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Rickey Henderson & the Oakland As
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I was feeling a bit nostalgic today upon catching a re-airing of the 1989 American League Championship Series featuring the Oakland Athletics against the Toronto Blue Jays.

It took me back just seeing the A’s playing in the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Of course, those were the days before corporate sponsorships were attached to ballparks.

For there was an intimacy about the old Coliseum thanks in part to the outfield bleachers. Not only was that area of the park affordable — try somewhere in the $3 range while parking, if I recall, had to be less than $5 — but had a carnival atmosphere. The area was also aesthetically pleasing with the section above the bleachers featuring a horticultural / ice plant arrangement coupled with a clear view of the Oakland hills amid the eucalyptus trees surrounding the Coliseum.

Many fans would come early to catch batting practice. Chances were highly likely to come away with a souvenier ball, especially with a lineup featuring sluggers such as Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Dave Henderson, and Dave Parker.
Needless to say, the fans had their favorites, setting camp in various sections of the bleachers.

Center, for example, was “Henduland” and was reserved for Dave Henderson, who was also known as ‘Hendu.’

As a person, Hendu was both likable and approachable. I say that having had a chance to interview him in 1987 when he was still a member of the Boston Red Sox. He was gracious despite losing his job to some young outfielder —  Mike Greenwell? — but, more importantly, I was just thrilled to finally meet him having gone to college with his sister-in-law April Smith Hogue.

Hendu came to Oakland as a free agent, and eventually beat out Stan Javier as the everyday center fielder. He reportedly took time to acknowledge his legions of fans, making time to hang out with them in the parking lot or at their favorite watering hole.

Teeny boppers, meanwhile, congregated to right field. It was a common place there to see the “We Love You, Jose” banners. Canseco had the looks of a matinee idol and was coming off an MVP year.

And then there was Rickey Henderson.

The reason for the re-airing of this telecast was based on the Hall of Fame enshrinement for baseball’s all-time leader in stolen bases and runs scored.

After spending several years with the New York Yankees, Rickey was back in his home town and making his first real playoff appearance — in his first go-around with the A’s, he played in a makeshift postseason in a strike-shortened season during the early 1980s — a memorable one for the ages.

Against the Jays, Rickey had four thefts in that one game.

On Monday, he was unanimously selected by Baseball Writers’ Association of America, receiving 94.8 percent of the votes, and well above the 75 percent needed.

But I’ll always remember how thrilled we were to have Rickey back in Oakland and patrolling left field. I just couldn’t take another year of Luis Palonia throwing to the wrong base.

In subsequent years, I somehow managed to catch Rickey and A’s on the road. Included were games played at old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and the hallow grounds of Yankee Stadium. He was greatly respected at those ballparks and could be seen shaking hands with fans along the left field foul territory between innings in middle of the game.

Players come and go as do the old baseball parks.

Yankee Stadium just closed and Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium has been long gone.

After undergoing several name changes — Network Associates and McAfee — the Coliseum, for now, is back to its old name.

But it’s a far cry from the one I remembered, having been replaced with a facility more suited for its other tenant, the NFL Oakland Raiders. The upper levels along with that hideous monstrosity in the outfield known as Mount Davis, in honor of Raiders owner Al Davis, is tarped up these days.

For me, Rickey Henderson as a first-ballot Hall of Famer brings back memories of better days.