OAKLAND, Calif. -- There's work to be done out here in Section 149. Regular right fielder Josh Reddick, fully indoctrinated in the traditions of the A's fans who occupy the bleachers above him at the Coliseum, knows what to do after an out: Wait for the drummer up there to finish a little riff, then raise a digit for each man set down that inning, in unison with his loyal crew. Reddick does it with élan, slashing the air with his fingers.
But he's hurt now, and the replacements need to be brought up to speed, lest the mojo of the right-field bleachers should wane. Seth Smith is making a rare appearance at the position on this particular afternoon, and he's … well, he's trying.
After a nice running catch into foul territory, Smith comes back and signals one out to the folks above. To a newcomer in Section 149, he appears to have mastered the gesture, albeit with minimal style. But the newcomer failed to spot critical nuance lacking in Smith's presentation.
"He did it before the drumbeat ended," Will MacNeil says. "We still have to train him."
Over two weekend games, members of the Section 149 tribe agree to another kind of instruction, teaching a visitor from the press box their history, rituals and quirks. Watching them from a distance, in a spot that offers a better view, full stats sheet and free hot dogs, has become tantalizing, even irresistible in recent years. They have rendered the cheap seats the nerve center of this stadium.
In most ballparks, this group would constitute a charming subculture. In Oakland's largely forsaken concrete fortress, the little corner in right field is the symphony, opera, art museum, theater and planetarium. It is the hub of Coliseum culture, unless we're counting mold.
To be fair, the deficiencies of the stadium ultimately enhance the experience of bleacher living. The Coliseum's limited allure guarantees audiences small and quiet enough to permit audible conversation with right fielders inclined to engage.
This is how the Royals' Jeff Francoeur became an adopted son of Oakland. They bantered with each other. They exchanged gifts. They became a model of peace, love and understanding in professional sports.
When Francoeur revealed the name of his fantasy-football quarterback, he received an Aaron Rodgers Cal jersey, signed by the bleacher dwellers. He still has it at home. He also got a platter of bacon, which probably still resides in his intestines. The folks in 149 got two dozen pizzas and a baseball wrapped with a $100 bill under a rubber band, and a note inviting them to splurge on beer or bacon. (Instead, they encased the ball and bill in a plastic souvenir cube.)
When the Royals came to Oakland last weekend, Francoeur turned up in the Coliseum parking lot for the third annual bacon festival on Friday. How did Francoeur know exactly where to appear? The series hadn't started so the usual chatter wouldn't have sufficed for an invitation.
"I have his email address," says Anson Casaneres, a 26-year-old resident of 149 who might be called one of the section's leaders if the people there believed in hierarchies.
"He's a good dude," Francoeur explains simply, as if there's nothing unusual about a major-leaguer turning over contact information to an opposing team's fan. "I like him."
He appreciates the fact that, even as their team's owners fight to flee town and set up shop in San Jose, this portion of the crowd remains devoted to the A's and to the idea that baseball can create communities.
Two the bleacher denizens became roommates after meeting in Section 149. Casaneres and Charlie Fernandez-Hibbard have shared a place in Oakland for about year. In the offseason, members of the tribe gather for bowling nights twice a month, just to be together until opening day restores their routine. Last summer, they played miniature golf with their left-field brethren, the park's passionate core until a few years ago.
"One of our drummers has like four kids now," Cassandra Wilson says, explaining the shift at a tailgate gathering, where she fraternizes with folks from 149.
"We calls ourselves a little fan-ily," says Casanares. He spells out the word and carefully adds a footnote: "That term comes from Bobby in left field."
They're unusual fans, hardcore with a sweet center and an artist's sensibilities. On any given night, Section 149 might sound like a "Seinfeld" remake for the Food Network. Ross Retzler, another undeclared chieftain, spawned the fetish that became a festival by handing out bacon-flavored mints at one game. Conversation soon meandered around the many uses for pig products. Someone noted the arrival of bacon-scented soap on the market.
So was born Bacon Tuesday, a culinary escapade deliberately timed to coincide with a visit from Kansas City. "We said, 'We'll see who the real fans are, if they're here for the Royals on Tuesday night,'" says Dennis Biles.
The first-generation concoctions included bacon soaked in beer and then dipped in chocolate, bacon Whoopie Pies and glazed donuts wrapped in bacon. Some of the most exotic creations received rave reviews.
"But to be honest, it hurt later on," MacNeil says.
At some point that first year, the group asked Francoeur for his take on their menu's staple. "He nodded his head, and I think he rubbed his stomach," Retzler said. So they arranged a delivery behind the dugout after the game. When the 2013 schedule showed the Royals making only a weekend trip, Bacon Tuesday became Bacon Friday, now backed by the Coliseum scoreboard, which posted bacon trivia and a "bacon inning" promotion from Farmer John, distributing coupons to a section of the park. The skinny strips had gone big-time, and the cheap seats were radiating marketing options.
Another game's banter put another grease-drenched meat on the agenda, and roped another right fielder into bleacher frivolity. The topic was the ever-polarizing Popeyes or Church's fried chicken question: Which was better? When the pollsters hollered to Torii Hunter, he voted for Popeyes. Somehow, that got him on the hook to deliver samples to the seats.
For the next two years, whenever he turned up in the Coliseum, he'd hear: "Where's our chicken?" When some A's fans visited Anaheim, they heckled him for a meal there. Last August, four months after the Francoeur pizzas, Hunter came through, sending several boxes of Popeyes into the stands.
This spring, a mock Josh Hamilton Appreciation Night, in honor of a botched play that helped the A's win their division last year, brought gracious smiles from the honoree, who gamely munched a Butterfingers bar sent his way from the stands. This bit of theater, Section 149 residents note, was staged by neighbors in 148. It's something of a fine point, since general-admission tickets allow open seating in the bleachers, which haven't really been bleachers since Al Davis disfigured the stadium to make way for the Raiders' return in 1995. Section 149 has real seats, complete with cupholders, but still infused with bleacher mentality.)
"I've gone to other stadiums, and I've never seen fans interact with players the way we do," says Jorge Leon, 28.
When Francoeur reports to his spot in right in the first inning, they stand, cheer and shout "Frenchy." He tips his cap. It's an odd scene, but only one thing blunts their affection. They adore Reddick, and can't bear the thought of slighting him. They make a point of saying that he, too, came to the bacon festival. They salute his love of professional wrestling; he gave them a championship belt last year as a right-field talisman.
"We treasure it," Retzler said. "It's in need of repair these days, because we've brought it out a lot already."
Most recent A's right fielders have taken to the custom of "doing the outs," although Ryan Sweeney never could get with the program. But Reddick took to the tradition as if it were invented for him.
"If we don't do it, he's kind of superstitious, and you can tell he gets mad," Leon said.
For the team as a whole, Section 149 borrows rituals from soccer and Japanese baseball, where fans stand throughout games and sing songs tailored to each player. The first three rows contain the most committed souls, coordinating every move. When the other team is at-bat with two outs, two balls and two strikes, they go into their "Deuces" routine, holding their caps out in front of them upside down, as if begging for change, and then wave them side to side. If the pitcher is a lefty, they hold the caps with their right hands, and vice versa.
When the A's score a run, they sing a retailored Manchester United ditty.
We love you Oakland,
We love you Oakland
We love you Oakland
Oh Oakland, we love you
They don't hold out much hope for the song catching on throughout the park. Sporadic attendance (the 2012 division-winning A's ranked 27th out of 30 in MLB) generally rules out concerted expression of more than a few syllables. So far, Section 149's biggest export to the rest of the park has been the Balfour Rage, a frenzied arm-spinning salute to closer Grant Balfour and his Metallica "One" warm-up music.
MacNeil started the gesture spontaneously one day last year, just reacting to the moment and the tune. His fellow 149ers found it amusing at first, but eventually bought in. By the end of the season, as attendance and passion swelled, the whole stadium joined in, with some head-banging sideshows. The display began in right field, in the cheap seats, without thunder sticks or rally towels or radio broadcasters or even scoreboard exhortations to juice the trend.
One might even call it a grass-roots movement, soaked in bacon fat.