On any given Oakland A’s home game -- night or day, winning or losing -- you'll find charged-up, colorful and sometime cacophonous A’s fans sitting far out in the right field bleachers at the Oakland Coliseum. You can’t miss them. They bang drums, wave flags, chant, sing and make a lot of noise.
But what they create is more than a big enthusiastic sound. It’s a pounding beat and jangling rhythm with a point, a mission and a history. Metallic pops, stick snaps and rimshots let radio and TV audiences know immediately. This is Oakland.
“Gotta support the team,” says Bryanne Aler-Ningas, the unofficial bandleader of the right field rhythm section. “Our atmosphere here is pretty active, pretty festive. So it’s always a party and that's what attracted me. I've been here all my life.”
Aler-Ningas was born and raised in Oakland and used to come to the games as a kid with his grandparents, parents and siblings.
“It's a time-honored tradition that we come out here and support the team," he says proudly. "I remember doing our homework in the parking lot before we went in."
The drum beating is said to have begun in the early 2000s, with a small group of college-age fans who drummed in left field.
“They were the originals,” says Will MacNeil, Section 149’s longest-running flag-waver and fill-in drummer. “Our group started bringing the drums about 2006, 2007, and they've been banging away ever since. I can’t complain. They help bring a lot of atmosphere to this place.”
MacNeil has been an A’s fan his entire life, too, even though he says his family wasn’t sure how that happened. “All my family is Giants fans. So I'm the outcast of the family,” he laughs. “I loved the colors. That's what hooked me to them. I'm not black and orange. It's not Halloween in my household!”
Although she just started playing the drum this year, Nina Thorsen has been sitting with the bleacher crew for the past 12 years. “I used to play the tambourine, but it's much harder to achieve the beats with one,” she says.
Thorsen, who also happens to work at KQED, is originally from Minnesota. She loved the Twins, but the A’s eventually won her over. “The A's have a unique character. They have a kind of ‘do-it-yourself’ almost punk quality to them,” she says earnestly. “Also it's just a very fun place. The team, the players and the fans seem to sort of all have a spirit that matches each other.”
It’s that welcoming spirit and underdog tale that many A’s fans say drew them to the team in the first place.
“We came up with the ‘I believe in Stephen Vogt’ chant up here. It's kind of like the U.S. men's soccer team chant,” explains Aler-Ningas.
Vogt does have a Cinderella story. He was called to the majors in 2013 after spending six seasons in the minors. By the time the A’s bought the 29-year-old rookie’s contract for $150,000, Vogt’s Major League batting stats were a painful 0 for 32. He wasn’t doing well. But with the A’s, he did. Vogt -- now a member of the Milwaukee Brewers -- became a back-to-back All-Star catcher for Oakland.
“He's our kind of guy. The total underdog story. That's Oakland,” says Aler-Ningas.
And, he says, that’s why they drum. To root for the underdog. A team that hasn’t won the World Series since 1989. A “Moneyball” team that has one of the lowest payrolls in the majors -- and that narrowly beat out the Tampa Bay Rays for the lowest league attendance over the past two seasons.
But those numbers don’t bother the drum-beating diehards. They seem to make them stronger. More committed. More in love with their team and their town.
“Whether it's 5,000 or 50,000 in this place, it's just, I love it!" says Aler-Ningas. "I don't know, I’m an Oakland guy."
“Within the bleacher right field and left field, we call ourselves the 'FANily.' So it's something that we embraced,” says Andy Cho, a longtime A’s fan and drummer. “We're very, very close. We spend more time with each other than we do with our own families at times.”
And now, finally, this FANily has something else to beat the drum about. The A’s just announced their intention to build a downtown ballpark at the Lake Merritt campus of Laney College and stay rooted in Oakland.
Rooted, just like these fans.
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