In the Aftermath, Athletics Are Driven by Different Resolve

HARTFORD COURANT

If anyone believes there is the slightest vacillation among the majority of Oakland Athletics preparing to resume the World Series after a deadly earthquake in the Bay Area Tuesday, one need only look at the faces.

Grim determination would be too mild a phrase. The A's, to a man, endorsed Commissioner Fay Vincent's decision to keep the Series alive and in the Bay, if safety and the cities of San Francisco and Oakland allow. They passionately defended it as something that each player must do for himself, his teammates, his franchise and, most important, for the devastated city around him.

"I am absolutely supportive of this decision," Manager Tony La Russa said. "There should have been a break, which there is. I think it's a real good call."

And it is.

Vincent did not move the Series to a neutral site, a decision that would have been an insult to both sides of the ravaged Bay because it would signal the game, not the inhabitants or their fans, stand above all and must be played no matter what. The A's heard the rumors that the games might be moved and not one who spoke out Thursday could endorse that in any way.

"The World Series is between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics," Dave Stewart said. "If the games cannot be played here, they shouldn't be played."

That latter alternative is not acceptable, either, because life, no matter how painful, must go on. It has on both sides of the Bay since the tragedy struck. Baseball did the right thing in allowing a time for families to care for their injured, to bury their loved ones. It could well have found more support if Vincent stretched it beyond Tuesday to 10 days or even two weeks. It's not perfect at a week, but it's more than acceptable. And, by the time the Series rolls around, this town as well as San Francisco may be ready to have attention diverted from sadness to the Series.

Such diversions play important parts in all lives. It's why Franklin Roosevelt asked baseball to continue its Series during World War II. It's why baseball, and Vincent, were wise to follow the same path in the wake of this tragedy.

La Russa agreed wholly.

"I was out all day yesterday and I talked to a lot of people," La Russa said. "A great majority wanted to know when it would start. They were looking forward to it starting again."

It's about diversions, something positive to latch onto, La Russa believes. "Those are some of the things this game is supposed to provide," he said, "a reprieve, a distraction."

So, even though the A's feel a sadness they know even a sweep won't undo, they are prepared to carry on.

"There's really a hollow feeling when you think about the people who were lost and the people affected by the earthquake," A's designated hitter Dave Parker said. "But from the people I've talked to just out and around on the streets, I think they want to know when the games will be played. I think the city could use a shot in the arm behind this. Hopefully, our winning would give them that shot in the arm they need."

It will not be easy for some. Many an A's player feared for his life and those of his loved ones when they and 62,000 others sat horrified in Candlestick Park Tuesday as the earth buckled and jumped beneath the ballpark. Although engineers appear on the verge of saying that the stadium will be safe to withstand another seven-pointer on the Richter scale, some A's players already have made an important decision. They will play, because that's their job. But, said second baseman Tony Phillips, "My family's not going to be there."

"I know I don't want my family there, either," Parker said. "A lot of players feel that way."

And if the A's win, they will not celebrate with champagne. Not under these circumstances. Already, they have decided to contribute to a relief fund for the earthquake victims.

So don't believe for a second that the A's go gladly back into this battle with the cross-bay rival Giants. Don't believe that whatever high this club derived from being ahead in the Series, 2-0, still exists. There is extreme sadness and not a small amount of fear. But do believe there is more, much more, burning at this team.

Individually, it has a lot to do with the people who play alongside each other. But their emotions are not confined to a clubhouse, a league, but, perhaps for the first time, truly to a city itself.

"I think California is not a safe place for me or my family to be, but I'm a professional athlete and I have an obligation to the team, my teammates and the city of Oakland," Phillips said. "I feel for the people who suffered in this tragedy. It's a no-win situation for baseball. But the only thing for us to do is to go out and try to win."

That feel for the city runs so deep that Parker even lashed out at one too many questions involving Candlestick. For that park is in San Francisco, a city that overshadows Oakland in peaceful times and is doing so, rather unfairly, in this disaster. For, as Parker angrily pointed out, "The focus is not Candlestick. I know the cameras show the (Bay) bridge and its collapse. They show fires burning in San Francisco. But the tragedy was in Oakland."

So the team is drawing a certain amount of inspiration from its city and hopes to give some of that back just by its presence, by its actions. It's why Stewart stands near the rescue area at the Nimitz freeway collapse every day and will until someone says he's not needed.

"I just want to be there in case there's anything I can do," the Oakland-born pitcher said. "Maybe it's just that I can give moral support. But, if there is something I could do more than that, I want to be there and be a part of it."

Other Athletics such as Mark McGwire have expressed the same desire to help, even if it means digging in the rubble. There is more that drives this team. The A's need to finish what they started, not only for the city, but for themselves, as well.

"There's tragedy and adversity everywhere, at many times in one's life," La Russa said. "Many times it's not of this magnitude you're finding this week, but no matter how large, you have to deal with it. One way of dealing with it is to latch on to one thing you've always felt was a worthy goal. And I don't think that's anything to be ashamed of, if you're not shutting down, but carrying on."

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