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OP-ED: Why the Oakland Athletics Matter (Even If You Hate Baseball)

The Oakland Athletics are on a hot streak – they’ve now won 15 of their last 17 games and are easily the hottest team in baseball right now. They beat the New York Yankees four games in a row last week, and did it with a nail-biting, one-run victory margin every single time. The unexpected success of a team like the As matters, even if you don’t know what color their jerseys are, and wouldn’t go to a game if you were paid to go (or would, but only for the food), or can’t even remember how the game is played. Here are three reasons why Oakland matters:

1. Simple Economics

The New York Yankees started the year spending $197,962,289 on their players. Their line up is full of future hall-of-famers and guys you’ve seen in commercials for everything from VISA to Nike to Skippy peanut butter. And when you’re spending almost 200 million dollars on your players (the most in baseball), you should probably beat the pants off of teams that aren’t even playing you, and, for the most part, this is exactly what happens. I never could understand folks who could cheer for a team like that. On the other hand, the As have the league’s lowest payroll. They’ve spent about 53 million dollars on players, which seems like a lot until you consider that two of the Yankees s players, Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia, make more than that. To reiterate: two Yankees > every single player on the Athletics roster. So when the richest team comes to Oakland to play four games, choosing the team you want to cheer for is almost a moral question. Maybe cheering for Oakland is the sport fan’s equivalent of occupying Wall Street. There are problems with this analogy, I know. But it’s not so far off that it’s completely absurd.

2. Who Are You Again?

The Athletics are, for the most part, a young, untested group of newcomers. The “big name” coming into this year was Yoenis Cespedes, a fresh import from Cuba who was totally untested against major league pitchers. Sean Doolittle wasn’t even supposed to be a pitcher at all (he was drafted as an infielder). The rest of the group is sort of a weird new collage, too. Jonny Gomes, Ryan Cook, Seth Smith, Bartolo Colon, Brandon Hicks, Brandon Inge, and Brandon Moss all played in the big leagues last year, but for other teams. And something should be said about the rookies, too. In the first three games they played against the Yanks, the As sent up rookie pitchers who ended up taking home a win. The team also has more walk-off (read “last minute”) wins than any team in baseball right now. Americans love clutch victories and cheering for the new kid. Here’s an incomplete list of movies about people who are new to something finding success against the odds: Karate Kid, The Rainmaker, Remember the Titans, Star Wars (all three from the original trilogy), WarGames, Harry Potter (all 7 of them), Joe Dirt, 8 Mile, Dodgeball, Major League, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Ratatouille, Scarface, Happy Gilmore, Labyrinth, Cinderella, and Rocky. See what I mean? We can’t get enough of this stuff.

3. More Obscure than a Hipster’s Favorite Band

The Athletics have the third worst average attendance in all of baseball, and this while tickets cost $2 for Wednesday day games. You can’t even go see a terrible band for $2. Since the San Francisco Giants won the World Series two years ago, they sucked up all the bay area fair weather fans. No joke:  last time I was at the As stadium all of the food venders (you know, the “get your hot dogs, get ’em while they’re hot” people?) were walking through the stands complaining loudly to each other about how there was no one there and they weren’t going to sell anything. They were right. That place was empty. Maybe you were the kind of person that was really into 50 Cent while bands like The Black Keys were putting out their best work, and now it’s too late and you can’t like the Black Keys at all because that “Lonely Boy” song is on five times every ten minutes on three out of four radio stations. This is your chance to redeem yourself.

Look. I’ll understand if you can’t bring yourself to sit down to watch 3 hours of baseball. But that doesn’t mean you’re not a fan. Of course you are. You like it when the underdog has his day. And when an A’s fan like me gets all riled about about something called “wildcard contention” and says something about the “lowest ERA,” you don’t have to pretend to know what I’m talking about. Maybe just give me an enthusiastic “Here we go, Oakland!” It’s just the right thing to do.

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