Every Game A Story: Smashing The Padrearchy, Or Pride Night In Oakland

There's nothing historic about the Oakland Athletics winning at home in front of a diverse crowd. Except when there really is.
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In many ways, it was not unlike most weekday evening baseball games in Oakland. I drove from my office in Santa Clara to the BART station in Fremont, swiped my fare card, and stepped off the train and into the river of beerish, fervent green and gold that flows over the pedestrian bridge towards the Coliseum. The vendors were selling a good deal of Warriors gear, which is not surprising considering that they’d just won their first NBA Championship in 40 years the night before. My friend was waiting for me at the Pride Night entrance when I arrived; South Bay traffic is just the worst.

In the clubhouse, where there’s a special section for tables representing various East Bay LGBT groups, we run into some people we know. It’s an unexpected change from my usual O.co experience, which involves dragging some outsiders (a coworker or two, a college friend, my mom visiting from Massachusetts) into the cheap seats to sit among strangers. But the chance meetings are happy ones, not unlike finding a friend at a strange party; their presence alone makes the whole experience instantly palatable, assuaging the tiny irrational fear that we somehow wouldn’t fit in. After a quick walk through the reception, we find our way down to our section, taking in the scene.

The big spinning A’s logo on the screen is all done up like Roy G. Biv, as are many of the caps in the stands. A rainbow flag hangs over the guardrail alongside the usual paraphernalia the grandstand fans always bring. Amid the pregame din, I can make out the lisps and twangs and inflection shifts I’ve mostly heard at gay bars, pride parades, and the deleted scenes—they’re all up on Logo—from RuPaul’s Drag Race. We make small talk with the fans sitting nearby, chattering excitedly about the game and how wonderful it is that closer Sean Doolittle and his girlfriend Eireann Dolan are going the extra mile for us by buying homophobic season ticketholders out of their moral dilemma.

This is usually the idle moment where one can size up one’s neighbors—am I the only one with a Yoenis Cespedes shirt? How many of these people are wearing the visiting team’s merch? Who’s a little drunk already and might back me up on a desperation chant, if it comes to that? But tonight, a look into strangers’ eyes reveals a shine behind them that is different. Everyone seems grateful for the opportunity to be amongst friends.

The pregame ceremony is a chance for the A’s to present their donation to the (very deserving) charities that they’ve chosen to benefit from the special ticket sales. It is also a memorial for the late Glenn Burke, who is notable for not only being the inventor of the high-five, but also the first big leaguer to come out to his teammates and management. His sexuality was an issue with the Los Angeles Dodgers—the organization denied any connection between his trading to Oakland and his sexuality, which was becoming something of a public secret, but there’s a lot of room between the lines to read. Ultimately the stress of the closeted double life, or that stress plus the misery of riding the bench on a losing A’s team, led him to quit the league.

On pride night, the A’s mentioned none of this. It probably would have been impolitic to attempt to throw shade at another team, especially one that has been hosting LGBT Pride nights for three years. Anyway, the mood seemed less concerned with historical accuracy than a respectably somber sense of pomp and circumstance. There was a plague’s shadow chilling the remembrance of this teammate, family member, and trailblazer; everyone who cared to know understood the context, and the tragic illogic that made it impossible for Glenn Burke to be his true self and play his game at the highest level. This was a celebration, but its subtext and context were inescapably present. Burke’s brother Sidney threw out the first pitch, soprano Breanna Sinclaire became the first transgender woman to perform the national anthem at any major sporting event, and the game was on.

The A’s, happily, were brilliant. Billy Butler country-breakfast’ed a three-run dinger in the bottom of the first, and from then on the atmosphere was electric. Which is to say that, in many ways, it was like any other A’s game I’ve seen at the Coliseum—the grandstand fans making plenty of noise, banging their drums to the cadence of “I Believe in Stephen Vogt,” the Hall of Fame mascot race, the seagulls flying around the upper deck as the sun set over the San Francisco bay, all of these were the same. All of it was identifiable as the prosaic thing it was—an early-season game that would send fans home happy.

But as Jesse Chavez fanned Padre after Padre, and the A’s bats came alive for 16 runs, the spirit somehow did not evaporate. Yes, the Jumbotron was choked with #happypride-tagged Twitter messages. Yes, the cameras zoomed in on a sign that said “YES HOMO” and gay couples got featured on the kiss cam. As the A’s strung together an unbelievable seven-run eighth—the sort of inning that almost made all involved forget that this team is in the AL West’s basement—the mood in the stands took on the feeling of a pride festival, or maybe of a really good gay bar, or at least of a RuPaul watch party. That is, there was a sort of communal defiance in action, a collective realization that, if you get enough people together and make enough noise, it truly does not matter what other people think about what you’re doing, or how much noise you make.

There’s a great deal of debate still ongoing about Pride, or #Pride, or Pride™. The political climate surrounding LGBT rights is polarized, the economic appeal to the socially progressive (or socially reactionary) dollar has never felt more cynical, and even as gay men and women from coast to coast celebrate the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of marriage equality, there are myriad issues facing LGBT communities that need to be addressed. This ruling solves none of that, as of course it would not.

But as the O.co Coliseum emptied after that delightful rout, with Kool and the Gang sending the crowd home as they do after every A’s win, there was still a sense of finality, of a seemingly simple thing accomplished after unreal hardship. I looked back on the night, in which a professional sports organization spoke honestly about a gay former player who died of AIDS; which gave a formerly homeless trans woman the microphone so that she could sing our national anthem; which, thanks to the efforts of Eirann Dolan and her boyfriend, Oakland’s injured closer Sean Doolittle, saw visitors from an LGBT youth center filling out the crowd in the place of ticket-holders who protested the night’s very existence.

It was all well-orchestrated, brand-managed and intentional down to the outcome of the game, which was a happy, if appropriate, coincidence. It was also utterly earnest, and something that could and would not have happened even a few years ago, even here. It was, all told, absolutely a reason to celebrate. So we cheered. On this night, we’d won.

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