A's-Giants: Cardboard paste-ups and broadcasts from afar

© Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

OAKLAND — It wasn’t as strange as you might have imagined, this exhibition game in the middle of summer with photos on cardboard in the seats instead of real, live fans.

The grounds crew had the field in perfect shape. The Coliseum scoreboards were glowing. The public address system was loud — the better to keep those human replicas informed.

We wanted baseball and, for better or worse this COVID-19 year, we have baseball. Empty ballparks, recorded cheers, but still three strikes you’re out and a ball over the fence, as hit by the Athletics’ Stephen Piscotty in the third, still is a home run.

The Giants won this one Monday night, beating the A’s, 6-2, Austin Slater driving in five runs. The same teams play again Tuesday night across the bay at Oracle Park in San Francisco. Then it’s on to a short — and who knows how sweet — regular season.

What the Giants know is for awhile, as on Monday night, they will be without their corner power guys: first baseman Brandon Belt and third baseman Evan Longoria, both of whom went on the injured list, as did Oakland pitcher A.J. Puk.

In this era when face masks are the new normal, injuries seem to be the old normal for Puk. He had rotator cuff surgery in the spring of ’18, and then this March — the legitimate spring training, not this summer camp stuff — hurt his left pitching arm again.

No panic in Oakland. Daniel Mengden will move into the No. 5 slot in the rotation that Puk was to have held.

“It’s great to have this kind of depth,” said A’s manager Bob Melvin. “Mengden looked great. He threw four innings last time out and didn’t give up any runs. He’s tweaked some things in his delivery and looks more aggressive. It’s nice to have that depth, but we don’t want to get too deep into that too early in this season.”

What we can get into is Monday night’s fascinating game, fascinating because if not one of a kind — all the major league clubs are undergoing this situation — then one of a very few and very unusual.

A couple of nights ago, the Yankees played the Mets at Yankee Stadium, on national TV, naturally, with two New York franchises, but that ballpark also looked lonelier. Or is that West Coast type thinking?

Things, on field and off, are being done that rarely ever before have been done. Maybe never been done. Reserves, the “taxi squad,” a term borrowed from the NFL, sit in the stands. The A’s had enough people in the right field seats to play two more games, at the same time.

To avoid the dangers of travel, team broadcasters in most cases are going no farther than their home stadium, even for road games.

As you’ve read or heard, the A’s have been unable to land on one of those old-fashioned AM radio stations.

So Monday night, I checked the other side, the Giants. Jon Miller and Dave Fleming indeed were doing the game on KNBR, from Oracle Park in San Francisco. “I can see the Coliseum lights,” said Miller, calling the game off TV.

Miller grew up in Hayward, not far from the Coliseum, and once did A’s games. But in those days he was at the Coliseum, not peering at it from 20 miles away.

Ken Korach and Vince Cotroneo are the A’s current, well, shall we call them non-radio announcers. Yes, they’re available on a station in Sacramento (where the Giants have a minor league team that, like all minor league teams, has been voted into non-existence) or on the internet.

The irony is the A’s have a team worth listening to or following, picked by many as a possibility for the World Series. But unless there’s a change, you won’t hear the A’s.

And you can’t see them either, unless you’re a cardboard pasteup.

Reggie Jackson never had to go through this, did he?