Rocker, life-long A's fan Duritz revels in club's run
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Counting Crows aren't much for baseball balladry. They don't feature anything like John Fogerty's "Centerfield," or Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days," although they have long drawn inspiration from The Boss.
One Crows song, called "Carriage," makes a reference to baseball cards near its opening, but that's about it.
Their biggest hit, "Mr. Jones," has nothing to do with Chipper.
"It's a weird thing for me. I love sports and my band," said Adam Duritz, the Crows' 48-year-old front man whose dreads make Manny Ramirez look amateurish. "I don't really see the necessity of mixing it too often, because they don't have anything to do with each other to me."
Duritz means nothing by this, no disparagement. His love of sports is loud and clear, and that includes baseball's darling -- or, down two games to none in the American League Division Series, darling-in-peril -- the A's.
"The thing going on with the A's," Duritz said, "I'm not even sure people realize just how insane it is."
The Crows have played Major and Minor League venues in the past. The 2007 All-Star Game was held in San Francisco, the city where the Crows originated and catapulted to alt-rock stardom in the '90s, and they had a set there.
But in a perfect world, Duritz would have been across the Bay, incognito and in the stands.
Duritz grew up with season tickets in the 200-level at the Oakland Coliseum, with the Dennis Eckersleys and Rickey Hendersons and Jose Cansecos, and even the Billy Ball teams. His father, Gilbert, an old Philadelphia A's fan, was there with him in the seats that looked straight down the third-base line.
"I used to cut school and take [Bay Area Rapid Transit] down to the Coliseum during all the Billy Ball years, go sit in the bleachers for two bucks, whatever it was, $1.50," Duritz said. "It was cheap to sit in the bleachers back then. And then, when I was in college, my dad and I got season tickets to the A's for years, that was during the late '80s and '90s.
"My dad, he taught me to score games when I was a kid. I haven't done that in a long time, but we used to sit at the A's games with those big pads, score all the games, count all the pitches. Try and predict when the pitcher was going to blow up by counting pitches. It was something that my dad and I did together."
College for Duritz was at Berkeley, and there might not be a bigger Cal fan out there. He's called some Berkeley games on air before, and the athletes whom he considers friends are, for the most part, connected to the Golden Bears.
But the A's, too, are fully in Duritz's heart, and this year's team has him shocked like everyone else. Duritz was at the Coliseum in early September when the Red Sox were in town, and he posted pictures to Instagram while Oakland gathered the pixie dust.
Then, as the A's made their division-title push in the final series of the regular season, Duritz's fandom took over his Twitter account.
"The Oakland @Athletics came from 13 back, swept the Rangers & -- on the last day of the season -- won the AL West!!!!" he wrote on the Twitter handle @countingcrows: "Wow."
"It's funny, 'cause they haven't been that great for the last few years, and I thought they were kind of building," Duritz explained. "And I was pretty optimistic. The season started off, it was clear we didn't really have a real contender team, and then they traded a bunch of stuff away and got some good stuff back. I thought [it was a rebuilding time], but maybe [general manager] Billy Beane didn't. ... I wasn't that disappointed when they traded those people away this year, because I thought they have a plan, and by all reports, they're getting good stuff back. Clearly, it was way better than we thought."
Oakland's young pitching is what really slays Duritz. Eight of the 12 pitchers on the ALDS roster are rookies. The Athletics had 101 starts by rookies in the regular season, the most ever for a playoff-bound team.
The 1952 Dodgers had 69.
"People talk about it, but I don't think they are as flipped about that as they are the Triple Crown thing," Duritz said. "But [the rookie-pitchers record is] 15 years older than the Triple Crown record, and they actually shattered it.
"I don't care how good a job [Buck] Showalter did," Duritz continued. "And I love the Orioles and I'm blown away by him getting them back in contention. It's gotta be Bob Melvin [for AL Manager of the Year]. Seriously, there's a reason [the record] was only 69 and that was from back in 1952. 'Cause that's impossible. You can't get 101 starts [from rookies and win]."
Duritz did not play baseball as a kid, although he played most other sports. He was born in Baltimore before moving to Boston and Texas ahead of the Bay Area, so it was fitting that his first big league game was an Orioles-Red Sox doubleheader at Fenway Park.
Duritz doesn't remember much of it, because it was around the time of Carl Yastrzemski's Triple Crown in 1967, and he was born in '64. He knows, though, that he wore a Yaz button.
"I had it for years," Duritz said. "I don't know where it is anymore."
Early on tour in the '90s, before the Crows were truly famous, Duritz remembers going to Orlando Cubs games. He'd talk with Minor League pitchers who were charting behind the plate, and the band even caught some of Michael Jordan's short-lived baseball career.
Big, big stars, now, the Crows just finished up a summer tour promoting their newest record, "Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did On Our Summer Vacation)." The album's made up entirely of covers, mostly from little-known bands that Duritz and the other members of the band fell for. Some of those groups are staying at Duritz's home this month ahead of a free, two-day showcase at The Bowery Electric in New York, Oct. 19-20.
Then, on Oct. 22, the Crows take to the MLB Fan Cave, one day before their fall tour kicks off.
On the summer tour, Duritz was still able to watch the A's despite a wild schedule. No audio -- but he saw what was going on, sometimes right after sets.
"My production manager and my stage manager, in their road cases they have little TV monitors that they've sort of installed," Duritz said. "They have the MLB. package, they get all the games. All summer long, we're there and my production manager's a big Angels fan. We're in third place when the summer started off and we go off on tour. ... I come off the stage, and I go look take a look: 'Where are the A's?'
"He'll flip for over me, I'll just watch the games for a while. Then they tied, they catch the Angels, then they just kept going all summer long. I saw a lot of this with the sound off. We were just watching on the monitor on the side of the stage, and all summer long as I'm on tour, it's like 106 degrees everywhere we go, and we're playing outdoors. I'm watching the A's slowly climb up the standings."
Duritz knows what's going on around the league. He doesn't hate the Giants, in the same way he can have respect for the 49ers as a Raiders fan. On a whole, he's happy baseball is thriving.
Count Duritz among those who thought the Wild Card round would fail. He takes that back now.
"At this moment, you would really have to say, the best commissioner and the most impressive one and the one who's really making things work, in all of professional sports, would have to be Bud Selig," Duritz said.
The best ballgame Duritz said he attended was one of the classic Roger Clemens-Dave Stewart, Boston-Oakland matchups. He was at plenty of World Series games during the 1988-90 run, although he wasn't there the night of the earthquake. He remembers being in the stands when Henderson took the stolen-base record and Nolan Ryan threw his sixth no-hitter, both against the A's.
With all those memories, Duritz doesn't want the A's to leave Oakland, if avoidable.
"That stadium, it's not a great stadium. I've always loved it because it's the stadium I grew up going to," Duritz said. "I've been to other stadiums, so I know how much it lacks as a stadium. The truth is, it's the only place left in sports where they're sharing. But Oakland's not a rich town, you know. ... My dad was an A's fan in Philadelphia growing up. His dad liked the Phillies, he liked the A's. When we got to California, for him it was like coming home. That was his team coming home. He always loved the A's. I kind of love that they're the Oakland A's, I love that it's an Oakland thing."
If the A's make it out of this rut and into the World Series -- it sure is hard to doubt them these days -- don't look for Duritz to do any national anthems.
He'll be on the tour, anyway, and if he manages to get to a game, he'll be there just to watch. The Stars and Stripes aren't getting the Counting Crows treatment.
"I don't want to sing the national anthem ever, that's too hard to sing," Duritz said. "When I'm at the game, I wanna be at the game, and enjoy the game. I'm not there to be famous guy. The national anthem, it's like the whole world is [watching] -- I don't need it. I have enough time as famous guy, I just like to go to games and see the A's."
As long as he doesn't have to go through another Kirk Gibson episode.
"The worst moment ever," Duritz said of the famed 1988 World Series homer Gibson hit against Oakland. "I was at my friend Mike's house, one of my best friends, and we were going to all the A's games together and we were at his place for that game. God, Eckersley hadn't walked anybody the entire year, he walked that guy -- that was the worst moment ever. I've never watched another moment at Mike's house ever."