Archive for the ‘ Dailies ’ Category

Postcard from the GM Winter Meetings

The 2010 Winter Meetings
have officially commenced in Lake
Buena Vista, Fla.
this week, I am happy report and in the time-honored tradition, the hotel lobby
is teeming with journalists, baseball execs and job seekers.  As of this morning, still no sighting of
Mickey or Minnie, however.  


We’re lodged
at MLB headquarters, a place called Walt Disney Swan & Dolphin Resort, a
man-made monstrosity that puts the Emerald
City to shame.  I must admit I’ve never been a big fan of what’s
referred to as “the Disney Complex.”  In
fact, I kind of have a personal complex
about the Disney Complex.  Yes, it’s
beautiful, squeaky clean with palm trees and lush surroundings.  But I always feel held captive for some
reason, probably because it’s isolated from downtown Orlando and your only entertainment or dining
options are within the world of Disney.  


Of
course, we’re hear to attend the annual Public Relations Meetings each morning,
press the flesh in the lobby in the afternoons, and coordinate media interviews
with the A’s traveling contingent headed, of course, by GM
Billy
Beane
, Assistant GM David Forst and Manager Bob Geren.  So, I’ll spare you with any more references
to the Disney Penitentiary–er, I mean Resort–while I’m here.

This morning, I’ll join my
team counterparts at the opening session of the MLB Public Relations Meetings,
where league VP of Communications
Patrick Courtney will open the festivities with a look back on the 2010 season, as well
as a look forward at the coming year.  Among
agenda items this year will be the ever-burgeoning world of social media, ways
we can curtail expenses by reducing our publishing projects with green
initiatives, reviewing various “best practices” and case studies by individual
clubs, participating in round-table presentations by many of MLB’s partners
ranging from MLB Network to ESPN to XM Radio. 


I will be ducking out a little earlier today to participate in the Sports
Management Worldwide Baseball Career Conference, appearing on a “Public
Relations and Media” panel with Hall of Fame baseball writer
Tracy Ringolsby, ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick,
NBCSports.com blogger
Craig Calcaterra and Biz of
Baseball’s
Maury Brown.  We’ll be addressing about 200 attendees
interested in careers on the business side of baseball.  I’m always amazed about the growing hordes of
young people pursuing jobs in our profession. 
I plan to share my professional experiences, plus offer some pearls of wisdom
like….”find a team to work for that wins championships and you’ll be considered
a PR genius!”…and… “always remember the Golden Rule–the players with the most
gold rule”…and “if you can master the
art of updating daily game notes while keeping your Xerox machine from going
sideways, you’ll make it in this business!” 
I suspect I may not be invited next year.


Of course, the
meat-and-potatoes of these meetings are always the daily appearance of your GM
with your beat writers and other media. 
In recent years, there’s been very little news of substance emanating
out of the hotel suites of baseball GMs, Mr. Beane included. As die-hard A’s
fans–hey, if you’re reading this obscure blog, you absolutely qualify as a
die-hard supporter of The Elephants–you already know that some potential free
agents, most notably
Lance Berkman (Cardinals) and Adam Dunn (White Sox), have already flown off the shelf with
recent deals.  So, I’m sure Ms. Slusser
or Ms. Lee will be drilling Billy on the prospects of acquiring new RBI bats
among a still-eligible pool that includes
Adrian Beltre, Hideki Matsui, Vladimir Guerrero and a few others of note.  Billy, as is his custom, will then remind the
well-intentioned scribes that is A’s policy not to comment on free agents
unless we sign them.  


Then the
conversation will rapidly turn from free agents or potential trades before
entering the inevitable “Small Talk Zone” that might cover anything from the
quality of snacks provided in suite, to why FIFA snubbed the U.S. in awarding
World Cup sites, to why the Ramones continue to hold significance in American
culture, to the merits of having Brad Pitts portray you in a major motion
picture.  In other words, don’t expect
much baseball news this week.  But, as
noted baseball philosopher and erratic right-handed pitcher
Joaquin Andujar once said, “There is one word in America that says it all, and that
one word is ‘you never know.'”  Stay
tuned.

Showing Your Colors, No Matter The Cost

You want to know what makes
a father proud?  When your son is a baseball
martyr.  With our cross-bay rivals
parading down Market Street
today, my son, Luke, has stood tall. 
He’s a junior at St. Mary’s High School in Berkeley and this is “Spirit Week” leading up
to the school’s Homecoming this weekend. 
Students are encouraged to wear colors that support their favorite
team.  You can only imagine the sea of Black
& Orange on
campus today.  It’s almost as though
Halloween went into extra innings.

 

Yet, there’s Luke, sporting
his Dave Stewart jersey and A’s cap.  At
the breakfast table this morning, I told him, he was a brave young man and that I
was very proud of him.  He just kind of
shrugged it off, saying “C’mon dad….I’ve got to represent.”   


In fact, Luke
has courageously worn his soiled and frayed A’s cap to school every day since
the playoffs began.   This, without his
father’s urging.  You can only imagine
the razzing and persecution he subjected himself to.  Yet, in some strange way, I think he enjoyed
the conflict.  He wanted to show some of
his classmates what a true fan is all
about. 

 

That being said, I was proud
that the Oakland
A’s today took out a full-page ad in the San
Francisco Chronicle
to congratulate the Giants on a storybook season.  It was an incredible accomplishment.  One of the things I enjoy most about baseball
is it’s a fraternity.  Every team can empathize
when another team endures a long losing streak, and the same goes when another
team reaches the pinnacle in the sport. 
We all know how difficult the journey is.  And the fact that it was their incredible
pitching staff that propelled the Giants to the title should only remind A’s
fans that we may not be that far away.  Add
a few pieces to your lineup, and those ulcerating close losses can turn into
clutch victories real quick.  Eduardo
Perez, the former player and now ESPN commentator, was asked yesterday morning
on SportsCenter who he thought could be the “Giants of 2011.”  Without hesitating, he said, “the Oakland A’s.”  Now, I’m not saying we’re going to add a
fifth World Series trophy to our trophy case next season, but at least we
should all have hope.  Hope is a
beautiful thing…especially when you have pitching.

SCENES FROM A FINAL DAY AT THE YARD

During the course of a long season,
sometimes games or innings become almost indistinguishable.  One game can evolve into the next one, as the
continual grind of daily baseball becomes our lifestyle.  The remarkable aspect of this sport–like no
other sport–is that you will play nearly 200
games a year (including Spring Training) even if you don’t advance to the playoffs.  

However, there’s something
special about the last home game of a season. 
In the backdrop of our Indian Summer, shirt-sleeved A’s fans can savor
the endearing sights of that one last performance at the Coliseum.   All of your sensory powers are heightened; the
grass looks a richer green as the fall shadows begin to creep onto the playing
field (except, of course, for center field) and 
the smell of brats and BBQ seems a bit more pronounced.  Inside the Oakland clubhouse before the game, an age-old
ritual begins. 

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It starts with boxes.  Everywhere. 
It seems that veteran Equipment Manager
Steve Vucinich is pulling them out of thin air.  Even though the team will embark on a final
seven-game road trip, most players are packing their belongings during the last
weekend and shipping them to their offseason homes.  There’s also hand shakes, hugs and long
goodbyes traded between players, coaches and the people they have spent a
season with–the clubhouse assistants, batboys, A’s front office staff and even
some media.  For the clubbies and
batboys, there also is the customary signed check in each handshake, which
serves as a well-deserved tip for their services during the season. 

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I am not accompanying the
team on this final road trip, so Sunday gave me the opportunity to stop by
players’ and coaches’ lockers to express my appreciation and well wishes, both
for their cooperation during the season and also for a restful offseason.  There was 30-year-old rookie
Bobby Cramer, who could not contain his excitement about starting
Wednesday’s game in his hometown Anaheim Stadium, where only last year he sat
as a spectator with his playing career all but over.

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I also had a chance to
congratulate
Cliff Pennington for a tremendous
year of personal growth, telling him how impressed I was watching him play down
the stretch despite some physical ailments. 
He was the definition of mental toughness and being a pro. 

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I also approached the
soft-spoken
Henry Rodriguez, who usually does
his talking with that electric 100 MPH fastball of his.  He shared how he wants to continue to improve
and is again planning to play winter ball.


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And there’s one of the team
leaders,
Kurt Suzuki, sitting in his
customary chair in Vuc’s office.  He’s
been one of our real go-to guys for community and PR requests, and I wanted to wish
him a great offseason and thank him on behalf of the organization, and really,
just myself.  He said “thanks,” then
added, “don’t call me.”  I think he was
somewhat joking, but I suspect not entirely. 
I think Kurt has a brilliant offseason strategy, though.  He splits time between his Southern
California home and his parent’s home in Hawaii.  He makes it kind of tough to find him, which
considering his need for some R&R each offseason, isn’t such a bad
thing. 

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I also sought out Craig Breslow, perhaps one of the most unsung heroes on the team
this year.  No matter how he felt, he always
took the ball.  I told him how much we
admired all his work in successfully launching his Strike 3 Foundation that
aids pediatric cancer.  And jokingly, I
also told him to rest his arm because we might need it again next season.  As I surveyed the room, so many other 2010
stories unfolded. 

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Besides Cramer, there was Justin James, another Independent League refugee who beat the
odds to make the majors with the A’s this year. 
Unlike some of the other players, Justin actually approached me, offering a warm handshake and
thanking me for all I did for
him.  Which, by the way, wasn’t
much.  His story would have been covered
by the media with or without a PR guy. 
He sounded genuinely excited about pitching next month in the Arizona
Fall League, and “working on some new things” with his pitching
repertoire. 

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Probably the best story
to emerge this season came on one May afternoon, when
Dallas Braden tossed that improbable perfect game against the
Tampa Bay Rays (on Mother’s Day no less!). 
As guys were packing, you could see some players, as well as other
people associated with the team, hitting up Dallas one last time for an autographed
baseball or perfect game poster to commemorate one of the franchise’s most
historic performances.

Yet perhaps the most
poignant scene from Sunday’s home finale came in the eighth inning.  Our boys trail the Rangers, 9-1, in a game
that seemingly had gotten away from the A’s. 
By this time,
Bob Geren had substituted
liberally to give his starters some rest and the September call-ups a
late-season opportunity.  It would have
been understandable if many of our fans had already left the Coliseum for an
early family barbecue.  Yet, despite the
odds, a strong corps of A’s faithful not only stayed seated, but they started
chanting in unison, “Let’s Go Oakland” in the shadows of the Coliseum.  It was this kind of loyal, supportive gesture
that seemed to cut to the heart of our players in uniform. 

Unexpectedly, inexplicably, the Green and Gold roared off the deck to score six
runs that inning and shave the newly-crowned Rangers’ lead to 9-7.  We all know that the ninth inning didn’t have
a storybook ending for our team, but the mere fact that this show of support
could emanate in such a seemingly hopeless juncture of the game is the
definition of what a true fan is. 

So for all of you out
there–and you know who you are–thank
you for your unswerving support and love for the Oakland A’s. 
We may not have drawn the types of crowds some major league teams did
this season, but I cannot imagine better fans than those who were chanting in
the eighth inning on Sunday.  As we start
to lower the curtain on 2010, it’s time for us to applaud you!   Here’s hoping next season will be the year
we return to the playoffs, and you can experience those long shadows and
magnificent late summer nights well into October.  Go A’s!

Middle-of-the-Order Hitters Will Be the A’s First Order of Business

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No matter what your
preseason expectations were, I suppose our 72-73 A’s could be viewed as either
a glass half empty or one half full. 
Certainly, the 2010 edition represents a measurable upgrade from the
past three Oakland
teams that could only squeeze out 76, 75 and 75 wins.  While I cannot speak for Billy or his inner
baseball circle, I can say this.  Entering
this offseason, it should be easy to crystallize on our burning need:  middle-of-the-order hitters.  As I was remarking to no one in particular in
the press box last homestand, lineup sheet in hand:  “We’ve got one thing over everyone in
baseball. Name me another team whose corner outfielders and corner infielders in
the starting lineup today have combined for
only 15 home runs.  And that doesn’t even
count our fifth-place hitter (
Mark Ellis)
who has only three homers this season!”

Okay, okay, the point has
been made.  But I think a more
significant point to make is the A’s head into the offseason with only one
glaring weakness–power.  In my many years
in baseball, I have been involved with sorry teams that needed major
reconstruction from one season to the next. 
There were so many holes, you didn’t know where to start.  When a GM faces that kind of task, often
times you will see them trade their star player (or players) to get perhaps
three or four serviceable major leaguers who can plug gaps at multiple
positions.

That is not the daunting
challenge for Mr. Beane and Mr. Forst. 
Their task is to find a way to acquire legitimate RBI bats via trades or
free agency. Even though we apparently will have significant money coming off
the payroll due to expired contracts, it is no guarantee that we can out-bid
larger market teams which will pursue the top free agents available this
winter.  It would seem more likely that
we might secure some big thumpers through trades, which of course, means we
might have to part with one or two of our young pitchers. 

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While that is not a pleasurable
thought, it does seem doable with our current depth of arms and also seems
practical considering it takes two to tango. Other teams are certain to ask
about our promising young pitchers.  And,
of course, we’re all hopeful that
Chris Carter
can make the transition from Triple-A to the bigs next season as well, as he
has exceptional power to add to the mix (Note to fans–and maybe even
Chris: don’t lose too much sleep about his current 0 for 24 tailspin.  There was this young, powerful hitter with
great promise who broke into baseball in 1951. He started out hitless in his
first 12 at-bats and opened his career going 1 for 25.  So if Carter can get a hit tomorrow night in Minnesota, he can tie the great
Willie Mays for a less-than-memorable career start).

Of course, if we can fortify
our lineup with some RBI men in the middle, it has so many positive residual
effects.  When
Coco Crisp or Daric Barton
get on base, the odds of them scoring become better.  And to place bona fide hitters like
Kurt Suzuki, Mark
Ellis
or Kevin Kouzmanoff down lower in the order would return them to their
proper–and more comfortable–place. 
They’re more apt to see better pitches to hit in the six, seven or
eighth holes.  Just stands to
reason.  And, of course, if the A’s begin
to plate more runs on a consistent basis, and you combine that with one of the
American League’s best pitching staffs and defense, you may not see me writing
a blog in the middle of September next year. 
I’ll be too busy getting ready for us to host the playoffs.  So, stay glued to
oaklandathletics.com and our Facebook page this offseason.  Hopefully, we’ll have some good news to share
from time to time.

Let’s Deliver the King to His Proper Throne!

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Bill King was a bigger-than-life
character who defied description. 
However, his description of a
sporting event was as unique and brilliant as the man himself.  Many of my friends can still recount, word
for word, where they were the first time they heard that crackling voice on the
air.  Whether it was the Warriors,
Raiders or A’s, games tended to come to life
when “The King” was at the mic. 


Bill was a voracious student–name me another sports broadcaster fully
versed in Russian literature?–and someone who prepared meticulously for each
game.  His knowledge, his mastery of the
language, his voice inflection and articulation, and his ability to capture the
big moment was unparalled in the history of Bay Area sportscasting.  So was his passion, his quick wit and
perhaps most of all, his humanity.  Then
add his eccentricity, not to mention his long hair, goatee and mustache, and
this was a man ideally suited for the eclectic and creative tastes of Northern Californians.

 

I can remember listening to Gary Radnich, himself a local icon for nearly three decades at
KRON-TV (Ch. 4) and KNBR Radio, at some time this past year on his morning
radio show, claiming that Bill King might very well be the greatest and most
influential person in Bay Area broadcasting history.  Not just sport broadcasting, but all categories of broadcasting in this
large and sophisticated market.  Now
think about that for a minute.  That
covers everyone from news anchors, to FM disc jockeys, to such Hall of Fame
sports announcers as
Russ Hodges, Lon Simmons and Jon Miller. 


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In his
quarter century as the voice of Oakland A’s baseball (1981-2005), Bill became
synonymous with baseball history, whether it be
Rickey Henderson’s stolen base exploits, the Bash Brothers Era that
included three straight World Series appearances, or the
Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada
MVP seasons and Big Three pitchers of the last decade.  And if you were an A’s fan–or even just a Bay
Area sports fan–you lived for that
moment when something in a game required King’s most cherished trademark:  “Hoooooly Toleeeedo!”

 

With all this being said, my
primary reason to take you down memory lane is because each of us has the rare
opportunity to pay tribute to the great Bill King this month.  Beginning today and continuing through the
end of September, on-line balloting begins on the National Baseball Hall of
Fame and Museum’s Facebook site for the 2011 Ford C. Frick Award.  You can vote for King today and every day
through September 30 on the site (www.facebook.com/baseballhall)
and the top three fan selections from votes tallied will appear on the final
10-name ballot for the award.  The 2010
Frick Award winner will be selected by a 20-member electorate, with the winner
to be announced at baseball’s Winter Meetings in December. 


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When Bill passed away suddenly in 2005, the
groundswell of fan support for voting him into the Hall of Fame was remarkable.  He won the online voting portion of the
process by a landslide in both 2005 and 2006. 
While I’m sure the Committee took notice, they chose other worthy
candidates for the award those years. 
Interest understandably waned as time passed, but now we want to
rekindle that enthusiasm and finally elevate The King to his rightful place in
the Baseball Hall of Fame.  So, it’s on
you and me.  Let’s do it, and let’s do it
starting today!  Vote early and vote often.

WHO IS THE BEST RIGHT-LEFT STARTING COMBO IN THE AMERICAN LEAGUE?

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While the Yankees can run C.C. Sabathia and Phil Hughes
out to the mound and the Red Sox can counter with
Clay Bucholz and Jon Lester,
it may sound ludicrous to make this forthcoming claim…but here goes: Is it
possible that the A’s 22-year-old
Trevor Cahill
and 24-year-old
Gio Gonzalez form the best
right-left starting pitching tandem in the American League?  Well, judging by the numbers, they at least
belong in the conversation.  Here’s a
statistical breakdown on the best right-left combos in the AL entering tonight’s games:

Name                        Team              W-L      ERA     GS       IP         H         Opp. BA

Phil Hughes, RHP          New
York          15-5      3.90      23         140.2    132       .247

C.C. Sabathia, LHP        New
York          17-5      3.02      27         187.2    168       .243

 

Clay Bucholz, RHP        Boston              15-5      2.26      22         139.1    114       .224

Jon Lester, LHP             Boston              13-8      3.26      25         163.0    135       .226

 

Jeff Nieman, RHP           Tampa Bay        10-3      3.12      22         141.1    121       .231

David Price, LHP            Tampa Bay        15-5      2.97      24         157.2    133       .229

 

Carl Pavano, RHP          Minnesota         15-9      3.56      26         182.0    180       .260

Francisco Liriano, LHP   Minnesota         11-7      3.45      24         151.1    144       .250

 

Trevor
Cahill, RHP    Oakland         13-5    2.54    22        148.2  103     .198   

Gio
Gonzalez, LHP    Oakland         11-8    3.24    26        161.0  134     .224

While certainly you can make a valid case for any of
these twosomes, I think where the A’s pair measures up quite convincingly is in
ERA, where Cahill ranks third in the American League at 2.54 and Gonzalez ranks
10th at 3.24, and in opponents batting average, where Cahill (.198) and
Gonzalez (.224) respectively rank first and fifth in the AL.  Then look at their performances since the
All-Star Break:  Cahill is 4-2 with a
1.84 ERA and .182 opponents’ BA, while Gio is 4-2 with a 2.17 ERA and .197 OBA.

 

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In fact, the two Oakland aces fare even better in a bigger
sample size.  Since June 21, Cahill is
7-3 with a 1.99 ERA and miniscule .173 OBA in 11 starts while Gonzalez is 5-3
with a 2.20 ERA and .209 OBA in 12 starts. 
During this nine-week stretch, Cahill 
and Gonzalez rank third and fourth, respectively, in the AL in opponents’ batting
average. This only underscores how almost unhittable their stuff has
become.  And while Cahill has been
ridiculously consistent all season long, Gio may be the hotter pitcher of
late.  In his last 12 starts since June
21, the Cuban-American southpaw has allowed one run or less eight times.  And throughout his young Major League career,
he has proven to be close to a sure thing when he receives run support.  Including last night’s masterpiece, Gonzalez
is 16-1 in 24 lifetime starts when the A’s hitters score at least three runs
for him.  Conversely, he has been saddled
with a 2-18 mark in his 26 career starts in which Oakland’s offense has scored two runs or
less.

 

The fact that these dynamic young pitchers now go
back-to-back in the starting rotation–Cahill will be gunning for Win No. 14
tonight in Cleveland–is a real treat for A’s fans, as both pitchers feature unique
styles that have developed into the same winning formula for the team.  With these two golden arms, the A’s can
provide a left-right punch that would make
Andre Ward, another Oakland
product, very proud.  Here’s hoping for
another knockout performance tonight at Progressive Field (4 p.m. PDT on
Comcast SportsNet California
and XTRA Sports 860 AM).

ON TARGET: A NEW BALLPARK THAT MAKES THE A’S GREEN WITH ENVY

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Well, three close losses aside, my weekend visit to Minneapolis was certainly
enlightening.  I had heard that the
Twins’ new home, Target Field, was baseball’s newest gem.  Yet, walking into the first-year venue was
beyond my wildest expectations.  Of the
new generation of Major League ballparks, this may the best designed and best
feeling one of all–even outdistancing such jewels as the new Yankee and Busch
stadiums, as well as the Giants’ AT&T Park and Pittsburgh’s PNC Park.  Some of the more distinctive features at
Target Field are:

 

  • Limestone facing both inside and outside the park, going against
    the recent trend by adding a non-brick
    surface.

 

  • Similar to the renovated Dodgers Stadium, the lower box seat area
    is separated by a “moat” of sorts, which allows patrons to socialize going
    to and from their seats.

 

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  • A gigantic replica of the original Twin Cities logo featuring two
    players, one representing Minneapolis and
    the other St. Paul,
    shaking hands in dead center field above the batter’s eye.

 

  • Beyond the left field seating sets perhaps the largest and sharpest
    video board on this or any other planet. 
    If Ron Gardenhire is talking with his pitcher on the mound, he
    better hope there aren’t lip readers in the stands.

 

  • Videoboard.jpgResembling some of the soccer stadiums I’ve seen abroad, the upper
    awning overhang above the top tier seating features a built in bank of
    lighting–very cool and futurist looking.

 

  • An abundance of affordable outfield seating, including a three-deck
    layout in left field with towering heights that harkens back to the old
    Metropolitan Stadium where Killebrew, Carew and Oliva once roamed.

 

  • Unlike the New Yankee Stadium–impressive in its own right–Target
    Field is wide open behind the right field bleachers.  You can see 6th Street and part of
    downtown Minneapolis.

 

Yet, beyond the great features, Target Field
represents much more than a pristine place to play baseball.  It’s a crowning achievement for a small
market franchise that for many years has had its ingenuity tested in its
efforts to stay playoff caliber.  (Sound
familiar?).  I spoke with the Twins’
long-time broadcaster Dick Bremer.  You could
just see his excitement and emotion when he spoke.  “I’m from here.  Grew up here. 
Went to high school here.  To see
what this has done for my city and area is amazing.” 

 

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A day like yesterday–74 degrees, blue skies with
little humidity–is when these locals really enjoy not being entrapped under a
stifling roof.  Not to mention dealing with
that ridiculous Metrodome “baggie” outfield fence.  Yet, I think the most poignant scene I
witnessed last weekend was simply watching Joe Mauer stroll to the plate. He’s
the franchise player, truly a player for the ages, and he’s locked up with a
long-term contract that ensures that young fans will grow up watching their
favorite hero–and cornerstone of the franchise–play games in a Twins uniform at
Target Field for many years to come.  I
couldn’t help but feel a little green with envy, wondering when the time will
come when our Oakland
A’s fans can experience the same thrill. 
With Target Field now christened and the Marlins’ new yard opening soon,
only Oakland and Tampa Bay
remain among the 32 MLB clubs still seeking a new home.  You would think the odds are starting to tilt
in our favor that a permanent–and logical–solution will be forthcoming in the
near future.  We can only hope.

A’S DOING THE “LITTLE THINGS” TO STAY IN THE RACE

The A’s clubhouse scene
after Sunday’s series-clinching win over Texas
was upbeat but not euphoric.  At one end
of the room, there’s
Trevor Cahill–the “Baby-faced
Assassin” as coined by GM
Billy Beane–surrounded
by Bay Area TV cameras and reporters.  A
young man in big demand.  That’s what a
12-4 record and 2.56  ERA will do for
you.  In another locker stall, there’s
interim closer
Michael Wuertz slipping on a
chartreuse dress shirt before joining
Kate Longworth
and her Comcast cameraman for a postgame interview.  In the manager’s office, the door is closed
as
Bob
Geren
and the A’s baseball braintrust
discuss whether there might roster moves to make, necessitated by a non
baseball-related injury (
Matt Watson,
kidney stones) or just a growing need to find more lethal bat. 

 

While this is a roster of
young and inexperienced players, it’s evident they know overhauling the Rangers
in the standings will not be easy.  And
it will be an uphill climb.  They also
know both teams are entering a pivotal time of the season.  We visit Seattle
and Minnesota, then return to host
suddenly-hot Toronto.  Texas,
now under stable ownership, faces perhaps its greatest challenge of the season
in facing the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays in succession.

 

Yesterday was the kind of
game that you need to win to stay in a pennant race.  It’s not necessarily pretty, but all that
matters is that you find a way to
win.  The little things matter.  Early in the game, we failed to move runners
over or in some cases, failed to even make contact
with runners in scoring position.  But after
Cahill was undeservedly charged with two unearned runs in the seventh inning, our
boys finally extricated ourselves from an early-game funk and started
executing.  A
Coco Crisp stolen base. 
A
Landon Powell sacrifice
bunt.  A
Rajai Davis sacrifice fly. 
Another sac-fly, this one by Mr. Clutch,
Kurt Suzuki.  A
crash-in-the-wall catch by Coco that deprived
the Rangers of another run.  And a
textbook 6-4-3 double play by
Cliff Pennington and Mark Ellis on a Vladimir Guerrero ninth inning grounder, which helped Wuertz slam the
lid on the A’s 52nd win of the season.  More importantly, it clinched a series win
over the first-place Rangers and whittled their deficit to a more manageable 7
½ games with 52 games remaining.

 

If we’re going to make a
move, it will require more 3-2 wins and unheralded plays like Powell’s
bunt.  And, of course, our lights-out
pitching will need to bring its A game nightly. 
If all of this can transpire in the weeks ahead, the A’s may just
continue to hang around.  In fact, a good
week or two as we approach the backside of August, and who knows, we may
actually pull within striking distance of the formidable Rangers.  If that happens, A’s fans may be in for a
real treat come September.  We can only
hope.

QUICK OBSERVATIONS FROM THE ROAD…

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After a week of road games
against first-place teams, it’s clear that our pitchers can hang with
anybody. 
Cahill was nothing less than brilliant in Texas
and the past two days in Chicago,
Braden and Gonzalez
reeled off the A’s first back-to-back complete games in seven years (
Zito and Mulder were the last in 2003).  But this week also offered some harsh
realities for the boys in Green & Gold. 
When you look at the power and production–and swagger–of the Rangers’ and White Sox 3-4-5 hitters, it kind of
clear we can’t come close to their firepower. 
I mean,
Guerrero-Hamilton-Cruz or Rios-Konerko-Quintin, we are not.  Don’t get me wrong, the scrappiness of our
lineup does have an endearing quality.  What’s
not to like about a
Rajai Davis steal or Kurt Suzuki clutch two-out RBI hit?  But to join the big boys, well…you need some big boys.  As I mentioned in my last blog, Travis Buck and Conor Jackson
are on the mend and rehabbing for re-entry. 
In fact, Buck uncorked a home run yesterday for Sacramento, which was a positive sign.  And, of course, fellow RiverCatters
Chris Carter and Michael Taylor,
and recently-signed first-round draft pick
Michael Choice, are in the pipeline as projected middle-of-the-order
hitters.  A’s fans, we appreciate your
patience.  I know we’re trying that
patience in Year 4 of our rebuilding process. 
I think we’ve made important strides in many areas of our game–pitching,
defense and speed, to name three–and hopefully we’ll add some fence-clearing
power to the mix soon….

 

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One middle-of-the-order
addition this year who may not get enough kudos is
Kevin Kouzmanoff.  Yes, I know,
Kouz is a streaky hitter.  It seems he’s
always in either a 12-for-26 or 0-for-12 run of some sort.  But the guy has been solid as a rock; plays
almost every day, makes all the plays at third base at a position that is
extremely hard to fill for many GMs, and he’s a team player all the way.  Plus, we like saying his name.  Koooooouz….

 

It was great to see Ying and
Yang back in the clubhouse together with the return of Brett Anderson from the
DL.  He rejoins Trevor Cahill as the
franchise’s two most prized young starting pitchers, really two of the more coveted
neophytes in all of baseball.  Anderson got derailed
with his unexpected elbow problems, but he should be fine again once the rust
is shaken.  And what about the baby-faced
Cahill?  Did you notice this rather
eye-popping stat?  Trevor has limited
opposing hitters to a below-the-Mendoza-line .196 batting average this
season.  That figure leads all American League pitchers (okay, let’s collectively pinch
ourselves…this kid is only 22 years old!). 
What’s this All-Star going to do for an encore?  Too bad he’s a ground ball pitcher instead of
a strikeout artist, because I already had a great new name for him:  K-Hill….

 

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On a side note, I loved
listening to A’s play-by-play voice
Ken Korach reminisce about his early broadcasting days in big
league baseball.  He joined me and our
beat writers in the press lounge at U. S. Cellular Field yesterday, and told us
how he started out as a part-time announcer for the White Sox.  He used to fill in for former White Sox
play-by-play man
John Rooney, who also had national
radio obligations on weekends.  Korach
would fly in from Las Vegas,
check into a hotel and then make like
Adam Rosales
as a utility man in the broadcast booth. 
“Man, I was coming from the lowly minor leagues, so even eating this
fabulous brunch in the press lounge was exciting.  I knew I was finally in the big leagues“…. 

 

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Korach, clearly a good story
teller both on and off the air, also shared this one with me while we were both
wilting at a Rangers’ games in Arlington
this week.  “My former partner, Mr. King,
had it in his contract in the later years that he didn’t have to make the A’s
trips to Texas
in the summer.  He just couldn’t stand
the weather.”  And beyond the oppressive
heat and humidity, the visiting broadcast booths are situated high atop Rangers
Ballpark in a perfect location to catch the constant winds that blow, sometimes
at quite high velocity, over the Texas
plains.  Apparently
Bill King just loved it when his game notes and stat sheets
used to take flight off the broadcast counter. 
First, he would try his best to track the materials down, then after a
second or third attempt one time, it became legend that the Great One once just
picked up the papers, hurled them out the window of the broadcast wind tunnel
and just, mid-game, exited the booth…..

 

And with that, I choose to
exit this blog, until the next time.  Kansas City and Texas
visit the Coliseum this week.  Come out
and give our A’s some love. 

AS THE DOG DAYS NEAR, IT’S GETTING HOT IN THE AL WEST

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As I write this blog in
flight towards our Texas destination, it’s
business as usual for the Oakland
A’s.  We’re starting to enter those
fabled “dog days” of a baseball pennant race, when temperatures – and tempers – can start to get real hot.   Whether it is through player trades or a
heightened sense of urgency, late July and August tend to be the time of
separation when teams reveal whether they’re contenders or merely
pretenders.  For our upstart A’s, who are
tied for second, 7½ games behind the AL West leading Rangers, and two games
above the .500 mark (50-48), there is no magic formula to stay in
contention.  It’s all about grinding
through the process. 

 

Down the aisle in the
coaching section of the aircraft, I can see
Bob Geren scouring over charts and statistics as he tries to
find key matchups and indicators that might lead his club to a successful
series in Arlington.  The same process is taking place with bench
coach Tye Waller, pitching coach Curt Young
and hitting coach Jim Skaalen, as well as the other coaches, who are all tirelessly
reviewing game DVDs on their laptops or 
reading various scouting reports. 
They know this six-game road trip to the home parks of two divisional
leaders will be an even stiffer test than the stretch of games they just played
and passed with flying colors.

 

Of course, Texas isn’t the only torrid team in the
division.  Our A’s are charging fast,
having gone 9-2 in their last 11 games and 16-8 over their last 24 while winning
consecutive series over the Angels, Royals, Red Sox and White Sox.  Had it not been for Texas’
own streak, Oakland
could be much closer to the AL West lead entering this big series.  However, the A’s recent surge places them
within striking range, which for most fans, is really what baseball is all
about.  And despite
Ben Sheets being shelved with a swollen elbow, things are
looking up in A’s Land. 

 

First of all, nothing builds
confidence in a young team like winning games. 
So the past three weeks have done immeasurable good.  And as we head into the final two months of
the regular season, four things, in addition to some other positive signs, suggest
we might just hang around long enough to make it interesting in September:

 

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1) Our starting rotation may be ready to rock and roll.   The emergence of Vin Mazzaro (4-0 with a 2.12 ERA in his last five starts) now
positions us with five formidable starters. 
He joins All-Star
Trevor Cahill
(9-4, 3.15) as comprising one of the best young right-handed tandems in
baseball.  And with
Brett Anderson primed to come off the disabled list in Chicago this weekend, we can offer a southpaw trio of Gio Gonzalez (9-6, 3.75), Dallas Braden
(5-7, 3.76) and Anderson
(2-1, 2.35) that is uniquely talented.  This
young staff is maturing at a rapid pace, working deeper and deeper into the
game.  It’s no longer about the future
for these dynamic arms.  They can match
up with the best right now.  In fact, I
couldn’t help but notice the probable starting matchups this week in Texas.  The A’s will see
Cliff Lee (9-4), Colby Lewis
(9-6) and
C.J. Wilson (9-5) for the
Rangers.  They’ve combined for a 27-15
record this season.  The A’s will counter
with Gio, Trevor and Vinnie.  Their
combined mark to date:  24-12. 

 

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2) The middle of the order is heating up at the right time.  As A’s
fans know, our lineup seemed to lack any discernible punch for the first half
of the season.  However, if the past
couple weeks are any indication, maybe the power outage is over.  It starts with
Jack Cust, who seems to have found his old groove at the
plate.  Beyond putting the ball in play
more often, he’s starting to launch some of those patented home runs of yore
(six bombs in the last 10 games).  His
new-found stroke only helps every hitter around him, as evidenced by
Kurt Suzuki – he of the new four-year contract – who is batting .412
with nine runs in his last nine games, and
Kevin Kouzmanoff, who like Zuk, is a streaky hitter who seems on
the verge of another heat wave.  This is
good news for Oakland
fans, who know that their A’s are almost unbeatable when they score at least
four runs in a game (actually they’re 43-10). 

 

3) Speed and defense is becoming an A’s trademark.  For
those of you who were out at the Coliseum last week, you saw a scrappy team
that found ways to win beyond hitting and pitching.  Including our three-steal game Sunday, the
A’s have now stolen 16 bases since the All-Star Break, which is most in the
majors during that period.  And it’s not
just
Coco and Rajai.  Matt Carson, Gabe Gross, Suzuki…everybody is getting in the act.  A somewhat overlooked byproduct of our stolen
bases is this:  just the threat of
stealing can unnerve a pitcher, which can result in (a) frequent 2-0 counts to
the hitter at the plate, (b) two or three MPHs less on fastballs when the
pitcher must throw out of the stretch, and (c) occasional throwing errors to
first base in an attempt to keep A’s runners close (i.e.,
Erick Threets’ pickoff attempt of Crisp that resulted in Coco racing
around the diamond to score a vital run Sunday).

 

4) Reinforcements are on the way. 
 Connor Jackson
and
Travis
Buck
, two experienced outfielders with
some offensive clout, are progressing quite nicely in their rehab assignments with
Sacramento and
could be welcome reinforcements as we head into August.  And, of course, the much-awaited arrival of
twin-tower sluggers
Michael Taylor and Chris Carter may actually materialize at some point, most likely
during September call-ups. All these added parts to the mix can only give Geren
more options and added punch down the stretch.

 

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Whether any of these signs
lead to an improbable run into true playoff contention remains to be seen.  But for a moment, why not just close your
eyes and dream.  In fact, dream big.  Crazier
things have happened.  Back in 2002, we
won 20 games in a row.  Now,
Brad Pitt is playing Billy Beane in the movie, Moneyball
and they’re filming that 20th win game right now at the
Coliseum.  Maybe anything is possible. 

 

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