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Take me out to the ball game
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“When it’s time for a change, think SpeeDee . . . .”
With our beloved Mayor-To-Be gone camping, it’s time for a call to the bullpen, and it’ll be Manteca to a C this week, as I step in for 1,400 words. . .
Why is it that you can all finish that opening line ? “When it’s time for a change think SpeeDee Oil Change and Tune Up . . . . “ It’s because you listen to Miller, Flem, Kruk and Kuip 162 times between Opening Day on April 1 and the end of the season on Sept. 30.  You’ve heard this refrain too many times to count and it has become ingrained into your consciousness, right ?  Just like “When the lights, go down, in the City, and the sun shines ……… “ well right now we are smack dab in the middle of baseball season.  The rhythm of your days align with a 7:15 p.m. first pitch around the backyard BBQ and KNBR on the AM radio dial (or the MLB app on your cell phone) – unless it’s Getaway Day or a Saturday matinee and the boys are playing at noon.  Right now it’s baseball season.  Yes, Reis, Harb, Willie, and all the other football coaching staffs are fanning the flames of league, section and state championship dreams across the district…………and tennis and basketball players at all five Manteca High Schools are putting in work under this relentless valley sun, . . . . . but right now it’s all about Hunter Pence’s right hammy, Matt Duffy’s ankle, Johnny Cueto’s shake and Mad-Bum’s Bombs.  Mendgen’s mustache, Crisp’s current coif and Vogt’s All Star Votes would be more pertinent if the A’s weren’t 29 – 42. 
But how did we all get here?  How did we all arrive at this black and orange dress code, instinctively reaching for that orange shirt every Friday? How did we wake up each morning to find a closet full of green and yellow shirts, hats, shorts, backpacks, socks, shoe strings, swim suits, polo shirts and ties?  
I know my own story  . . . . . . born and raised in Moose Pass, Alaska, the heroes I emulated were my grandfather Kenneth and my dad Bob, setting a trapline every winter, riding snowmobiles for miles along Trail Lake, hunting moose in Johnson Pass and on Crescent Lake every September, chasing grayling in Bench Lake and stalking black bears on Grant Lake.  I was reading every Luke Short, Louis L’Amour and Zane Gray book ever written – until my parents split up and my mom moved back home to the Central Valley.  It was then that I was introduced to professional sports by my awesome stepfather Joseph Atilano; a big Giants and 49ers fan he took me to this gigantic cathedral named Candlestick Park where I saw Garry Maddox and that big handlebar mustache, George Foster, Gaylord Perry, Gary “Sarge” Matthews, John “The Count” Montefusco, Johnnie “Boo” LeMaster, Jack Clark, oh those were the days back in the 70s.
 I went to elementary school at Golden West here at in Manteca but then flew out to Alaska within a few days of the last day of school to spend my summers hiking the far reaches of the Kenai Peninsula, shooting grouse with a .22 rifle, catching rainbow trout with a fly line, stalking moose and bear in driving rain storms.  Now, if the name “Moose Pass” doesn’t offer you enough of a clue, just let me tell you, the daily box scores were not readily available, so my amazing, wonderful, awesome, loving  mother Barbara would cut out articles from the Modesto Bee about the Giants and send them to me in the mail.  It was like manna that fell from the sky!  Once a week an envelope would arrive in the mail with three or four articles detailing the exploits of Tito Fuentes, Bobby Bonds, Ken Henderson, Dick Deitz, Chris Speier, Dave Kingman, Willie Montanez, Bobby Murcer, Ed Halicki, etc. etc.  A fan was born. 
“Baseball was, is and always will be to me the best game in the world”  — Babe Ruth
Ask anybody where their passion for baseball began, and you better pull up a chair.
Manteca High School Sophomore Baseball Coach Brad Garlets:  “ Mark McGwire was my biggest hero to ever wear the green and yellow and I can still name the entire starting lineup, bench and pitching staff from that 1989 World Series team (and he did).  I went to elementary school in Napa with a niece of Carney Lansford and my little league coach played high school baseball with Dennis Eckersley.  My first autograph was Dave Henderson and I once saw Nolan Ryan throw a no-hitter vs. the A’s.  As a kid I would go to work with my dad (Poppa Steve) for a half day in San Ramon where he worked at the Pacific Bell plant before heading to A’s home games.  It was a big deal because the cafeteria there was a huge two-story facility with every kind of food imaginable. Back before Mount Davis was erected – going for a stroll through the flowers out in center field as a kid who couldn’t sit still through a whole game.  I grew up on the three Rookie of the Year winners; Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire and Walt Weiss!” 
My dear friend Mike Wright is straight off a road trip to Busch Stadium to see the Cardinals play the Braves, and a trip to Kansas City to see the Royals and Indians with his wife Ashley.  Mike shared his memories of growing up as an A’s fan:  “My cousin Darlene got my love of the Athletics started as far back as a 4-year-old, listening to games on the radio, attending Fan Fest and going to games.  One year at Fan Fest a security guard accidentally grouped me into Dave Stewart’s entourage, assuming I was his son. My family still laughs about the time Stew “kidnapped” me!  My interest waned over the years, but was flamed anew when I went to UOP and starting dating Ashley Christensen who eventually became my wife, and we would go to a couple A’s games each month.”  The two have a trip to Arizona planned where they will see the Giants play the Diamondbacks and push their total number of MLB stadiums seen up to twenty apiece.  I told you to pull up a chair when you ask people about their baseball beginnings.  And speaking of which. . .  .
Mike Henry:  “The first game I saw was at Wrigley Field as a 5 year old when the Cubs played the Boston Braves in 1948.  My first White Sox game was the next year with my dad Hank and a couple of his golfing buddies.  The Sox played the Boston Red Sox and Billy Pierce struck Ted Williams out twice with the bases loaded to end an inning.  The only thing more amazing than that was Verne Stephens coming up for the Sox right after each of those inning ending strike outs to hit a home run into the upper deck of Comiskey Park !  My love of the game was cemented the next year when my father and grandfather took me to the 1950 Mid-Summer Classic at Comiskey.  Red Schoendienst hit a home run to win it in the 14th inning for the NL.”  Poppa Mike had his entire family wear White Sox hats, t-shirts and jerseys for our family Christmas card in 2005. 
One of my best A’s stories comes from May 1, 1991 when I got to see Rickey Henderson break Lou Brock’s All Time Stolen Base Record.  The Yankees were in town and I got my Field Level Day of Game Ticket for $13.  Yes, Rickey broke one of the game’s great all time records, but let the record show that Matt Nokes also threw him out twice during the game!  Rickey had an “I Was There” flyer available to the paying customers as we left the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum that day.  I glued my ticket to the flyer and now have a piece of history. 
Well now it’s 2016 and as I am typing these words into my computer I just saw Santiago Casilla strike out some hapless Pittsburgh Pirate and then Buster Posey threw out another Pirate to end tonight’s game on a Strike ‘Em Out – Throw ‘Em Out Double Play, preserving a come from behind 7-6 win to keep los Gigantes six games ahead of the dodgers in the NL West standings.  Last Giants story
On October 4, 2000 my younger brother Joe and I rode BART into San Francisco then walked down to Pac Bell Park to see the Giants beat the Mets in Game 1 of the National League Division Series – Livan Hernandez for the win, Ellis Burks with the 3-run bomb.  On the way home we realize the A’s are hosting the Yankees in the American League Division Series so we hop off of BART and buy a $15 scalper ticket to go see Andy Pettite beat Kevin Appier in Game 2 of their series.  An epic Day of Major League Baseball – the NL/AL Playoff Double Header. 
I’m at 1,544 words.  Chris told me to stop at 1,400, but like I said, anytime you ask someone about their favorite baseball stories or how they grew up in the game, be ready for a lengthy conversation.  Go ahead, ask a friend “How did you become a baseball fan?  What are your earliest memories ?” Remember, it’s not where you root, it’s who ya root for.