound like they’re really ready to win it all.