Sep 27, 2013, 5:12 PM PST
Being a legend has its burdens. Field of Teams learned that lesson the hard way.
When the first A’s Hall of Fame race took place on August 3, an innocent comment turned into a daily discussion. What would it be like if a certain reporter suited up and ran in the race? Surely, everyone would get a big laugh.
After weeks of negotiating and friendly taunting, there was simply no backing down. On September 17, it was time to put up or shut up. The A’s brought our crew into the bowels of Mt. Davis, where there were three “big head” costumes waiting. The obvious choice was to suit up as Rickey Henderson, that turned out to be a big mistake.
In the spirit of the Sausage Race in Milwaukee, the A’s created cartoonish likenesses of three of their past Hall of Fame players, Henderson, Rollie Fingers and Dennis Eckersley.
The concept started during turn-back-the-clock day last season. The A’s rented costumes of prominent characters from the 50s to run around on the field before the game. After seeing the costumes in action, the A’s thought it would be fun to get some “big heads” made up of past A’s players. What better way to use them than in a race? At first, they thought about doing the race for special events, but it was a huge hit. Now it is done during every home game.
Racing as Henderson, baseball’s all-time stolen base leader, holds a certain amount of responsibility. Over confident and under prepared, the weight of the situation quickly began to take its toll. The first warning sign was when a change of clothes was brought out for the race. After exchanging a CSN polo shirt and jeans for white baseball pants and an A’s t-shirt, the transformation began.
The heads on these suits weigh around 35 pounds and stand over four-feet tall. The head is placed on your shoulders and then several straps are tightened for support. If you lean in any direction, the weight of the head takes the rest of your body with it. If you fall down, it’s pretty much impossible to get up. The A’s have personnel on hand to help pick racers up if they take a tumble. It has yet to happen, but it certainly adds to the gravity of the situation when running in front of an announced crowd of 18,771 people.
It quickly became apparent why the change of clothes was necessary. It’s ridiculously hot inside the costume. There’s a small see-through window in the neck of the costume — which is where your face is positioned — and you’re lucky to catch an occasional cool breeze.
After a few quick warmup jogs behind the scenes, it is time to head toward left field. Already soaked in sweat before the race even begins, you have to hide behind the left field fence and wait for the half inning to end with fans shouting down at you from the bleachers above.
As soon as the third out in the top of the sixth inning is recorded, the fence swings open and the race is on. It doesn’t seem that far, but you quickly learn it is an endurance race. The key is to jog from left field to home plate and then go into a full sprint after making the turn toward right field.
Hitting the turn in a full sprint is a recipe for disaster, because the suits are heavy and visibility is low. With free sausages for an entire section on the line, you can faintly hear the sound of fans cheering over your own heavy breathing and pounding footsteps.
Members of the A’s hype team “The Herd” run in the race nightly. They always compete amongst each other. They weren’t about to take it easy on an outsider — even if that outsider was dressed as the fastest A’s player ever.
On that night, Fingers won the race with Eckersley finishing second. Boos rained down from the right field bleachers as Henderson finished third. There would be no free sausages for Rickey’s section that night.
Field of Teams
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