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Jon Becker

Jon Becker: Memories of an 8-year-old brings home the pain of A’s leaving town

SAN JOSE, Calif. — The A’s impending move to Las Vegas had left me sort of … well, unmoved. Aside from feeling badly for the faithful A’s fans, I’d mostly taken a pragmatic, almost apathetic view that comes from spending more than three decades as a journalist.

Until I remembered an 8-year-old boy from my childhood. I wondered how he’d be handling John Fisher’s decision to forever uproot the A’s from Oakland.

See, we grew up in a neighborhood about three miles from the Coliseum. When the A’s played at home back then, you listened for fireworks coming from the stadium because it meant the A’s had won. While we all played in our dimly lit court on those summer nights, the boy often seemed distracted, as if waiting for the loud, rhythmic blasts of validation.

That kid would cry every summer when his parents sent him to camp because it meant two weeks without the A’s. He loved horseback riding, boating, swimming and campfires, but he loved the A’s more, much more.

That kid, when the bell rang at the end of the school day, used to bolt out of the room, running past the other kids and across the field, then under the freeway overpass to find out the A’s playoff score from our security guard. If they won, you’d see him keep sprinting the rest of his way home. If they lost, he’d walk home with tears rolling down his face.

Whenever he got to go to an A’s game, he’d beg to be there when the gates opened so he could watch batting practice –— mostly to see his heroes, Reggie Jackson and Vida Blue. The only thing he wanted for his birthday every year was to go to a doubleheader so he could spend all day with the A’s. Sometimes he’d even talk his mom into taking him and his brothers to the airport to greet the A’s when they returned from a road trip.

Not only could that boy recite every player’s current stats, he had drawings showing he knew how just about every player in the league wore his uniform socks.

In 5th grade, we got a new teacher named Mr. Miller. He told us he had a son whose baseball obsession was a lot like the boy’s. Mr. Miller’s son would sit by himself in the Coliseum bleachers and use a tape recorder to announce games. In fact, our teacher told us, his son had just been hired as one of the A’s announcers. Mr. Miller then asked the boy if he’d like to meet his son, Jon Miller.

One day Mr. Miller brought his son, Jon, to our school. He was 23 then, but with the same hairline he has today. Jon Miller confirmed what his dad said by telling us, sure, it was strange to be broadcasting into a tape recorder microphone, “but who cares what other people think if you’re following your passion?”

The boy grew up, though, and long ago outgrew his passion for the A’s. He still wound up attending hundreds of games over the decades and, strangely, the only foul ball he ever caught was on his father’s birthday. It was an emotional time. The tears he cried that night weren’t borne of joy but of the grief in his heart as he placed the ball in his dad’s hand while his father was in the last stages of hospice care. Two weeks later he buried that ball with his father.

It turns out fate was hardly finished with the man’s family. In an equally serendipitous event on the anniversary of his father’s death, the man took his own son to an A’s game on Father’s Day. His son caught his first foul ball that day. After taking a celebratory picture together, the man sat in amazement as his son walked over and handed the baseball to a dejected little boy who was also chasing the foul ball. His son’s gracious gesture and the ensuing loud ovation for his son from the crowd made for a proud father.

It would pain this man to know his son won’t ever sit with his own son in Oakland to watch the A’s play on Father’s Day.

I know it would pain him to know they’d never get a chance to make their own memories, and perhaps catch one more meaningful foul ball for the family.

I know this because that 8-year-old boy was me.

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