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Coliseum confrontation

Mixing it up with lubricated fans in Oakland: not a good move

Posted: Wednesday July 21, 2004 2:34PM; Updated: Wednesday July 21, 2004 3:30PM

Dan Hoyle is a San Francisco-based ballpark vendor who is documenting his summer adventures for SI.com. To read the previous installments of the Vendor Chronicles, click here.

Saturday, June 26 -- Network Associates Coliseum, Oakland, Calif., Giants at A's

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The crosstown matchup in the Bay: Where the idiot in all of us comes out to play.

And on the first perfect afternoon of summer, there were plenty. Half-naked Oakland faithful in green-and-yellow capes and eyemasks drink Coors Light and chant "Let's go, Oakland!" over and over again, somehow getting the same pleasure out of it every time. Posses of Giants fans wearing faded Will Clark and Kevin Mitchell jerseys rove the parking lot, barking: "Who's in first place?" to anyone who looks like an adversary.

Inside the vending room, it's all business. The crowd is estimated to be one of the biggest in history at The Coliseum, so there's no time for nostalgia or partisanship. Which is disappointing. I'm a diehard Giants fan. So diehard that I eschew the A's cap most of the vendors here wear, opting instead for a standard-issue black vending visor. But tonight is different, and even wearing the visor would be tantamount to silent support of the A's.

As the JumboTron plays highlights from the 1989 Bay Bridge World Series, the memories of confusion and heartbreak come flooding back: of the bleachers starting to shake way too much at 5:05 p.m. on another perfect afternoon in October before Game 3; of my Dad grabbing my bony 9-year-old forearm and saying, "Don't move," his grip growing stronger the longer the shaking lasted; of returning to Candlestick a week later to see Dave Stewart crush the Giants' hopes of a crawling-out-of-the-rubble comeback.

I pull out my Giants cap, which I've brought along to wear if I have time to watch the last inning from the stands. I run my finger over the orange stitching -- first, that sturdy SF logo on the front that symbolizes so many years of hard-fought victories, then the smaller Hitachi insignia, reminding me which corporation gave away 20,000 of these caps on an otherwise forgettable Sunday in 1994. I rub the two pieces of flair that adorn my cap, the 1989 National League Champions pin I bought as my one souvenir of that sad series, and the "I've Got a Giant Attitude" button that served as the painful slogan for the lackluster follow-up 1990 campaign.

I scowl at the other vendors, some of them Giants fans, all wearing A's hats. I velcro the visor to my belt. I may be selling tubs of cotton candy at The Coliseum in Oakland, but my team is on the field, so I'm answering to a higher calling than commerce. I put on my Giants hat, and brace myself for a wild one.

Surprisingly, my cap elicits few heckles from A's fans. When they do notice, they dish playful jabs. "Hey, watch him with that change, he's a Giants fan." I'm even picking up quite a few shouts of solidarity. "Nice hat, cotton candy dude! Go Giants, baby!" It helps that the A's have gotten off to a fast start on a Jermaine Dye two-run bomb, and that A's starter Rich Harden is breezing through the Giants lineup.

But then a couple of things change. First, I can't sell the cotton candy fast enough. I don't even have a good call -- "Big ol' tub of candy, heeeere!" -- but the demand is unstoppable. So I start to get cocky, and when the Giants put up a couple of runs in the top of the third, I start working in a few lines of partisan passion. "Hey, cotton candy, here. Giant cotton candy!"

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Second, it seems that alcohol is beginning to take its toll on thousands of loud, local yokels. The effects are mostly verbal. One guy keeps shouting, "Oregon sucks!" at the green-and-yellow colored A's. I witness another man's devolution from clapping into some sort of haunted swaying, accompanied by a sputtering monologue directed at his beer. Then I see a chicken-white 70-year-old man shirtless, playing with his nipples.

Now, my vendor's instincts probably should have alerted me to the fact that this was a ballgame of heightened emotions and excessive alcohol consumption, and that I should therefore take all prudent measures to avoid confrontation. But the flood of memories from '89 had continued throughout the game: the sting of being swept by the Bash Brothers, of shuffling back to my room and sifting through a pile of neglected homework after watching that final out on our new Sony, our first color TV; of seeing Mitchell strut with his chest a little less puffed out, having failed to pull out a miracle bare-handed catch to turn around the series; and of Clark, without his famed "Neuschler look," the face that seemed to suggest he was too busy to bother kicking your ass, but could change his mind at any moment. Instead, Will the Thrill looked distant and distracted, perhaps dreaming about shooting pheasants in Louisiana, to numb the pain.

The memories were as thick as the dust that has collected on the newspaper clippings I kept from that year, and so I too was in an altered state, drunk not on alcohol, but on the powerful elixir of recollection. Also on the adrenaline of making sales, as by the seventh inning, I was well on my way to racking up a $200 evening.

So when I clipped up the stairs to the upper deck with my sixth load of cotton candy tubs, I had no idea about the war zone I was about to enter.

The upper deck is always rowdier. It's the cheap seats, the nosebleeds. It's where -- when you get bored throwing peanuts at people, heckling other fans, and trying to get on the JumboTron by shaking your fleshiest groove thing to songs between innings -- you can watch a baseball game. And because upper-deck tickets are only $8, everyone there has plenty of money to buy beer. And because both the seats and the beer are cheaper than anything you could ever find at upscale SBC Park, you've got working-class Giants fans who haven't been able to see their team live since it played at Candlestick Park in 1999. Enter me, haplessly touting my tubs of cotton candy.

I am welcomed quickly by the A's faction: "What the f--- is wrong with you? Take that hat off, this is Oakland, boy!"

I scan for Giants fans to back me up. There appear to be plenty, so I respond, waving my cap in the air: "My team is on the field, sorry. Go Giants!"

No applause.

Instead, half a section of loud, angry A's fans is on its feet, while the Giants fans, my proverbial backup, stare off into center field and attempt to blend into their seats.

A 19-year-old A's fan with a thin mustache that signals a backwoods rage we don't often see in the Bay Area stands up and yells, "Take that s-- off, punk! We own this place!"

"You're in the wrong stadium, you Pac Bell reject!"

His counterpart, a short, but possibly BALCO-connected pitbull of a man wearing batting gloves, steps from side to side and adds, "Nah, blood, this fist doesn't know a Giants fan it likes, this fist doesn't know one!"

Scared? Not me. I'm carrying a wooden staff, which fills me with a heroic hope that it's my day to find my inner Gandalf and administer a whupping on these obscene A's fans. This feeling fades fast, however, and Vendor Reality kicks in. My staff is weighed down with 30 tubs of blue and pink cotton candy, and there are no signs of spiky weaponry. And I haven't even signed up for that Aikido class yet.

But I'm halfway up the aisle, and the safety of all those tubs of candy is at stake. As is my resurgent pride -- and possibly a few vital organs. So I have to decide between fight and flight. Now, any man is less mobile when fear starts to grip him. Add 30 cotton candy tubs knocking at his shoulders and forehead, and he becomes downright rickety. So I decide to stand my ground.

"Who's in first?" I shout back, candy tubs swaying above.

The Giants fans turn to me, but only out of concern for my safety.

Mr. Mustache spits a mouthful of ice on my shoes. "Who's selling cotton candy?" he replies. The crowd roars with approval. Mr. Fist's eyes are flashing with rage. "You don't know this fist, you don't want to know this fist!" he barks.

I don't, but frankly, no one disses a vendor like that.

"And I'm making good money off of all you selling this cotton candy, buddy!"

Kevin Mitchell
Bad memories of the '89 series still linger for Giants fans.
Getty Images

As soon as I said it, I knew I had crossed the line. Vendors are taught to defuse conflict, and we're generally good at it. In a pinch, I think the best of us could help out the U.N. But when I said it, Mr. Fist tweaked into an upright position as if he caught an electric shock, and his face screwed up as if I had spit on him.

As my left hand began to shake with adrenaline, and I prepared for the worst, I heard a roar from the crowd, and all eyes turned to see Marco Scutaro line a double into the gap to score the go-ahead run for the A's. Raising my right fist, I yelled "Viva Venezuela!" -- a cry of solidarity with Scutaro's embattled native country and a desperate attempt to find common cause with my Oakland adversaries. And then I was gone, sprinting off down the aisle, and away, far away, from my impending doom.

Catching my breath, I marveled at how such a benevolent third inning crowd could become a security concern by the seventh. For most fans, the desire to eat cotton candy was stronger than their allegiance to their team, otherwise I would have been boycotted. But why had I lost my cool? I thought of Mitchell, bouncing around the league in 1996, still with quick wrists, but now overweight and undisciplined. I thought of Clark, leaving the Giants for a decade of mediocrity in the American League. The pull to consume is powerful, and the effects of alcohol more still, but World Series heartbreak trumps them all.

Dan Hoyle is a ballpark vendor, freelance writer and actor. His one-man play, Circumnavigator, opens July 29 in San Francisco.