TWO TOP BAY AREA SPORTS STORIES ON DISPLAY TONIGHT

Beyond the obvious connection with native son Jonny Gomes, it does seem only appropriate that the Oakland Athletics would host the Petaluma National Little League team upon their triumphant return from Williamsport.  After all, are there two more improbable stories in Bay Area sports this year?  Or any year, for that matter?

Gomes, a very busy man, is not only making a key contribution as a part-time starter (15 HR, 37 RBI in 78 games) in Oakland, but he’s been the spiritual leader of two teams—the A’s and Petaluma.  It became a common scene to see Jonny camped in front of the clubhouse television before games, living and dying on every pitch of Petaluma’s magical run to the U.S. Championship Game.  Now, when Manager Eric Smith and his Little Leaguers arrive at the Coliseum tonight and shag balls during batting practice, you half expect Jonny to be wearing the same canary-yellow jersey—sleeves cut off, of course—and “West” cap that “his kids” wore last week.  Having gotten to know Jonny a little this year, I wouldn’t put it past him.  And when we start assessing these crazy A’s chances to reach the postseason, I think it’s about time to say the same thing.

When you post the best record (51-27) in baseball since June 2, register the best July mark (19-5) in the 111-year history of your franchise, and now return home on a six-game winning streak after a four-game road sweep of Cleveland, the body of evidence starts to catch your attention.  It’s August 31st people!  For those of you die-hards out there, I realize you have been with us every step of the way.  We’ve all invested a lot in this team, and deservedly so.  This team is clearly more than a sum of its parts.  To start with, it is exactly that—a team.  When Brandon Inge goes down, Josh Donaldson answers the bell and goes on a hitting tear to provide critical offensive punch in the lower half of our lineup.  Whether as a starter or long reliever, Travis Blackley has proved invaluable as one of the more undersung pitchers.  Yesterday, it’s reliever Jim Miller who stops the bleeding in the final two innings of a 12-7 slugfest that didn’t want to end.  And also yesterday, there’s backup catcher George Kottaras delivering a three-run double that staked Bob Melvin’s club to a 4-1 lead that they refused to relinquish.

In recent years, an A’s fan’s only wish was that their team was playing “meaningful games” in the month of September.  Well, that time has returned to the Coliseum this year.  We have only a precious 15 games left on the home schedule, starting with this six-game homestand against the Red Sox and Angels.  It’s a big weekend with the Little League heroes of Petaluma being honored pre-game tonight, a celebration of the “Bernie dance” on Saturday with actor Terry Kiser (the star of the “Weekend with Bernie” movies) throwing out the first pitch, and then the always poignant Breast Cancer Awareness Day front and center on Sunday.

So, if you thought this season has been more fun than expected, we’re only getting started.  The games really count from here on in.  And if there’s one thing we have learned about this team it’s this:  Don’t underestimate their will to win.  As Mr. Gomes, in his duel cheerleading role, has told our youngsers as well as the Petaluma Little League team this year:  “Hey fellas, don’t be afraid to be a hero!”

Hope to see you at the yard this weekend.  I know I wouldn’t miss it.  There’s something special going on here.

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