The San Francisco Giants may have two World Series trophies, the 49ers went to the Super Bowl, the Warriors and Sharks both made playoff runs – but the best Bay Area sports story remains the Oakland Athletics.
What makes the A’s success over the last two years so amazing? This has been a franchise somewhat in limbo for years. Owners have wanted to move the team to the South Bay. That has been blocked by the Giants, who have claimed territorial rights. Not to mention the stance (or lack of a stance) Major League Baseball and Commissioner Bud Selig have taken on the issue, refusing to even offer an opinion for years. But fans have still showed up at the Coliseum, perhaps not in force like at other stadiums, but as passionate as any in the league.
The A’s continue to have one of the lowest payrolls in Major League Baseball. General Manager Billy Beane has worked his magic for years, first in the “Moneyball” era and now by taking other team’s so-called “reclamation projects,” who have become integral parts of the team. Players like Bartolo Colon, Coco Crisp and Grant Balfour all were basically tossed on the scrap heap and have been a huge part of the A’s success this year. Third baseman Josh Donaldson is perhaps the most unheralded MVP candidate in recent years. Young starters like Sonny Gray and Dan Straily were key contributors, as were Jerry Blevins, Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle out of the pen. The offense seemed to get big hits each game from a different player. Unlike some other teams, there seemed to be a unity with the A’s – 25 players all on the same page, no superstars, no egos, just a really good team that always seems to be having fun on the field.
But what makes them the best Bay Area sports story, when there are so many other great ones? This team just seems like a bunch of regular guys you could hang out and grab a beer with after a game. While there may not be a superstar on the roster and casual fans may not recognize some of the names, the A’s are the epitome of a team and very easy to root for. Plus, the fans at the games have been diehards, through and through. For as much love as a team like the Giants gets, how many fans have just jumped off and on that bandwagon each year? With the A’s fans, they stick with the team, go to a stadium that is severely outdated and cheer for a group of players that they probably believe represents what Oakland is all about.
The A’s open the playoffs at home on Friday as they will host a familiar foe, the Detroit Tigers. These two teams met last year in the playoffs, with Detroit prevailing in five games. The two teams are pretty evenly matched and it should once again be a great playoff series in October.