Click photo to enlarge
Oakland Athletics owner Lew Wolff, center top, celebrates among fans as Brandon Moss (37) and Josh Donaldson (20) get a warm welcome back in the dugout after scoring on Derek Norris' two-run single against the Texas Rangers in the fifth inning of their MLB game at O.co Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012. (Ray Chavez/Staff)

Having completed one of the most miraculous comebacks in pennant-race history, the Oakland A's inexplicably find themselves in the playoffs this weekend.

Like a lot of people in these parts, I am overjoyed, but I'm also burdened by a crisis of conscience. Why? Because this longtime passionate A's fan suddenly feels very much like a bandwagon-jumper.

If that makes any sense.

I call it A's Guilt, and I've got a bad case of it. I am now one of those sports fans I've always sneered at: the Johnny-come-lately who arrives at the party only after it's been branded as "cool." The dude who waited too long to get a clue.

Consequently, I missed out on most of the fun. Those dramatic walk-off home runs. The rookie-pitcher heroics. All the Grant Balfour raging.

I didn't attend my first and only A's game of the season until just a few weeks ago and was ashamed to discover that I didn't even know how to do "The Bernie."

This was a startling realization for a guy who had been rooting for the A's since the Charlie Finley years. A guy who grew up with Catfish Hunter, Sal Bando and Reggie Jackson. A guy who truly bled green and gold.

I was that kid who, as a second-grader in Catholic school, took a huge risk by smuggling a transistor radio into my desk to follow the A's during the 1972 World Series. And as painfully shy as I was, I became bold enough to ask my teacher, Sister Mary Jane, to acknowledge the A's during our morning prayers (she graciously complied).


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It didn't stop there. I followed the A's into adulthood, through all the highs and lows, through Billy Ball, the Bash Brothers and Moneyball. I became a season-ticket holder. I planned my days around their games. My wife and I even named our first child after an A's player -- Dave Stewart.

So, what's my excuse for whiffing this season? Well, I became disenchanted with the off-the-field stuff. All the talk by owner Lew Wolff about shipping the team to San Jose depressed me. And when general manager Billy Beane traded away three All-Star pitchers, I assumed the team was giving up on the season, so I would, too.

I told my wife that I would not set foot in the decrepit Oakland Coliseum this year. I would not spend one single penny on a team that for too long has pinched pennies. I even put my declaration out on Twitter -- as if that somehow made it official.

But what I failed to realize is that the players who remained in green and gold have nothing to do with all that. They just play the game. And this season, they played with more heart and passion and chemistry and youthful zest than we've become accustomed to seeing in professional sports.

And I missed all of it. Almost.

A few weeks ago, my sister and 22-year-old nephew, Jeremiah, convinced me to head back to the Coliseum and check out this remarkable band of A's. I even plucked my old jersey out of mothballs to wear, because Jeremiah was wearing his.

It didn't take long for me to get caught up in the utter joy of this team. The electricity of the crowd. The buzz and excitement. And after a few beers, I even managed to do The Bernie. Awkwardly.

Throughout the game, I kept peering over at my usually shy and very low-key nephew, who was hollering and whooping it up and high-fiving strangers in the crowd (this is how sports transforms you). In him, I saw my younger self.

Now, this old A's die-hard is trying his best to get over the guilt and immerse himself in pennant fever. Like someone who ignorantly walked away from his true love, I'm sheepishly returning to celebrate something worth celebrating.

I just hope they'll have me back.

Contact Chuck Barney at cbarney@bayareanewsgroup.com. Read his TV blog at http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/tv, and follow him at Twitter.com/chuckbarney, and Facebook.com/BayAreaNewsGroup.ChuckBarney.