The Washington Times - September 5, 2009, 11:26AM

OAKLAND, Calif. – If you’ll indulge, I’m going to litter this space with an improbable fan story I certainly wouldn’t believe if it hadn’t just happened last night at whatever the heck they’re calling the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum these days.

In the week or two leading into Maryland’s football trip to California, I toyed with the idea of spending Friday night at the A’s game. The reasons were plentiful. The Bay Bridge is closed this week, I’m staying a mile or so from both the airport and the coliseum and it would be a solid way to try to adapt to the time change for a 10 p.m. Eastern kickoff the next day.

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Still, I wasn’t quite sure if it was worth it, but InsideMdSports.com’s Seth Hoffman prodded me into going. It was smart that he did.

After a sneaky use of the hotel’s shuttle service to get a free lift over to the coliseum (thus saving $17 in parking), we crossed a barren pedestrian bridge a little more than an hour before game time. Once at the ticket window, we exploited one of the best deals anyone could possibly fathom:

* Four Plaza Level tickets (full price: $96)
* Four hot dogs (full price: $20)
* Four sodas (full price: $17)
* Four bags of peanuts (full price: $17)

All for $50. Yes, the welcoming A’s are willing to deeply discount anything to get folks into a game. And while the seats were in the second level beyond third base, the guy at the ticket booth assured us we could spread out with no danger of using someone else’s eat.

So we were also left with two extra tickets. But not for long, since Seth just handed them to a couple in line behind us.

It turned out to be a brilliant karmic move. About 10 minutes after sitting down is seats with a solid view of the field, a member of the A’s entertainment staff strolled up – clearly to talk to us since no one else was in the section.

The topic? “Would you like to be our seat upgrade fans of the game?” (Our chances of being asked this question at that point were probably around one in eight.)

Typically, my “seat upgrade program” is like most folks’ – wait until the fourth inning and move down closer to the field. Occasionally, it’s more brazen – like going and sitting right under the press box at meaningless September games at Camden Yards.

But we were assured we’d be in box seats 13 rows from the field, and all we each had to do was wear a garish StubHub t-shirt (which happened to be ridiculously small for me) and be interviewed on the video board at the end of the first inning.

Oh, and the tickets’ face value was $48 each. This after paying $50 total to even get in the place.

In a sign of things to come, a handful of ushers and season ticket holders came up to us and knowingly told us we were the seat upgrade fans.

Apparently, the coliseum – a perfectly nice cereal bowl from the 1960s, minus the eyesore that is Mount Davis is center field – is sort of like “Cheers,” where everybody knows your name. The A’s fans were definitely up there with Milwaukee’s among the friendliest I’ve encountered in my travels.

The spot so close to the field opened up some interesting experiences. There was the vendor who so effectively rolled the “r’s” in “churrrrrrrrrro,” that I was very nearly compelled to fork over $4 for a cinnamon snack based on his verbal skills alone.

There was the process of trying to go purchase all that food we originally secured, only to find it wasn’t quite so easy to haul it all back to the seats.

Among the game highlights of two teams (Seattle and Oakland) I’ve paid no attention to all season:

* In the only disappointing twist of the night, Ken Griffey Jr. was announced in the original lineup, but it was soon corrected and Mike Sweeney was in his place as the Mariners’ designated hitter. That was a bit of a tease.

* Oakland’s pitcher was won Clayton Mortensen, who I would later be reminded was part of the Matt Holliday deal. I proceeded to call him Viggo throughout the night, just for my own amusement.

* It’s not a Mariners game without seeing Ichiro reach out and slap a pitch between short and third for a run-scoring single. In the last 30 years, he and Tony Gwynn were the absolute best at that trick. Maybe Wade Boggs belongs on that list, but I was nearly as happy as the contingent of Japanese fans who brought Ichiro signs to see that little feat.

* In a sign of what sort of season Oakland is having, the sentence “Kurt Suzuki is second on the team with 11 home runs, behind only Jack Cust” popped up at one point or another.

* Not only saw a Seattle fan ejected for falling onto the field in pursuit of a ball a player tossed up before crowd members dropped it onto the warning track, but the guy was allowed back after an inning (as well he should have been).

* And when Nomar Garciaparra went deep in the seventh inning, the handful of people in our new section received a coupon for a free pizza.

All this on a night that nearly was spent in the hotel.

As Seth said when we first got into the stadium and surveyed the mostly empty scene (attendance: 11,738, which isn’t among Oakland’s 10 smallest of the season), there’s a chance you’ll see something you’ve never seen before.

Ain’t that the truth. And last night, that meant seeing maybe the best fan experience of my lifetime – past, present and probably future as well.

Patrick Stevens