IT’S STRICTLY BUSINESS FOR THE 2013 ATHLETICS
Early observations in camp….
Understandably, this spring has been far less dramatic than last year. The commotion created by the media circus covering the arrival of Yoenis Cespedes and Manny Ramirez last February is now a distant memory. The absence of such mega-personalities as Dallas Braden and Jonny Gomes makes this year’s clubhouse seem rather sedate as well. In its place, however, is a 2013 team that seems to project an authentic air of confidence and sense of purpose. Bob Melvin practices are relatively short, but it’s clear that everyone is all business and a lot of ground is covered every day. I suspect some of that stems from a young team that tasted the postseason last year and wants to build on their accomplishments. It would also figure that their collective focus comes from some healthy competition at multiple positions—the obvious being the bullpen, outfield and middle infield. We’ve had competition for starting jobs in recent springs, but the difference this year is this: there is actually more than one player who could succeed as a starter, while in past years, there was competition more because there may not have been an obvious or safe choice to man the position. In short, it appears this edition of the Oakland A’s is dealing from a place of strength….
Some have said it will be awfully difficult for Melvin’s club to duplicate last season’s record and division finish. They might be right, although we shouldn’t forget that many of the key players in last year’s title run did not join the team until midseason. And all that group did is play .655 baseball in their final 110 regular-season games (72-38). Admittedly, that will be a tough pace to match, yet it may not take that kind of winning percentage to defend the AL West. In any case, it’s nice to think about Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin, Sean Doolittle, Brandon Moss and Josh Donaldson playing a full season in the Green & Gold this year, not to mention the new offensive potential supplied by offseason acquisitions like Hiro Nakajima, Chris Young, Jed Lowrie and John Jaso….
It was just like old times in the Papago batting cages Monday. Cespedes and Josh Reddick both put on a clinic of opposite field hitting, followed by lightning bolts that cleared the fence in every direction. Same went for Moss, who looks intent on expanding his 21-homer partial season of a year ago….
For the second year in a row, Scott Sizemore had his spring abruptly halted, although this time it was a much happier occasion. His wife, Brooke, gave birth to their first child Friday, a girl named Layla. Sizemore, now fully recovered from his knee surgery, took a couple days off from early practice to witness the glorious event….
Despite language barriers, Nakajima seems right at home in the A’s clubhouse. He brought his No. 3 game uniform and effervescent smile to Photo Day on Monday and was quite playful with the photographers, even hiding his face behind his “name” sign at one point. He brings that same bounce onto the playing field, although he’s no nonsense at shortstop and at the plate. While he’ll be listed as a Major League rookie this year, it’s quite clear he will give this club a veteran presence that should prove valuable. On a more humorous note, I couldn’t help but chuckle the other day when Hiro and his interpreter were holding a conversation with our resident Aussies Grant Balfour and Travis Blackley in the clubhouse after practice. They were talking cars, of all things, with “The Nak Man” sharing a cell phone photo of his sweet ride with the Men Down Under. Style and fast cars, a universal male subject, no matter what your heritage. If only Cespedes would have joined into the conversation…..
Starting this Saturday, exhibition games begin. I think our guys are pretty close to being ready.