Essay: The summer of '72, when anything seemed possible

As a kid in the summer of '72, she fell in love with baseball – and the unstoppable Athletics.

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    Glory days: Oakland A's catcher Gene Tenace was greeted after his fifth-inning home run against the Cincinnati Reds during Game 4 of the 1972 World Series in Oakland, Calif.
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When I was 10, I decided I would marry Gene Tenace.

He was the unlikely hero of the 1972 World Series. Gino, an Oakland Athletics catcher and sometime first baseman, surprised everyone by hitting home runs in his initial two at-bats in the series, a new record. He'd done little earlier in the season, but when it was important, he swung for the fences. Two more home runs (a record he shared with some baseball greats) and other key hits helped him snag the title of the series' most valuable player.

This seemed to be the kind of man I should marry – a Clark Kent-type who no one suspected was actually Superman. He, like I, was born in October, and what better month for baseball?

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No matter that (a) I was only 10 and (b) Gene was already married and had children. It seemed eminently possible that we could be man and wife because anything seemed possible to me during the years from 1972 through 1974.

It all began in the summer of '72, when my grandmother took me to my first ballgame. On that day at the Oakland Coliseum, the A's beat the New York Yankees, I received a free pennant just for being there, and I fell in love at first sight with the game of baseball.

I will always remember the awe I felt walking into the stadium that day. It was all so much larger than life. The colors – of the slightly garish green and yellow uniforms and the carefully manicured field – were sharper than anything I'd seen before. The noise of bat hitting ball and the cries of the crowd were the most joyous sounds I'd ever heard. And the smells! Hot dogs and popcorn. Forever afterward, those scents would be inextricably linked in my memory with baseball and winning.

Most of all, I had the overwhelming sense that magic could happen here, and, along with that, I had a bit of a premonition that it actually would.

From then on, there was no turning back. I studied stats until I knew them better than my own address and phone number. I ordered a subscription to Baseball Digest and begged my parents to buy me a pitch-back machine. (Another thing that seemed possible – that I could be the first girl pitcher in the majors.) I studied the different grips – for fastballs, curves, and sliders. I stayed up nights with my purple transistor radio listening to games that sometimes went until midnight (starting time back then was 8 p.m.).

I collected baseball cards and A's souvenirs, saved the San Francisco Chronicle's green section after every win, and attended autograph sessions at Diablo Foods in Lafayette.

Best of all, winning was easy. All I had to do was root for the A's, and they would win. I rooted and they won all the way to the 1972 World Series trophy. And they did it the next year, and the year after that. I was learning that all I had to do was wish for something, and it would come true. A false, but lovely lesson of childhood.

I felt closer to Reggie and Campy and Sal – and Gene, of course – than to my own family. I became a member of the Sal Bando Fan Club. Frightened by rumors that the irascible Charlie Finley might sell the team, and of the players fighting among themselves, I dashed off letter after letter, filled with passion over my beloved team. I didn't want any of it to end.

I still have the note that manager Dick Williams sent in return, thanking me for my (perhaps too avid and a little unwanted) interest in his team.

I lived for October. In those days, starting times weren't dictated by television. I pleaded with my teachers to let me listen to daytime playoff games, and they kindly agreed. I went to a few games, too, completing my homework between innings. And the A's never failed me. They won – game after game, playoff after playoff, World Series after World Series.

I was just turning 13 when it all ended in October 1975. It was, perhaps, appropriate. The Athletics' reign halted just when my childhood did. I finally understood that wishes don't always come true.

I lost some interest in baseball after that, as other concerns claimed me. My parents divorced; I moved several times. I had school and friends to take up my time. I grew up.

But once in your blood, baseball remains there. I kept an eye on the A's, saw them get close to going all the way but then falter.

I sobbed when they lost in '88 to the rival Dodgers, and celebrated quietly over the bittersweet World Series win in '89 (the year of the Loma Prieta earthquake). More recently, I watched and suffered when the divisional series proved their downfall so many years in a row.

Baseball season is again starting, and the Athletics' chances probably won't be so hot. But I'll be watching anyway, always seeking to recapture those glory days of the early '70s – a time when anything seemed possible and I was in love with baseball, the Oakland A's, and a catcher named Gene Tenace.

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