Coco Sets The Tone In Camp This Week

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The more we see Coco Crisp–and we hope to see him at the top of the lineup with
great regularity in 2011–the more we realize this is a player destined to be in
the center of everything this year.  The
man has serious flair.  It starts in the
parking lot, where his black Rolls Royce convertible is well, noticeable, among
a sea of SUVs. 
And this week on the beautifully manicured diamonds of Papago Park
and Phoenix Muni, the A’s center fielder seemed to be in The Man in the Middle
everywhere you turned. 

 

On Wednesday, he welcomed
the first female to ever throw batting practice to an Oakland team. 
You may have read about 36-year-old Cleveland native
Justine Siegal, a long-time player and coach who founded the
non-profit organization Baseball for All, an equal-opportunity advocacy group.  She made baseball history this week by
pitching BP to two major league teams–her hometown Indians and our Oakland A’s.  She was a little nervous at first, throwing
four straight balls to Crisp.  But leave
it to Coco, the Class Clown, to help loosen
things up.  He kidded back and forth with
Justine, feigning bunts, mock anger and idle threats.  It seemed to relax Justine, who proceeded to hurl
a very respectable round of BP.  In a
way, it was a metaphor for what Crisp does for his own team.   He never lets his teammates forget that
baseball is a game and having fun is mandatory. 

 

But more Coco
in a minute.  Let me get back to
Justine.  The genesis of this lady facing
our players was this year’s Winter Meetings in Orlando, where she approached
Billy Beane about gaining the opportunity.  Billy said he was happy to give her an
opportunity and that he would have his PR man–that would be me–call her to make
arrangements for Spring Training.  I spoke
with Justine a couple of times during the offseason, as we confirmed the date
she would throw and the logistics for her to get outfitted in an A’s uniform
and when we would meet in Arizona.  It was such a pleasure to finally meet her
and learn more about her foundation and why she so badly wanted to pitch to
Major Leaguers.  Her sole purpose was to
break down any barriers or prejudices towards girls or women reaching their
dreams and potential in the game of baseball. 
For so many years, 13-year-old girls have been told it, “hey you were a
great Little Leaguer playing with the boys but it’s time to switch over to
softball.  You might as well because
there no next level for you in baseball.” 
Justine’s message–her life’s work, really–is to tell America and the
world that there should be no limits placed on who plays baseball or at what
age or level.  She points out that nearly
half of all Major League Baseball fans are women, a sector of the population
which loves the game every bit as much as men do.  So why can’t they play hardball as long as
they wish?  I think what struck me most
about Justine was simply her fearless mindset that day.  A solitary, almost lonely figure, she showed
tremendous courage.  While some in the
audience may have thought she had very little in common with the A’s players
she faced–Crisp,
David DeJesus, Daric Barton and Landon Powell–I thought just the opposite.  All athletes must show courage in laying it
all on the line, and on that day, I could see that our players understood and
respected what Justine was doing.  They
knew it took real guts. 
Fear and intimidation could have crept into your mind at any given
moment (“What if I can’t throw any strikes and ruin their batting
practice?  What if Landon crushes me with
a come-backer?”).  I don’t want to overstate
what she achieved that day, but in many ways, it may very well be the first
step towards a future
Jackie Robinson moment in
breaking another barrier.  I can remember
speaking with African American and Latin players who played in the majors in
the 60’s.  They said it would not have
been possible if they had not earlier dreamt of becoming big league ballplayers. 
But before Jackie broke that barrier, young Black and Latino players
never even dreamt of the possibility.  So, as our new Aussie addition
Grant Balfour might say, “Good on ya, Justine!”

 

As for Coco,
his week had just begun.  Thursday was
Photo Day for the media at Phoenix Muni, with team photographer
Michael Zagaris, AP Photo, Comcast Sports Net, MLB Photos and
several newspaper and trading card companies on hand, as well as about 25 or 30
photographers and TV camera people representing Japanese media outlets.  The charismatic Crisp, in rather dramatic
fashion, made the group wait as team stretch neared.  Starting at 7 o’clock that morning, every A’s
coach and player had already gone through the gauntlet.  We all were waiting for Crisp before we could
call it quits.  Seemingly out of the
morning mist, No. 4 appeared at the final minute, all smiles and giggles.  I could not imagine a better closer for Photo
Day.

 

Then yesterday, it was Coco who set the tone at A’s camp yet again.  As the team’s second intrasquad game of camp
was about to commence,
Dallas Braden
peered from the mound as he awaited Crisp’s arrival into the batter’s box.  When Crisp strode into the box, we noticed
something slightly different about his well-tailored uniform.  He had stuck a piece of tape on the back of
his jersey above his number.  It seemed
to be a hyphenated word.  As we looked
closer, we could read it:  “A-Rod.”  Braden, not to be outdone, decided to have a
little fun of his own.  He wound up and
then uncorked one of the of most unlikely first pitches of any scrimmage in memory.  It looped high above–and behind–Coco.  The sorriest knock down pitch I have ever
seen.  Needless to say, Coco
had no problem whatsoever digging in for the next pitch.  Ah, there’s nothing quite like a cup of Coco in the morning. 
As the old postcard used to say, “Wish you were here.”

1 Comment

Hi Bob,

Nice mention for Justine Siegal! From speaking with her, it sounds like she really enjoyed the experience.

I wanted to give you a heads up that Justine just launched the Baseball For All Network – her goal is to connect the 100,000+ participants in girls baseball. It’s live at http://baseballforall.lockerdome.com.

Would love to chat about it, if you have a free minute :-). I can be reached at gabe [dot] lozano [at] lockerdome [dot] com.

Cheers!
Gabe

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