Padecky: A's fans are pros at social distancing

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Unless you have lived in a bomb shelter for the last three months with a blindfold and ear muffs, with no television or internet, you know social distancing and shelter-in-place are all the rage. Literally. We humans are herd animals and the herd is restless, if not downright crabby and armed. The idea of being apart from one another has never appeared so counter intuitive, unless you count 49er fans wanting nothing to do with Cowboy fans.

Our capacity to handle isolation is greater than you might think. In fact, we have an excellent example of that in our own backyard.

Oakland A’s fans have been practicing social distancing for years, decades even. You don’t hear grumbling or the throwing of a hot dog if someone is snoring too loud. A’s fans are amazingly tolerant of their distant brothers, even to the point of sharing their blanket.

On April 17, 1979, the A’s fans set the benchmark for social distancing. The announced paid crowd to see the team play Seattle at the Oakland Coliseum was 653. The actual crowd was 250. Or was it 251? Not sure. I was there and I counted the “throng” a number of times, never quite sure of the number because some of the guests may have been availing themselves of the restroom. I gave up because I felt like a Peeping Bob watching everyone leave their seat. In fact I got anxious if they got up just to stretch. Could they be leaving? Would I ever see them again? Isn’t there some medication I could take for this?

It was the smallest crowd to see a MLB game in the modern era. Wasn’t like the game distracted me. The A’s in 1979 would go 54-108. They committed the most errors in the American League, had the lowest batting average. Even though Rickey Henderson would debut his Hall of Fame career later that summer, the A’s averaged only 3,787 fans a game. Truck pulls drew more.

The Coliseum was so quiet that night A’s players would call up to the upper deck and asked a handful of people to come to sit behind the dugout. The players saw advantages: They said they could see who was hitting on their wife or girlfriend in the stands. After the game — a game with nine errors — they went into the stands to thank the fans who did show.

The fans had their perks too. Traffic was not a problem. Fans breezed into the parking lot, many felt they had their own personal valet ushering in to their parking spot. No waiting for the restroom. No wait for food at the two concession stands that were open.

Although, to be fair, there was not a rush to get there — hot dogs, coffee and Coke were the only things on the menu, if you call it a menu.

Owner Charlie Finley had gutted the team and lost all interest in running the A’s. He never attended one A’s game that year, even when Oakland traveled to his hometown Chicago to play the White Sox.

To be there, to see 46,867 seats with 250 or 251 of them occupied, to hear the snoring, I never thought I’d never see the like of it again.

I might be wrong. Major League Baseball is thinking of opening the season in selective stadiums. Of course there’s the attendance issue. Who would come? And how many? At the very least social distancing will become an issue. How do you handle that at a ballpark? Only a third of the seats occupied as people kept six feet apart? But how does that work in a row of 20 seats?

Eventually some if not all will need to use the restroom. That works fine for the person at the end of the row. But what about the poor bloke who has to cross in front of three or four people to leave to to go up the steps. What to do?

I have a solution. And the hosting MLB team can make money off it, which of course is the reason they are playing, besides their love of the game and blah blah blah.

It’s called Stadium Buddy. It goes by other names: Stadium Pal, Stadium Gal. It’s an apparatus fastened around a leg, a collection bag for liquid waste, apparently comfortably fitted to a man’s thing. He never has to leave his seat. Never has to say “Excuse me. Pardon me.” He never has to compromise social distancing. The device is already used by pilots of small airplanes who have to fly long distances without a restroom.

The Major League team can sell their Stadium Buddy at the stadium, even embossing them with the team logo. Seats in the middle of the row will cost less than the ones at the end of a row. You sit at the end of a row? Great! You indeed will pay for them. Your son may have to wait a year before he goes to college. Oh well. Such is the cost of convenience.

Sure, the idea is outside the box but then again, the Minnesota Twins playing their home games in Atlanta is a bit outside the box.

Home runs are now the signature moment of today’s baseball. You don’t want fans crawling all over each other to get the ball. Sell cheap portable fishing nets, again with the team’s logo to commemorate this most unusual year.

Sell DVDs at the stadium of A’s fans being interviewed on being the experts in coping with social distancing. Sure, 1979 was exceptional for that but A’s fans are veterans at keeping their distances. None of the three A’s World Series champions in the ‘70s had season attendance that reached the league average. In the past 27 years, only once did the A’s draw enough fans to reach the league average. This is just being average, not exceptional.

So please, Major League Baseball, you have a valuable resource available to you. A’s fans have been practicing social distancing for years. And they seem to be doing just fine. No fights, protests or inmates, I mean fans, brandishing night sticks or something more lethal at games. No mental health issues. Never heard of even one customer entering rehab. Take heed.

The few. The proud. The A’s fans.

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