One of my great pleasures in a season short of them -- more on that theme later, assuming I can get my chores done in a timely fashion -- is perusing the Internets and stopping by the San Francisco Chronicle's A's Blog and seeing what brain-teaser the newspaper's Automated Random Generator of Various Athletics Questions comes up with today. The ARGoVAQ 2000 combs through the previous day's happenings, crunching statistics and standings and game reports, to formulate a topical query in the hopes of stimulating discussion from us keyboard-equipped A's fans. "What do you think of Player X's recent Slump/Offensive Outburst/Debilitating Injury?" the ARGoVAQ 2000 will ask. Or, "With the A's latest Unexpected Win/Crushing Defeat/Half-Witted Roster Move, do you think the team will Make the Playoffs/Get Relegated to the Pacific Coast League/Change Its Name to Billy Beane and the Beane-Tones?" It gives me a quick glimpse into the zeitgeist of the season on any particular day.
But lately, I worry that the ARGoVAQ 2000 is beginning to wear down under the strain of a 162-game season, as if generating that many Various Athletics Questions is taxing the 1s and 0s that fly through its automated brain. Because amid the usual round of inquiries about such-and-such a player's prospects and another player's groin were a couple of puzzlers that barely registered a blip on the Probing and Insightful scale.
Take this stumper, posed in the heady days before back-to-back thrashings at the hands of the Devils Rays revealed that the A's preceding 5-game win streak was more of an aberration than the norm.
What is the best that can be expected for the last 34 games of the season?
I'll field that one, ARGoVAQ 2000. By definition, the best that can be expected is that the A's go 34-0 and sweep through the post-season on their way to Oakland's first World Series title since 1989. The worst that can be expected is that the team goes 0-34; that the front office trades the entire 40-man roster for a collection of slow-footed 1B/Corner OF types who either walk, homer, strike out, or hit into rally-killing double plays; and that Lew Wolff moves the team to Tehran when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad offers him a better stadium deal than the one he's getting in Fremont.
What is the most reasonable expectation? Well, that wasn't exactly what you were asking, was it, ARGoVAQ 2000?
A two-part poser offered a few days earlier, however, proved far murkier.
On Tuesday, the A's begin a stretch of nine games against Toronto and Tampa Bay and five of those games are not televised. How will you follow the club in that quintet of non-TV games -- and does it bother you that the A's are off the tube so often in this stretch?
I've tackled the issue of the A's and their podunk approach to TV contracts in the past, so instead, I'd like to focus on the first part of that question -- How will I follow the A's when their games are not televised? -- because I feel that, through trial-and-error, I have devised a nearly foolproof system.
In the past, when the A's were not on local TV, I would go down to my local telegraph store and wait for the batter-by-batter dispatches to come in from the Western Union operators; for particularly big games, a telegraph store employee would record each at bat on a giant chalkboard. But it's hard to concentrate on the game when local merchants are rushing in and out to get the latest telegraph wires on their bustling sorghum trade, so I tried to find another source of baseball info.
For a while, I tried randomly dialing numbers in the area code where the A's were playing an away game and demanding that the startled recipient of my phone call give me a full account of the action taking place. This works out better than you might imagine, as a lifetime of experience has indicated that most people, by and large, like to help out their fellow man. The downside, of course, is that there's no way of knowing whether the person on the other end of your random phone call is even watching the game, and so you waste valuable seconds determining that they're watching Dancing With the Stars instead. And even if you do get a hold of someone who is watching the game, after about three innings of play-by-play, their voice usually starts to give out and they become eager to return to their dinner. Also, they do not seem to appreciate the fact that I usually call them collect.
I have been known to hire actors to present dramatic recreations of A's road games in my backyard -- these little pageants are generally performed the morning after the game, after my cast and crew have had time to read through the accounts and descriptions of last night's game. However, the cost of building scale models of the Metrodome or The Ballpark at Arlington in my backyard is quite high, and the last time I tried this, the actor I hired to play Nick Swisher broke into my liquor cabinet. Also, I have a hard time avoiding spoilers.
When the A's play the Devil Rays in a non-televised contest, I have all my bases covered -- my brother-in-law lives in Florida, so I have him tape the game for me. After each inning, he hands a cassette to a courier, who then begins a tortuous, serpentine cross-country trek. The route is varied and involves many detours and fake-outs and hand-offs so that we can confound Bud Selig's ever-present gendarmes, but I can usually get my hands on the tape 10 to 12 hours later. I'm currently watching the second inning of Saturday's game -- I hope Joe Blanton settles down soon!
Oh, also when the A's games aren't on TV, I suppose I can follow the team by listening on the radio. That sort of works, too.