October 3, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics relief pitcher Grant Balfour (50) celebrates with fans after the win against the Texas Rangers at O.co Coliseum. The Oakland Athletics defeated the Texas Rangers 12-5 to become the American League west champions. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE
Coaches and players preach “one game at a time” in the regular season, and perhaps they have that mentality, but the season is long and it’s difficult for fans to get too wrapped up in any single game or series. Sure, you hate the division Royals and, of course, the Boston Red Sox, but there’s no reason for us to pour every bit of emotion into a July series against the Toronto Blue Jays.
But the playoffs are different. The stakes are higher, the focus is bigger, and there’s no tomorrow listed on the schedule. It’s win today, or see you in March. So whatever sort of passion is hidden inside the fan base will come spilling out in full force. Most of the emotion is spent in support of the home team – the Tigers, in our case – but it quite often overflows into spirited distaste of the opponent.
We had no trouble with this part of the equation last season. Detroit’s ALDS opponent was the New York Yankees, and hating on them is a no brainer. Everyone in baseball hates the Yankees because they’ve reached deep into their pockets and stolen every team’s prized free agents. Oh, and because they have A-Rod.
But the Oakland Athletics are no Yankees. I mean, “there are rich teams and there are poor teams, then there’s fifty feet of crap, and then there’s [the Oakland Athletics]”. They’re about to begin a playoff series against the Detroit Tigers who have Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, and Prince Fielder, and they’re going to trot out only three or four players that you’ve ever heard of. And it’s hard to hate that. They didn’t win the west on the backs of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, or CC Sabathia. They’re not paying each player $20+ million; they’re paying the team less than $53 million combined. The lack of gaudy contracts makes them somewhat more relatable on a human level – they’re the baseball team for the everyman.
But it’s not even just the contracts. The people themselves seem more relatable. Brandon Inge has been hurt and won’t play, but he’s remembered here for his selfless donation of time and money to the Mott Children’s Hospital. Brandon McCarthy suffered a skull injury after being hit in the head with a line drive earlier this month. It was a scary moment, but after he was released from the hospital a few days later, McCarthy delivered a humorous Twitter post, displaying the wit and charm that has made him a favorite amongst fans (A’s and non-A’s alike). And then there’s the terribly tragic story from earlier this week of relief pitcher Pat Neshek and his wife losing their first child just 23 hours after his birth. I can’t even begin to comprehend the heartache.
Their entire season reads like one humungous human interest story. Injuries and a small payroll have caused them to play an inordinate number of games with a rookie starting pitcher but it didn’t faze Oakland, who won an MLB record 54 such games. No one’s really sure how they won the AL West, but they did and my “root for the underdog” nature loved to see them do it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to go nuts in my support of the Tigers, but I can’t bring myself to dislike the Athletics. And plus, what’s there to dislike about a fat Jonah Hill fist pump?