GOING YARD CAN GO A LONG WAYS FOR A’S FANS
Monte Moore, the former legendary voice of the A’s, used to call them “taters” and “dingers.” Fans used to sit in the right field bleachers under the sign that read “Reggie’s Regiment,” waiting for future Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson to uncork one of his patented home runs. More recently, you might have spotted a t-shirt at the Coliseum that proclaims that “Chicks Dig the Long Ball.” No doubt, Oakland A’s fans through the years have been treated to some of the greatest home run hitters of modern times, from Jackson to Mark McGwire, from Jose Canseco to Jason Giambi, from Sal Bando to Eric Chavez. Unfortunately, sluggers have been in short supply over the past few years in Oakland. Even at the traditional power positions–the corner infield and outfield positions–it has been rare to see a 20-homer season. In fact, last year, third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff led the team with only 16 home runs (I suspect he’ll hit a few more in his new home, Coors Field).
So, what has transpired over the past few weeks is sweet music to A’s fan who covet the long ball. Not only has left fielder Josh Willingham gone on a home run tear that has seen him “go yard” nine times in his last 23 games, but last night we witnessed the explosive bat of newly-acquired first baseman Brandon Allen. While the former Diamondback certainly had shown glimpses of his batting prowess in his first week in Oakland–roping two doubles and two triples and hitting in the rarefied air of a .400-plus average–the power display he unleashed at Yankee Stadium last night could go down in franchise annals as one of the more impressive A’s debuts ever in the Bronx. Beyond belting his first two home runs as an Athletic, Allen left little doubt of the outcome of both, as one landed in the second deck, the other in the third deck of the New Yankee Stadium. Much like Willingham, Allen possesses the kind of legitimate power that no Major League park can contain.
Willingham, who is tied for the American League lead in home runs (11) and ranks fifth in RBI (30) since the All-Star Break, will become a free agent after this season. But it’s difficult for A’s fans not to contemplate the raw-boned slugger joining Allen in the middle of our 2012 lineup, providing the kind of one-two punch that could be the cornerstone of a more powerful and balanced offense in Oakland. Health has been the real key to Willingham’s recent surge, as he has started 38 of the A’s last 40 games since coming off the DL with an Achilles strain. His 20 home runs and 74 RBI are certainly impressive on their own merit, but they’re even more impressive considering he’s played in only 103 games. This good run of health may suggest that the way Bob Melvin and our training staff is handling him–including occasional days at DH–bodes well for Willingham’s future production.
Historically, defense and pitching still does win championships, no doubt. But as any baseball fan will tell you, it’s awfully fun to watch the home team launch a few missiles into the bleachers, too. Willingham, Matsui, and now Allen, are starting to resemble some of those A’s power hitters of yore. But for a one young boy named Reid Manley from Napa, his appreciation for dramatic home runs is clearly in the present. Unless his father has provided a history lesson of the Bash Brothers or Reggie, all little Reid knows is what he experienced at the Coliseum last Saturday when his hero, Josh Willingham, hit the team’s first pinch-hit home run of the season. His before-and-after reaction, chronicled here on YouTube, pretty much says it all. Take a look, enjoy the moment, and allow yourself to dream about this becoming a more common occurrence in A’s Land: