You know the story, by now– underfunded team in subpar ballpark playing before a scant number of fans with occasional threats of moving the franchise while overachieving against big swingers but never winning it all. And then there are the Oakland A’s.
The Athletics have earned home field advantage for Wednesday’s American League wild card game against the Oakland A’s East, aka the Tampa Bay Rays. We are playing a fun house mirror of ourselves in this sudden death game. The A’s have the 26th lowest payroll in baseball, Tampa is the lowest. The Rays scrambled last year to compete in the game innovating with “openers” rather than traditional starting pitchers, because starting pitchers cost too damn much. Last year’s wild card playoff game featured the first ever use of an opener, in a post season game by none other than the Oakland A’s.
In some ways, the Rays being in the Final Five is even more impressive, considering they have to play 40% of their league games against the Yankees and Red Sox. The Rays cobble together a winning team by using the same collection of Misfit Toys that we dig through. Rays Joey Wendle, Emilio Pagan and Eric Sogard, are in fact pieces we left out after the garage sale had shut down and got grabbed by Tampa Bay before they were taken to the dump. The A’s are super tense, having failed twice in wild card tries, but this is the present tense, the first time the team has hosted such a game. In modern baseball, most every big league team has built smaller, more intimate ballparks. But most teams aren’t the A’s, who inhabit America’s only fifty year old but not treasured stadium. Lacking quality, the Coliseum can at least boast quantity. Yes, the A’s lead the big league in seats. Some distant, terrible, usually tarped but functional seats. More than 50,000 of them. It will be three days of build up and nine innings of drama (or knowing the A’s history, thirteen innings or more), but whoever wins the narrative of being America’s gutty underdog which beats hell out of being America’s most wretched.