COHESION, CHEMISTRY AND COMRADERIE FUEL A’S EARLY SUCCESS
In today’s sports world,
people can easily become obsessed with individual statistics and glamorous
superstars. With fantasy leagues, video
games and constant ESPN SportsCenter
highlights bombarding our consciousness, rarely do we pause to ponder why some
All-Star laden teams miss the playoffs while other clubs lacking those
high-voltage stars are surprise contenders.
As we jet to St. Petersburg today for the
start of a six-game road trip, the first-place Oakland A’s are a prime example of how
chemistry can transform a group of athletes into a unified force.
In short, what I’ve observed over the past
several weeks is a collection of blue-collar players–or is that Green Collar?–who are fast becoming a
real team. That team evolution can manifest itself
in many subtle or not-so-subtle ways.
Maybe it starts with Ben Sheets
instilling a unique comradeship with his new teammates, not to mention a loose,
fun atmosphere in the clubhouse. Still
seeking his first victory as an Athletic, Big Ben arrived at the Coliseum the
other day wearing Warriors’ NBA gear head to toe and toting a new Nurfball basketball rim and ball set. Before long, the A’s clubhouse was filled
with blaring music, raucous laughter and a frat house vibe warmly reminiscent
of earlier days in Oakland.
Or maybe we started to
become a real team when Dallas Braden confronted A-Rod the
other day when the Yankee slugger jogged across his mound. While Dallas expressed his
feelings to Rodriguez in no uncertain terms, his message also reverberated
throughout the A’s clubhouse. Mr. 209
was, perhaps, sending a message not only to Mr. Tabloid but also letting his
teammates know the 2010 Oakland A’s will not be subservient to anyone. It almost reminded me of the Jim Harbaugh incident at Stanford when he took over the football
coaching reins there. People scoffed
when Harbaugh, in reference to Pete Carroll
of perennial Pac-10 champion USC, said that Stanford would “bow to no
man!” In a different way, I remember hearing
the same thing from a former baseball GM I once worked for. “Rosey,” he said, “somebody’s got to
win. We’re good guys, so why not us?”
Other signs of “we” over
“me” this year? How about the weekly
sight of team barber Rajai Davis, wielding electric
clippers in the clubhouse rest room, cutting his buddies’ hair, but maybe more
importantly, engaging in small talk that brings teammates closer together. Or Kevin Kouzzzzzzzzzzmanoff, another new kid on the block, returning to the lineup
yesterday despite a gimpy ankle and sore calf that probably needed more rest. Clearly, he saw how our lineup looked
the previous day, and he knew the club needed his bat in the middle of the
lineup. The A’s new third baseman sucked
it up, played with some discomfort and absolutely was a catalyst in us winning
the rubber match of the Indians’ series.
And you don’t think his new teammates noticed what a gamer Kouz was in
taking one for the team? Same could be
said for Kurt Suzuki, who belted his third
homer in four days last Friday despite a stiff back, or Daric Barton, who refused to come out of the lineup last week
even though his right elbow was swollen almost twice the size of his left one,
and then proceeded to ignite key rallies in Oakland wins.
And if not Barton or
Kouzmanoff providing heroics, then it’s Gio or the Duke. As the old
axiom goes, it’s seemingly been a different hero every game. And with that, the 2010 A’s are truly becoming
a greater team than the sum of its parts.
Whether they can continue to play baseball at a .600 clip and reside on
the AL West’s top rung remains to be seen.
But if they do, you can bet I’ll be spewing plenty more clichés about
this group. They’re playing like a team.
What a concept!