As we head east for the start of a potentially historic 10-day road trip to Detroit, New York and Texas, I would like to address a key aspect of the 2012 A’s that sometimes goes overlooked. Unselfishness.
For anyone who visits our clubhouse, it doesn’t take long to realize this team has no egos. These guys behave like there truly is no “I” in t-e-a-m, as the saying goes. Never did that seem more evident than on Aug. 21, the night that Stephen Drew arrived in Oakland following his trade from the Diamondbacks. As he tried on his new A’s threads in the Coliseum clubhouse, there was Cliff Pennington two cubicles over. It could have been an awkward moment, considering Drew’s acquisition clearly signaled the end of Penny’s reign as the regular shortstop. Instead, it might be the most poignant scene of this remarkable season. There was Cliff, extending a hand to Drew. It was he—the man who had just lost his job—who was trying to make his new teammate feel comfortable. He was friendly, animated and genuinely going out of his way to welcome Drew, who like Penny, was a former first-round draft choice. And three weeks later, Pennington continues to pull for his new teammate. It was only this past Saturday that the team’s erstwhile shortstop was spotted, passionately pumping his fist in the dugout on the Comcast SportsNet telecast as his replacement hit a key home run in the A’s 5-2 win that clinched a series win over Baltimore. Yet there’s a lot more than cheerleading that Pennington has given the team since Drew arrived. There is also a renewed commitment by Penny to help the team anyway he can. He enthusiastically accepted his new assignment, to share the starting job at second base with Adam Rosales. So much so that he has earned the majority of playing time there, thanks to his rifle arm and brilliant fielding, along with a .366 batting average (15 for 41) over his last 13 games.
And Pennington’s team-first attitude is far from isolated on this A’s club that boasts the second-best record in the American League. Travis Blackley, the colorful Aussie (is there any other kind?), has embraced one of the more unsung roles in baseball—that of a swingman. The veteran southpaw, whose love and persistence for the game has led him to a career path through such exotic places as South Korea and Mexico in recent years, has been a true revelation as both a spot starter and long reliever. He’s 1-0 with a 2.86 ERA in 13 appearances out of the bullpen, while also etching a 4-3 mark and 3.97 ERA in 12 starts. In a way, he’s been the glue that has kept the starting rotation purring along merrily for virtually the entire season. He may be the ultimate interchangeable part on this team.
The same can be said of Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland’s superstar-in-the-making. A fixture in center field during his baseball days in Cuba, he originally was positioned there with the A’s in spring training and the early season. However, it became more and more apparent that Coco Crisp’s range and acrobatic catches were best suited at his natural position, and Cespedes relinquished center field to his older and more seasoned teammate. The results since then have been nothing less than spectacular, especially when you add Josh Reddick in right to complete one of the better defensive outfields in all of baseball.
Jonny Gomes and Seth Smith, two of the club’s more valued veterans, have further set the tone by primarily sharing DH and outfield roles. Their unselfish approach has not only seen them combine for great production at the plate, but it has provided the younger players with a great example of teamwork. The platoon of Chris Carter and Brandon Moss at first base, and Derek Norris and George Kottaras at catcher, has further strengthened that team bond. As traveling secretary Mickey Morabito tries to find enough charter airline seats and hotel rooms for a current roster that has swelled to 34 players on this trip, it becomes more and more clear. It takes a village to be the 2012 Oakland A’s. And if you want to throw out one last cliché, let’s try this one: You’re only as strong as your weakest link. For these young and hungry A’s, I think that’s very good news.