I discovered the YouTube channel gamer_athletics last April when Major League Baseball did some selective editing of a highlights package. The story is well-known now: on April 28, Ryan Noda hit a home run to right field at the Oakland Coliseum, where some fans, unimpressed with Athletics ownership, had hung protest banners. The banners were visible on the broadcast, but when MLB released the highlights from the game, the banners had been edited out, replaced by a nauseatingly zoomed-in shot of the outfield seats, Noda’s home run ball nowhere in sight. The edit was a good metaphor, it seemed, not only for the A’s season (5-23 when the game finished; 50-112 when the season did) but also for their ownership’s approach: what was supposed to be a slick avoidance of conflict was obviously petty and somewhat physically sickening.
MLB later corrected the error, and said it didn’t know about the edit, but not before the fan accounts that had noticed, including the UK-based group that had first spotted it, gained some attention. I guess I have the many algorithms of the internet to thank for the fact that, after having clicked around among a few A’s accounts, I was eventually served a video by gamer_athletics.
gamer_athletics, which is run by Gabriel Hernandez, has been running for more than 6 years now, part of a small ecosystem of baseball vlogging channels mostly dominated by established stars like Zack Hample and dodgerfilms’ Bobby Crosby. Hample’s is a specialist channel that follows his unrelenting desire to collect baseballs and the sometimes controversial means by which he gets them. Crosby’s channel is more general: there’s Dodgers baseball, video games, and footage from his softball league.
Hernandez’s channel is different. YouTube rewards the shocking, the dramatic, and the fluffy—think of those prank shows that begin with a teaser of something violent or ridiculous and only show you the underwhelming results 25 minutes later. There’s nothing like this on gamer_athletics; instead, Hernandez takes his camera along to a ballgame (he was a season ticket holder until the end of 2023), records his experience, updates his audience on the A’s in general, and heads home. Many videos end in the parking lot outside the Oakland Coliseum with a recap of the day. He almost always meets one of his many friends inside the park, and he sometimes chats with a player he knows, all of whom are happy to sign his extensive, well-curated collection of A’s memorabilia.
gamer_athletics is relaxing viewing no matter what is happening in baseball, but it struck me in April, as I watched more and more, that Hernandez’s channel was also something more: if MLB was going to sanitize the A’s situation, even to the minute level of a few protest signs, then gamer_athletics and other A’s accounts like it were a rare chance to see something you couldn’t see anywhere else, and something MLB didn’t want to sh0w you: A’s fandom continuing in Oakland, thriving even, despite ownership insistence that the team had to move. Over the summer, as the A’s passed a few key bureaucratic thresholds on their path to a Vegas move, Hernandez’s channel grew to include the nascent protest movement against the A’s ownership: there he was helping to organize and promote the Reverse Boycott, the Unite the Bay game (his idea), and the fan giveaways of protest memorabilia.
This wealth of creativity and organization—usually an uneasy pair—was astonishing to witness, even over YouTube. Viewers of gamer_athletics are reminded, if they didn’t know already, that we don’t watch baseball for the huge contracts, the superteams, or even for playoff success alone. There is something else that happens in a ballpark, something that can’t be captured easily by statistics and finances, or even by glory and success.
It’s cruel, if not ironic, that the A’s are back for the first time since Moneyball in the national consciousness, this time not for innovation and success but for their likely move to Vegas. (Most of my friends who don’t watch baseball could tell you that the A’s are moving, but couldn’t name a single player.) But despite a rising subscriber count and the increasing press coverage surrounding the team, Hernandez has stuck to the baseball, too: there he was at the Domingo Germán perfect game (“unfortunately,” he says); the game after the reverse boycott, when attendance plunged back to normal levels, and the last homestand of the 2023 season.
When I sat down to speak with Hernandez over Zoom last week, I had a host of notes ready. I want to ask about the summer, how the stadium felt, how the people inside it were reacting. I wanted to know how it felt to learn about the move, and how it felt to protest against his team’s executives. And I wanted to start by telling him what I think his channel is: a vital baseball archive, something that will make possible the history books that will one day chronicle the A’s ungraceful exit from Oakland.
But as Hernandez joins the Zoom, flanked by A’s memorabilia, I realize I’m wide of the mark. I’m a breathless, myth-making writer; he is a relaxed, friendly baseball fan with encyclopedic knowledge of the A’s. We start by discussing the wall of photos behind him, which is impressive: Grant Balfour, Paul Blackburn, and Jed Lowrie share real estate with some more well-known modern A’s like Marcus Semien. When I tell him that I found gamer_athletics during the edit controversy, he remembers it better than I do. (I’d checked the details only minutes beforehand.)
“Yeah, that was April?” he says.
For the next hour, I use words like “resource” and “document,” and Hernandez mostly ignores my jargon, gently leading me through a fascinating hour recap of his channel’s history, the 2023 season, and the harrowing experience of watching your team try to leave your city.
After watching the A’s make the playoffs back-to-back in 2012 and 2013, and watching Stephen Vogt hit a walk-off single in Game 2 of the 2013 ALDS, Hernandez says he “fell in love with the sport and everything that goes with it: the Coliseum, the fans, everything.”
Hernandez’s love of the A’s stuck, though he was “devastated” when most of the 2014 team was traded away, in what would later become a pattern. For a class in his final year of high school, he made a documentary about the A’s, titled “Oakland is Home,” which became the first video posted on gamer_athletics. It’s remarkably well done, and in it are the signs of Hernandez’s later style. He talks personably to all kinds of fans: men, women, couples, and even a mysterious figure known as “Coco Fingers,” who wears a green mask with a painted-on mustache and twirls drumsticks as he talks about the 1989 World Series, the first A’s game he attended.
Hernandez was aware of channels like Hample’s and Crosby’s when making the documentary, he says and knew that it was rare for a small-market team like Oakland to get the same treatment. The idea for the channel came to him then. “What if it was…for a team that, in a sense, nobody really cares about?” he says. “What if I was that voice for A’s fans?” He understands the way a channel can bring about empathy too; “When the Dodgers lost [this year],” he says, “I was like ‘dang.’ I know Bobby [Crosby] is upset right now.”
There are ominous signs in that first video, too: a shot of Dave Kaval in aviator sunglasses and an ill-fitting jacket plays as a woman praises his stadium upgrades, while a man says that Kaval is making “a lot of changes.” “Are they good or bad? We don’t know yet,” he continues. “He should more reflect his support towards the team and getting better players than getting different foods out here.” Another fan remarks “we don’t fill up the stadium, or anything like that, but you can count on 10,000 rowdy fans screaming their hearts out for their Oakland A’s.” At the end of the video, we hear from Coco Fingers again: “We have drums. We have right field. We have left field. We have banners. We have flags. I mean, where else do you see all that? We came here for this. For the fans.”
It wasn’t on the horizon, back in 2017, that in six years Hernandez’s viewers would be commiserating with him and other A’s fans about a move to Las Vegas and not just a bad playoff loss or a historically stingy ownership.
We talk more about what it was like to watch the A’s this year. Hernandez tells me that, after the news of the move broke in April, he didn’t watch any road games, which he normally does. “Don’t ask me what happened in the 5th inning of, you know, whatever, because I don’t know,” he says, speaking like someone who would normally enjoy adding these things to a mental Rolodex. “I can’t sit there and watch a game without thinking about all this stuff.”
Then, in May, he caught a Ramón Laureano home run. He wasn’t supposed to be at the game, he tells me, since he made a pledge not to buy more tickets after the Vegas move was announced. But he got free tickets via the Ballpark app, which occasionally gives out day-of-game deals, and in the 4th inning he caught the ball, on the fly, in full view of the broadcast. He’d never caught a home run hit by an A’s player before.
“If it wasn’t for Ramon’s home run, I don’t know how I would have made it through the rest of the season. That was one of the things I was upset about. Because if this does indeed go through…one of the things I’ve always thought about was that I’d never caught an A’s home run in the stadium. It just kind of sat in the back of my mind…technically I only have two seasons left of trying to catch a home run ball. And I was like, ‘What if I don’t?'”
But he did, and the home run ball gave him a “boost of energy” to keep going with the channel. Four videos later, the A’s were on pace to win 29 games. Hernandez went to the stadium amid grisly weather and watched them lose their 11th straight. In June, A’s fans organized a “Reverse Boycott,” packing the stadium with fans, organizing “Sell the Team!” chants at specific times, and handing out shirts that said “Sell.” Hernandez was involved in the planning, and the boycott went well. Speaking to me about it, he remarks that he talked to a current A’s player who agreed that the boycott’s atmosphere was great. “That’s how the ballpark should be,” says Hernandez. “We should all be there, supporting and watching our guys play baseball. And that’s it. We shouldn’t be doing any of this.”
“Chapman did it in 2018 or ’19,” he says, talking about the frustration players and fans feel about attendance at the Coliseum. “He was asking fans to show up. And while it was a great plea, and I totally understand his frustrations about not having that type of fanbase show up, you gotta also remember, Chapman, you’ve only been here for two or three years at that point. We’ve been watching this team for years. This guy [John Fisher] has been trashing this team. There’s a reason most fans don’t show up, and it’s because we know that, in time, you’ll be gone, too.”
Hernandez was right; Chapman, perhaps Oakland’s best player in recent memory, was traded in 2022, almost immediately after the lockout ended. His move to the Blue Jays might have counted as normal baseball heartbreak if Oakland didn’t already have such a torrid recent history of trading away star players.
It’s clear that, as a baseball fan, the trades have weighed on Hernandez. But there are other concerns, now, too. We speak about the atmosphere in the stadium, which seems more negative than usual to Hernandez, who hears visiting fans say negative things about the A’s, or express happiness about the Vegas move. The negativity has spilled onto social media, too; last summer, Hernandez turned off notifications on his social channels. But it’s clear he feels a responsibility to his viewers, who rely on the videos for A’s updates. When I ask him what his plans are for Opening Day, it’s clear he’s thought carefully.
“That’s a difficult one,” he says. “I think I’m still going to end up going to some games during the season. You said my videos were a resource, and I take pride in that. I feel like it sucks if I just take myself out of the equation.”
There’s a documentary about the A’s being made, he tells me, and the filmmakers rely on footage from him. Plus, there are protests planned for Opening Day. He’ll go to the Coliseum on that day, he thinks, and try to record what’s happening inside and outside.
When we finish speaking, Hernandez gives me a tour of his A’s collection, which is as extensive a museum of baseball memorabilia as I’ve ever seen. (His friend, he promises, has a whole garage of the stuff.) As we say goodbye and log off, I’m struck by the weight of A’s fandom now, and of Hernandez’s commitment in particular. Watching a bad team is enough punishment, as we all know; plenty of people find pain and suffering in watching a good team, too. I realize that I don’t know if I could invest myself in a team that was threatening a move, let alone orchestrating one. But Hernandez and gamer_athletics provide us something like a model for how to go on in times not only hard but unfair and cruel: How to give of yourself when you’re not guaranteed anything back.
The last gamer_athletics video from the 2023 season is titled “The End of the Worst Season…EVER.” You can imagine a Mets or Dodgers fan saying something similar, ranting against reckless spending or a postseason hitting collapse, respectively. But when Hernandez says that 2023 was the worst season ever, he’s right.
In the video, Hernandez has traveled to Angel Stadium to see his team’s last game of 2023. As Zack Gelof strikes out to end the A’s season, Ryan Noda hands his batting gloves over the dugout to Hernandez. He’s excited. His friend got Gelof’s bat, which is something, too. Soon we’re in the parking lot outside.
“I ultimately wish 2023 had a lot more and better moments,” he says. “But I feel like, if none of this happened, I probably wouldn’t have made so many friends.”
“This is it,” he continues. “No more baseball for a couple months. And we have a few months until…”
A car rolls behind him, carrying another A’s fan.
“Go A’s,” says the driver.
“Go A’s,” says Hernandez, smiling back.
“Whatever happens next,” he continues, turning forward again, “I hope all of you Oakland Athletics fans out there know…we tried our best.”