A Team In Search of an Identity
Like every Major League Baseball team in April, the Oakland A’s are entering the early stages of finding a team identity as they jet eastward to Toronto. You can rest assured, error-laced Opening Night and our bullpen struggles last weekend is not a true reflection of this team! As is customary, Canadian officials will require each of us to present U.S. passports to gain entrance on foreign soil when we land at Pearson International Airport. However, the collective I.D. of the 2011 A’s will not be printed in a government document. Instead, it will play out over time this season. That’s part of the fun of being a fan, because despite what preseason prognosticators might suggest, the true identity—and character—of a team is always determined by the 25 players on the roster.
It’s a process. On the field, Bob Geren and his staff are focused on meshing diverse talents into a cohesive unit. But, maybe more importantly, this is the time when clubhouse chemistry starts to bubble to the surface. Old friendships are renewed and new ones take root. Mr. Willingham, meet Mr. Ellis. Mr. Balfour, want to play catch? I found last weekend interesting, in that our two opening losses to Seattle seemed to create a sense of urgency among the troops—something you wouldn’t expect with 160 games left to play. Clearly, players shared the same high expectations that have been tossed around national media circles this spring, and they seemed determined to right the ship, and right it now. And no better way than to let the guy in the next locker know that “I’ve got your back because, hey, we’re teammates and I care about you. Let’s go get ‘em!”
Take David DeJesus and Gio Gonzalez, both electric personalities who seem to have become fast friends. They’ve developed some type of fist-and-body bump routine every time they see each other that’s way more hip than I can personally comprehend. Let’s just say that former A’s bat boy MC Hammer would be proud. Back-end reliever Brian Fuentes turned to family—his real one and his new one—to soothe the painful memory of a rocky outing, as he proudly introduced two of his young children to his new teammates in the clubhouse Sunday. Another scene after Sunday’s 7-1 win was sidelined All-Star closer Andrew Bailey, skipping around like a school boy in the clubhouse, high-fiving Gio and fellow reliever Jerry Blevins for a job well done. Yet, maybe the most central figure in bringing this club together Sunday was Hideki Matsui, the consummate pro, who’s the team’s closest connection to the Japanese earthquake nightmare. He was the rallying point for the organization’s efforts to raise money for the Red Cross yesterday (the team generated more than $65,000). Matsui also gave his country a brief moment to escape their pain and suffering by lining a Doug Fister pitch down the left-field line for a second-inning double which was the 2,500th of his legendary career. After the game, everyone from Geren to Gonzalez gushed about the A’s new slugger and the historical significance of his amazing milestone.
It’s that respect and true caring for each other that might very well be the trademark of this Oakland club. Time—and our win-loss record—will tell if these qualities will serve the A’s well.