Matt and My Oakland A’s

Flag with the logo of the Oakland A's waving

Note: This post was originally posted on my blogspot blog in October of 2012. I reposted it here because I never want to lose it. It is not the best thing I’ve ever written. Every time I read this piece it still chokes me up–and that’s something worth saving. 

The Oakland Athletics secured a playoff spot for the first time since 2006 in their victory over the Texas Rangers last night. They still have a chance to win the division but are guaranteed to make the playoffs as at least a wild card team. The A’s are unlikely winners. They are a team of rookies, unknown journeymen, and has-beens. They also have one Cuban defector and at least one doper. When the roster took shape at the beginning of the year, I knew they had no hope of reaching the playoffs. I was confident of this, even though a rule change was allowing a second wild card team into the playoffs for the first time. I am excited to watch them in the post-season. I am also confident they will lose in dramatic heart-breaking fashion. I also wish I could commiserate about our team’s eventual demise with Matt.

Matt died almost four years ago. He was my brother-in-law. It is customary to not only eulogize the deceased but to lionize them as well. Matt was complicated. That’s a euphemism for he could be a jackass.  Matt would also drop anything to help a friend. Matt died ignominiously. Matt was an alcoholic. Matt loved the Oakland A’s. He loved them more than I did, more than I do.

Matt and I were never especially close. I thought he could be hilarious and charming. I also thought he could be rude and inappropriate. Matt was never dull. We lived relatively close and saw each other a lot. Matt made a real effort to try and make me feel uncomfortable. It didn’t bother me. When I married, one inroad I had with my new extended family was sports. We rooted for most of the same teams, Bay Area teams, but most of all the Oakland A’s.

 My wife had four brothers, three older, one younger. In a manner unique to males of our species, we could grow closer together in a room watching the A’s play and only speak ten words to each other the entire game. Matt and I both read Moneyball. We debated whether Brad Pitt, Billy Beane, was able to build a team that could win the World Series or were destined to be just good enough to get to the playoffs. All of my brothers-in-law rooted for the A’s, but Matt was always the head cheerleader. His enthusiasm mixed with, but untempered by, cynical realism, was charismatic.

We were watching the A’s play the Yankees in the 2001 American League Division Series. The A’s had a good team. They were close to being a great team. The A’s had a commanding two games to none lead over the hated Yankees. That was the year Derek Jeter miraculously flipped the ball to Jorge Posada, who tagged out Jeremy Giambi at the plate because Jeremy Giambi failed to slide. Some fans are convinced that Giambi was safe anyway. When Matt saw Jeremy Giambi run in, he was screaming obscenities at the television, Giambi, and Derek Jeter. He got up, threw a throw pillow across the room in disgust, and stormed out. He came back a few minutes later. He said, “The series is over,” as he sat back down.

He was right. The A’s never recovered, they lost that game, and the next two. Their season ended with a whimper.

The A’s have not performed well in the playoffs in the past twenty years. Even when they have won a series, they have failed to look impressive. But the A’s are fun to root for because they should be even worse. They spend little on payroll comparatively, have a horrible baseball stadium, and compete for eyeballs in a part of the country that is decidedly not sports obsessed. The weather is too nice, and there is too much to do to spend all of one’s time worrying about the 132nd pick in the amateur draft as sports fans in the northeast do.

2006 was the last year the A’s made the playoffs; Matt was in the middle of a downward spiral that would eventually lead to his death. None of his loved ones had any idea how the last two years of his life would play out. Matt thought the A’s had a punchers chance that year because they avoided the Yankees in the first round. The A’s swept the Twins, and the Yankees lost to the Tigers. A World Series appearance seemed possible. The Tigers destroyed the A’s in four games in the American League Championship Series.

Matt died in October 2008, the end of the baseball season. We mourned. His life ended when it shouldn’t have even been half over. Before life could return to any type of normal, Kevin, Matt’s older brother, died in early December. We mourned more. I was the last one at both burials, making sure that all was done orderly and respectfully. It was the least I could do for the living loved ones. That winter was interminable. The pain for the men’s parents, my mother and father-in-law will never heal. How could it? They learned to bear it.

I am still not sure how I feel about their deaths or the lives they led. I probably will never fully come to grips with any number of the complicated family, religious, and emotional dynamics surrounding their deaths. Most days, most weeks, most months, I don’t think about Kevin or Matt.  My life is busy, and I am complicated.

Last night I thought of Matt. I thought of how happy he would have been that the A’s made the playoffs. I found out the A’s had won from my phone, from a news app, but not from a semi-obscene text from Matt. I believe Matt’s soul still exists, and I hope that he has found some measure of peace that eluded him here. I also hope he gets to watch baseball. We both know the A’s are first-round cannon fodder for sure, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun to watch and yell at the television because our team is finally back in the playoffs.  Baseball doesn’t offer peace but offers a nice distraction to the weary soul.

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