As the 2012 season began, Oakland A's fans were livid -- general manger Billy Beane had again traded some of the team's best players for prospects and owner Lew Wolff talked openly of his desire to move the team to San Jose.
At the Oakland Coliseum before the final regular-season game of the year Wednesday, none of that mattered anymore.
"I grew up a baseball fan, and this has been by far my most fun year ever," Tom Brogan said before the game, from the shade of a chair in the parking lot.
He and his wife, Judy, have been season-ticket holders off-and-on for more than 20 years, but they considered not renewing their tickets this year.
"I was so pissed about Beane trading those three guys," Judy Brogan said of the A's offseason trades involving top pitchers Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey. "I never thought it would be such a magical season."
James Holguin agreed.
"There's magic happening," he said an hour before game time.
Holguin was home in Soledad watching the A's beat the Texas Rangers on Tuesday night to tie the division race and set up Wednesday's do-or-die Game 162 between the two rivals for the division title.
As soon as A's pitcher Grant Balfour struck out the final batter Tuesday night, Holguin rushed to the computer to buy tickets for Wednesday's game for himself and his son, who missed school to make the two-hour drive and see the game.
"I went into work this morning and told
Holguin and his son, Andrew, have bonded over this A's team, and he had to experience the most important game of the year with him.
"You wanna come and be a part of the magic," he said while sipping a beer behind his truck. Andrew stood nearby, waving a broom signifying his desire for a sweep of the Rangers on Wednesday.
The magic didn't stop after the tailgate. With the A's down 5-1 in the second inning, brothers Christian and Jordan Lowe did what they always do when the A's aren't doing well on the field -- they headed to The Field, an Irish pub within the Coliseum.
"When the game is going conversely from how we want it to, we always head down here, and it always turns right around," Christian Lowe said.
After arriving in The Field, the brothers' magic took effect -- the A's scored seven runs in the next two inning to take an 8-5 lead.
"That's how it works," Jordan Lowe said.
The brothers and their friend, Jay Holmgren, all longtime A's fans, said this is the most fun team they can remember.
"I enjoy this team more," Holmgren said.
"This isn't the most talented team ever, but they play together better, all the pieces come together, its so much fun," Jordan Lowe said.
The Lowe brothers were part of a sellout crowd at the Coliseum of 36,067 on Wednesday, with 1,000 of those late sales of standing-room-only tickets. The sellout is rare for the A's. The team is ranked fourth from the bottom in Major League ticket sales through the first 80 games, averaging slightly more than 20,000 fans a game.
"All season long I got tickets and nobody wants them," a ticket scalper who declined to give his name yelled in the parking lot Wednesday. "Today, everybody wants tickets and I can't find any."
One lucky fan, Patrick Oliver of Oakland, had purchased a $2 ticket for the game in January, when prognosticators were proclaiming the A's could lose 100 games.
"I figured if work was more important, I'd give the tickets away on Craigslist. Work is definitely not more important today," he said.
Dawn Urain, Debbie Mierke and Sue Florence bought their tickets two weeks ago, when they last drove down from Sacramento for a game. They recognize many of the players from their time with the A's AAA affiliate, the Sacramento Rivercats -- many of them even spent time there this year.
"They've shocked the world," Urain said.
The pain of not making the playoffs since 2006 and continually seeing the team be rebuilt on the fly with younger, lesser-known players has affected some fans, but this season has turned into a salve for those wounds.
"It's tough being an A's fan. No money to spend, always getting rid of good players," said Robert Magnuson, who drove down from Modesto for the game before heading back to work at 6 p.m.
But this group of players lives up to what Magnuson has become the motto for the A's, Oakland and all their downtrodden fans: "Live cheap, play hard."
Contact Jeremy C. Owens at 408-920-5876; follow him at Twitter.com/mercbizbreak.