Archive for the ‘ Dailies ’ Category

FEEDING THE MEDIA BEAST IS A FULL-TIME JOB

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My apologies that this blog
is a week late from my normal writing schedule. 
You see, we had this game last Sunday that turned into The Event of the
Century.  As
Dallas Braden kept mowing down Rays’ hitters, it began to dawn on
me that a media tsunami was about to hit shore in Oakland. 
Once
Cliff Pennington flawlessly
fielded that final
Gabe Kapler grounder to crown
Braden’s perfect game, all hell broke loose.  

 

Our stadium operations crew
quickly set up a makeshift media conference room in the Raiders’ locker room–the
best we could do at our antiquated venue–and the media circus was
underway.  We brought Dallas, his
grandmother (
Peggy Lindsey), manager Bob
Geren
and Braden’s
battery mate
Landon Powell into the interview room.  As is usually the case on these kind of
unexpected news stories, the media corps that was relatively small when the
game started had now swelled to at least twice
its size by the final pitch. 

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The San Francisco Chronicle had spoiled Scott Ostler’s perfectly fine Mother’s Day with a late-inning call
about a perfect game that was
developing in Oakland.  He rushed to the Coliseum, as did
Jorge Ortiz when he got a similar call from USA Today.  Same for Bay Area
television stations which had not planned to cover our game on-site that
day.  As big of a “gamer” as Dallas was on the mound, he almost equaled that effort during the post-game bedlam.  In all, he gave me more than two hours of media time after the game
before driving out of the player’s lot and heading back to “The 209″ where all
of his friends were waiting to give him a collective bear hug. 

 

Of course, the story didn’t
end there.  The media beast was just
rearing its head.  As is normally the
case with national interest, the news cycle can last anywhere from 24 hours to
at least a week.  As the primary media liaison
this week, I faced a real balancing act as you want to make sure that Dallas is also enjoying
the afterglow of his remarkable feat. 
There’s a fine line on how much you can do without tilting it towards a
media nightmare instead of a celebration. 

 

The requests came in waves,
starting Sunday night–ESPN’s Baseball Tonight, MLB Network,
Tom Verducci at Sports
Illustrated,
the Letterman Show, CBS Early Morning, National Public Radio
and many others–and I knew time would be precious the following day because Monday
was a travel day to Texas. 

 

For Dallas,
the travel day started early as he took his customary drive from his Stockton home to the Oakland Airport.  However, before he left his house, he had
already done a sit down interview with ESPN SportsCenter and appeared on Robert
Siegel’s “All Things Considered” program with its five million listeners on NPR.   I warned him Sunday night that I was going to
pounce on him as soon as he arrived
at the airport. 

 

He walked through the
private terminal doors at 12:25 p.m., which instantly told me I had 20 minutes
to, (a) hand him and go over a proposed media schedule I had prepared for his
week on the road, (b) give enterprising reporter
Vern Glenn of KRON-TV and a KNTV-TV cameraman a joint three-minute
on-camera interview in the lobby, (c) hand Dallas my cell for an eight-minute
“phoner” with MLB Network, (d) then dial up ESPN Radio for another seven-minute
interview with
Scott Van Pelt, and (e) shake our
overnight sensation’s hand and direct him through security and on board the
team flight which left at 1 p.m. for Dallas, Texas. 

 

After the team charter
landed and the traveling party arrived at the hotel, my trusty assistant,
Mike Selleck (our PR rep on the trip), handed his cell to Mr. 209
for a prearranged live interview back home with
Ralph Barbieri and Tom Tolbert
on KNBR Radio.  Dallas didn’t miss a beat, providing about 15
minutes of highly-entertaining radio to a drive-time audience that’s normally
conditioned to hear nothing but Giants baseball this time of year. 

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I won’t go on and on about
Dallas’ media week, as so much was documented in the local outlets, but suffice
it to say that there were dozens of email and phone exchanges between myself
and the producers of the Letterman Show–I suggested they soften the A-Rod
reference in No. 10 of the Top 10 list by adding, “Grandma’s Right” to the line
as their original line just said, “Stick It, A-Rod!” 

 

In the case of CBS Early
Morning, one behind-the-scenes tale involved me negotiating back and forth with
the network and also Dallas,
trying to avoid the obscene time for the interview, originally scheduled for
Wednesday.  Due to the unexpected
four-hour, extra-inning marathon the A’s played in Tuesday’s series opener in
Texas, Dallas did not get back to the hotel until nearly 1 a.m. CT, where he
met his equally beleaguered grandmother, who had just arrived herself after
being flown in by CBS from Sacramento. 
Both were facing the unenviable prospects of getting about four hours
sleep before getting down to the hotel lobby for a 6 a.m. pickup.  I felt for them and I also felt for CBS, who
had done so much work on preparing a nice video package, not to mention
spending significant money on travel arrangements.  I tried to get CBS to move the interview to
later in the show, bargaining to get them a little more sleep.  But CBS was locked in with obligations to dozens
of their affiliates, plus it was too late to move other guests.   So here I was, standing outside on our
Berkeley patio at 11 p.m. PDT (2 a.m. EDT)–trying not to disturb my wife and
son–breaking the news to CBS that Dallas and Mrs. Lindsey would not be doing the interview scheduled for
only six hours later!  You can imagine
how that news went over.  Dallas felt terrible
about it, but understandably his first priorities were his grandmother and then
baseball.  Fortunately, we were able to
reschedule the interview for Thursday morning, and it went off well. 

 

Before I close this account
of Dallas’ wild
week, I want to also thank so many other people who were directly or indirectly
impacted by Braden’s gem.  In catching
his perfect game, Powell was inundated with media calls–including at least a
half dozen from his home area in the Carolinas–while the golden-throated
Ken
Korach
did numerous
radio interviews the following days to discuss his classic radio call of the
historic game.  Same for
Amaury Pi-Gonzalez, who in fact was at the Univision-Telefutura studios
in San Francisco
just this morning to be part of the “Good Morning America” show on the Spanish
network.  And the same thanks should be
given to
Billy Beane, Geren and his staff, as well as all of Dallas’ teammates who had
to chip in with added media interviews this week. 

 

As for me and my staff, this
is what you live for if you’re in our business. 
And just like everyone I have mentioned, I personally felt this was
truly a privilege to be part of.  Like
those fans in attendance last Sunday, we experienced history.  And to have a front
row seat as part of the Oakland
A’s staff, I feel so blessed.  Not only
is Dallas’
magnificent performance now entered into baseball’s record books, it is also
indelibly etched in all of our memories for a lifetime. 

WHO ME, SUPERSTITIOUS?

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When I first became a
baseball PR man, I was told in no uncertain terms that this is a sport of
superstition.  Streaks ran hot and
streaks ran cold for teams and players, and there was no logical explanation
for either. It’s kind of like those isolated villages in the backlands of
Africa or Brazil
you see on PBS programs.  The natives
seem to always be worshiping some god that controls various factors of their
existence.  The Sun God.  The Rain God.  The Good
Harvest
God.  Well, while it goes
against my own personal faith, there are fully grown men who absolutely believe
there is a Baseball God.  They claim there’s no other way to
explain why line drives that hit the chalk line one day will just as likely
curve foul by two inches the next.  Or that that same on-the-black slider that
was called a strike in New York might be
called a ball in Detroit.
 Or why an opponent arrives in town mired
in an eight-game losing streak of epic proportions and for no good reason, can
inexplicably channel the 1927 Yankees for one series and sweep your team!  In fact, just over the weekend, that actually
did happen when the Baltimore
Orioles–yes, those Baltimore
Orioles–rode a rare wave to sweep the big, bad Boston Red Sox in a three-game
series. 

 

And closer to home, as you
know, our Fightin’ A’s limp home after a nightmarish 1-5 road trip that saw the
Rays and Blue Jays spew forth 14 home runs and 46 runs against a pitching staff
that had left Oakland only seven days earlier with a quite exquisite 2.93 ERA.  Of course, some of it can be explained by
injuries, as we lost one starting pitcher to the DL (Brett Anderson) and may
lose another one (Justin Duchscherer) if medical tests today reveal anything
serious.  And Kurt Suzuki–unquestionably
the team’s MVP last season–joined the A’s DL-bound wounded when his back was
slow to respond to treatment last week. 

 

So can you really wonder why
baseball players and fans are superstitious?  Of course, I think such thoughts are rather
silly.  But to be safe, bring all your charms
and good luck pieces–heck, wear garlic
necklaces–
to the Coliseum this week to ward off any evil spirits that could derail a winning homestand.  It’s time to get the green-and-gold mojo back and let those Rangers and Rays
take turns at trying to explain the unexplainable.  Not that I’m superstitious or anything.    

COHESION, CHEMISTRY AND COMRADERIE FUEL A’S EARLY SUCCESS

In today’s sports world,
people can easily become obsessed with individual statistics and glamorous
superstars.  With fantasy leagues, video
games and constant ESPN SportsCenter
highlights bombarding our consciousness, rarely do we pause to ponder why some
All-Star laden teams miss the playoffs while other clubs lacking those
high-voltage stars are surprise contenders. 
As we jet to St. Petersburg today for the
start of a six-game road trip, the first-place Oakland A’s are a prime example of how
chemistry can transform a group of athletes into a unified force. 


In short, what I’ve observed over the past
several weeks is a collection of blue-collar players–or is that Green Collar?–who are fast becoming a
real team.  That team evolution can manifest itself
in many subtle or not-so-subtle ways. 
Maybe it starts with
Ben Sheets
instilling a unique comradeship with his new teammates, not to mention a loose,
fun atmosphere in the clubhouse.  Still
seeking his first victory as an Athletic, Big Ben arrived at the Coliseum the
other day wearing Warriors’ NBA gear head to toe and toting a new Nurfball basketball rim and ball set.  Before long, the A’s clubhouse was filled
with blaring music, raucous laughter and a frat house vibe warmly reminiscent
of earlier days in Oakland.

 

Or maybe we started to
become a real team when
Dallas Braden confronted A-Rod the
other day when the Yankee slugger jogged across his mound.  While Dallas expressed his
feelings to Rodriguez in no uncertain terms, his message also reverberated
throughout the A’s clubhouse.  Mr. 209
was, perhaps, sending a message not only to Mr. Tabloid but also letting his
teammates know the 2010 Oakland A’s will not be subservient to anyone.  It almost reminded me of the
Jim Harbaugh incident at Stanford when he took over the football
coaching reins there.  People scoffed
when Harbaugh, in reference to
Pete Carroll
of perennial Pac-10 champion USC, said that Stanford would “bow to no
man!”  In a different way, I remember hearing
the same thing from a former baseball GM I once worked for.  “Rosey,” he said, “somebody’s got to
win.  We’re good guys, so why not us?”

 

Other signs of “we” over
“me” this year?   How about the weekly
sight of team barber
Rajai Davis, wielding electric
clippers in the clubhouse rest room, cutting his buddies’ hair, but maybe more
importantly, engaging in small talk that brings teammates closer together.  Or
Kevin Kouzzzzzzzzzzmanoff, another new kid on the block, returning to the lineup
yesterday despite a gimpy ankle and sore calf that probably needed more rest.  Clearly, he saw how our lineup looked
the previous day, and he knew the club needed his bat in the middle of the
lineup.  The A’s new third baseman sucked
it up, played with some discomfort and absolutely was a catalyst in us winning
the rubber match of the Indians’ series. 
And you don’t think his new teammates noticed what a gamer Kouz was in
taking one for the team?  Same could be
said for
Kurt Suzuki, who belted his third
homer in four days last Friday despite a stiff back, or
Daric Barton, who refused to come out of the lineup last week
even though his right elbow was swollen almost twice the size of his left one,
and then proceeded to ignite key rallies in Oakland wins.

 

And if not Barton or
Kouzmanoff providing heroics, then it’s
Gio or the Duke.  As the old
axiom goes, it’s seemingly been a different hero every game.  And with that, the 2010 A’s are truly becoming
a greater team than the sum of its parts. 
Whether they can continue to play baseball at a .600 clip and reside on
the AL West’s top rung remains to be seen. 
But if they do, you can bet I’ll be spewing plenty more clichés about
this group.  They’re playing like a team. 
What a concept!

WHY JACKIE ROBINSON’S LEGACY STILL MATTERS

Later
this week, the Oakland A’s will join the rest of Major League Baseball in
paying tribute to one of America’s great civil rights pioneers.  On April 15, every team in baseball will
honor
Jackie
Robinson
by wearing his familiar No. 42
on their game jerseys.  Here in Oakland, the A’s will
welcome nearly 500 Bay Area elementary and middle school students, teachers and
parents as their guests at the game for their recent participation in the
Jackie Robinson “Breaking Barriers Essay Contest,” which was co-sponsored by
Major League Baseball.  Through this
essay contest, it is our hope that these youngsters will learn why Jackie is
such an important figure in our country’s history and also that they, too, can
overcome barriers. 

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When
Jackie became the first African American to break the color barrier in baseball
in 1947, consider this
:  Martin Luther King, Jr. was only 18 years old at the time, almost ten years before he would lead the
Montgomery Bus Boycott, and 16 years
before he would deliver his famous “I Have A Dream” speech during the March on
Washington in 1963.  Without question,
Dr. King met tremendous resistance during his fight for civil rights.  But can you imagine the climate in this
country when Jackie Robinson first suited up as a Brooklyn Dodger? 

By Commissioner Selig mandating that every club retire Jackie’s number
back in 1997, it absolutely sent the right message to everyone involved in the
game.  Jackie’s story needed to be heard
then and it continues to be as pertinent today as it was more than a half
century ago.  It heartens us to see youngsters
like eighth grader
Rosario Abonce of Rancho Medanos
Junior High School in Pittsburg
and fourth grader
Monica Martinez of Tara Hills Elementary School in San Pablo write in their essays about how his
courage and determination inspired them as well.

Robinson
also inspired other minority ball players that would follow him, including the
many African American and Latin superstars of the 1960’s–
Willie Mays, Hank
Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda, Frank Robinson
, among others–who rewrote the baseball history books
with their marvelous skills and accomplishments.  Sports have always served as an agent for
social change, as performance has no color. 
The diversity of athletes, whether it is race, religion, national origin
or economic status, has served this country well in teaching tolerance,
understanding and teamwork. 

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Jackie
Robinson led the way in professional sports. 
So, when you think of our team’s rich heritage here in Oakland, also remember that Jackie made it
possible for the likes of
Blue Moon, Vida, Reggie, Rickey and Stew and many
other great players of color to enjoy remarkable careers with the Athletics through
years.  We all owe a debt of gratitude to
No. 42.

A WEEK TO REMEMBER FOR OAKLAND’S OWN

          One of the real rewards of
this job is watching young players live out their childhood dreams.  For
Tyson Ross, many
of his dreams were realized this week.  I
first met Tyson during the summer of 2008. 
The 6-6, 225-pound right-hander had been selected by the A’s in the
second round of that year’s draft and was subsequently signed to a minor league
contract.  He was paying a visit to the
Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum before reporting to single-A Kane County.  Of course, it wasn’t the first time he had
stepped foot inside the Coliseum, having grown up in Oakland
and attended both Bishop O’Dowd High School
and Cal.

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On
that sunny afternoon in 2008, he and his parents, Willie and Jean, were all
smiles in the A’s dugout.  Clearly, it
was a dream come true for Tyson to sign a professional contract with his
childhood team, the Oakland
A’s.  Little did he and his family realize
but 21 months later, he would live a much bigger dream:  wearing a Major League uniform as part of the
A’s 2010 Opening Day roster.  I still can
see that look on his face–a mix between euphoria and disbelief–when he was
informed by the A’s brass in
Bob Geren’s
office after the final Bay Bridge Series exhibition game that he had, indeed,
made the 25-man roster. 

First,
he returned to his locker, where a group of media were milling around.  Beyond the ear-to-ear smile, Tyson could only
manage three words at first:  “I made
it!”  For many of the writers who had
covered him in spring training, I think they also enjoyed the news.  Not only because it was a great
local-boy-made-good story, but they–like I–had witnessed what a fine young man
Tyson is.  His warm smile, humble
demeanor and cooperative nature had made him one of the clubhouse favorites in Arizona.  In fact, after doing a Comcast satellite
talk-back interview for Chronicle Live
from his spring apartment in Tempe
a few weeks ago, I received an almost unprecedented phone call from the Comcast
truck technician.  He called me just to
let me know how cooperative and kind Tyson had been with him.  That type of call is unheard of in my
business.

After
meeting with the media, Tyson came into (equipment manager)
Steve Vucinich’s office.  He
asked Vuc if it would be okay for him to call his family to let them know he
made the team.  I was privileged to be
standing in Vuc’s office when he made the call. 
It was really a tender moment, hearing the excitement in his voice as he
told the most important people in his life–those who had driven him to summer
league games, iced his arm after games, helped him stay focused on his
academics at O’Dowd and Cal, in other words, those who loved him since birth
and had always been there for him–that he had made The Show.            Since
that night, it’s been a whirlwind for Tyson. 
The local media continued to flock to him after Opening Night. Comcast’s
Kate
Longworth
did a clever little feature on
“The Passing of the Ball Bag,” interviewing Andrew Bailey as he literally handed Tyson the pitcher’s
ball bag–a chore reserved for the incoming rookie as part of a time-honored
tradition in baseball.  But the flurry of
media attention had just started for Oakland’s
Own. 

In
Game 3 of the Mariners’ series,  Ross was
summoned from the bullpen with two outs in the sixth inning in relief of
starter
Justin Duchscherer.  A’s public address announcer Dick Callahan pronounced his entrance:  “Now pitching for the A’s….making his Major
League debut….number 66….Tyson Ross!”  From
the press box, I swear I could see Tyson’s heart pounding.  But despite being amped up–he forgot to hold
on
Franklin
Gutierrez
at first base, which resulted
in a stolen base on his first pitch–Ross soon settled into the game.  His 95 MPH fastball and nasty slider was no
match for
Rob Johnson, who will now always
be remembered as Tyson’s first Major League strikeout.  Ross mowed down the Mariners again in the
seventh inning.  Then in the eighth, he
faced immortality with
Ken Griffey, Jr. at the plate.  When Kurt Suzuki almost hung on to Junior’s two-strike foul tip, I
could only imagine the reaction in the stands by the Ross Family.  In unison, they probably all jumped out of
their seats.  However, Tyson soon added
the exclamation point to his maiden Major League appearance.  He came back to ring up the future Hall of
Famer and completed two-and-one-third scoreless innings in playing a key role
in Oakland’s 6-5 victory over Seattle. 

It
was a storybook night for the kid who once played youth baseball games at the
Bushrod baseball fields on the other side of San Leandro Blvd., literally in the
shadow of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. 
It’s happened so quickly for Tyson Ross, you really can’t blame him if
he’s not quite sure what’s real and what’s a dream these days.  In either case, it’s a safe bet he’s in no
hurry to wake up.  After all, he’s having
the time of his life.

SPRING TRAINING: THE GAME WITHIN THE GAME

Crystal blue skies, temperatures
in the high 70’s, and the glorious aroma of orange blossoms in bloom.  Spring Training in Arizona may not be heaven, but according to
reliable sources, you can at least see
heaven from here.  That being said,
spring camp is anything but relaxing and carefree for some A’s players.  These final days in the desert represent
“crunch time” for a select few veterans and prospects who are still trying to
earn a spot on this year’s Opening Night roster. 


Tonight as I peer out of the Scottsdale
Stadium press box, I see a 31-year-old right-hander named Jason Jennings who is
pitching for his baseball life.  Signed
to a minor league contract Feb. 28, Jennings
is far removed from his 2002 Rookie of the Year season with the Colorado
Rockies.  He brings a rotund 12.27 ERA
into tonight’s game against the Giants–not exactly the kind of spring he needs
to turn heads among Oakland’s baseball brass as they consider him for either a
fifth starter or middle relief role. 
Depending on how he does tonight, he may or may not get another start in
Arizona.  So, Jason knows the deal.  He needs to step it up, and he needs to step
it up now. 


There are other players in camp who must
play “the game within in the game” as well. 
There’s the versatile Eric Patterson, primarily an outfielder and second
baseman, who is out of options.  With
veterans like Jack Cust, Gabe Gross and even Travis Buck offering more big
league experience as backup outfielders, and Adam Rosales apparently the club’s
primary utility infielder, Patterson is battling steep odds to land a job on
the 25-man roster.  However, you can’t
say Eric isn’t doing everything possible to make the A’s final decision difficult.  He’s hit .364 with six RBI and four walks in
his last eight games and is tied for fifth in the Cactus League in triples.  And there’s Jake Fox, an off-season
acquisition from the Cubs who has yet this spring to exhibit the power the A’s
coveted when they made the trade.  Will
Fox’s miniscule .063 average this month have much bearing on his chances of
making the cut?  Or will his 11 home runs
and 44 RBI in only 82 games last year with Chicago–not to mention his no-option
status–carry the most weight?  


While Jennings, Patterson and
Fox live in a more pressurized world due to the precarious stage of their
careers, there are a few younger players who tasted the major league lifestyle
last year and are embroiled in daily competition for their second season with
the big club.  Gilded armed starters
Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Vin Mazzaro fall into that category, as all
three continue to compete for the A’s fifth slot in the rotation.  Without question, all three have promising
futures.  But while Ben Sheets, Justin
Duchscherer and Dallas Braden take the mound this spring to merely work on new
pitches or raise their pitch counts, the aforementioned young guns are trying
to hang zeroes in every inning they toil. 
They all know that per diem and salaries–not to mention travel
accomodations–are vastly different in Oakland
than they are in Sacramento.


Tonight, Jennings
made progress, striking out four batters and allowing two runs in three innings
of work.  Patterson, a late-inning
substitution at second base, booted a routine grounder hit by Pablo Sandoval in
the seventh which opened the door for a game-deciding two-run rally by the
Giants.  As the days dwindle here in Arizona, both men know a
life-altering decision is on the horizon. 
The window of opportunity is closing quickly. 

SPRING TRAINING: THE GAME WITHIN THE GAME

Crystal blue skies, temperatures
in the high 70’s, and the glorious aroma of orange blossoms in bloom.  Spring Training in Arizona may not be heaven, but according to
reliable sources, you can at least see
heaven from here.  That being said,
spring camp is anything but relaxing and carefree for some A’s players.  These final days in the desert represent
“crunch time” for a select few veterans and prospects who are still trying to
earn a spot on this year’s Opening Night roster. 


Tonight as I peer out of the Scottsdale
Stadium press box, I see a 31-year-old right-hander named Jason Jennings who is
pitching for his baseball life.  Signed
to a minor league contract Feb. 28, Jennings
is far removed from his 2002 Rookie of the Year season with the Colorado
Rockies.  He brings a rotund 12.27 ERA
into tonight’s game against the Giants–not exactly the kind of spring he needs
to turn heads among Oakland’s baseball brass as they consider him for either a
fifth starter or middle relief role. 
Depending on how he does tonight, he may or may not get another start in
Arizona.  So, Jason knows the deal.  He needs to step it up, and he needs to step
it up now. 


There are other players in camp who must
play “the game within in the game” as well. 
There’s the versatile Eric Patterson, primarily an outfielder and second
baseman, who is out of options.  With
veterans like Jack Cust, Gabe Gross and even Travis Buck offering more big
league experience as backup outfielders, and Adam Rosales apparently the club’s
primary utility infielder, Patterson is battling steep odds to land a job on
the 25-man roster.  However, you can’t
say Eric isn’t doing everything possible to make the A’s final decision difficult.  He’s hit .364 with six RBI and four walks in
his last eight games and is tied for fifth in the Cactus League in triples.  And there’s Jake Fox, an off-season
acquisition from the Cubs who has yet this spring to exhibit the power the A’s
coveted when they made the trade.  Will
Fox’s miniscule .063 average this month have much bearing on his chances of
making the cut?  Or will his 11 home runs
and 44 RBI in only 82 games last year with Chicago–not to mention his no-option
status–carry the most weight?  


While Jennings, Patterson and
Fox live in a more pressurized world due to the precarious stage of their
careers, there are a few younger players who tasted the major league lifestyle
last year and are embroiled in daily competition for their second season with
the big club.  Gilded armed starters
Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Vin Mazzaro fall into that category, as all
three continue to compete for the A’s fifth slot in the rotation.  Without question, all three have promising
futures.  But while Ben Sheets, Justin
Duchscherer and Dallas Braden take the mound this spring to merely work on new
pitches or raise their pitch counts, the aforementioned young guns are trying
to hang zeroes in every inning they toil. 
They all know that per diem and salaries–not to mention travel
accomodations–are vastly different in Oakland
than they are in Sacramento.


Tonight, Jennings
made progress, striking out four batters and allowing two runs in three innings
of work.  Patterson, a late-inning
substitution at second base, booted a routine grounder hit by Pablo Sandoval in
the seventh which opened the door for a game-deciding two-run rally by the
Giants.  As the days dwindle here in Arizona, both men know a
life-altering decision is on the horizon. 
The window of opportunity is closing quickly. 

30 YEARS LATER, BILLYBALL STILL RELEVANT IN OAKLAND

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As I recently watched Rajai Davis do his thing in a
Cactus League game–double, stolen base and run scored in the first inning of
last Sunday’s game against Kansas City–I couldn’t help but think of an earlier Oakland
A’s era. It was called Billyball,
starring the always colorful Billy Martin as team manager.  This year marks the 30th
anniversary of that unique chapter of our franchise’s history.  I see a few similarities between those A’s
clubs of 1980-82 and our current edition. 
Back in 1980, Martin inherited a young team that had endured a 108-loss
season the previous year.  His plan to
reverse the A’s fortunes was based on stellar starting pitching, solid defense,
daring base running and competent situational hitting.  Is this starting to sound familiar?

 

Before long, this young and unproven club was
unnerving the opposition with double steals and steals of home plate–they stole
home seven times in 1980–suicide
squeeze bunts, hit-and-run plays, and even a successful hidden ball trick on
Opening Day!  A dear friend of mine, the
late, great Ralph Wiley of the Oakland
Tribune
(and later Sports Illustrated
and ESPN fame), witnessed this
new, exciting brand of baseball unfold under Martin’s direction.  He decided there was only one way to describe
what was happening in Oakland.  He would call it, Billyball.  The name stuck
and soon it appeared in club advertisements and national media coverage.  Remarkably, Martin piloted the 1980 A’s to an
83-79 record and second-place finish in the AL West, which represented a
29-game improvement from the previous season. 


Led by second-year outfielder Rickey Henderson, who broke Ty Cobb’s
American League record with 100 stolen bases, that ’80 club won with speed (175
stolen bases) and pitching (league-best 3.46 ERA).  Martin, who believed pitchers should finish
what they start, would have laughed at today’s pitch-count obsession.  His first A’s pitching staff posted a mind-boggling
94 complete games, still the Oakland
team record.  In fact, A’s pitchers
reeled off nine consecutive complete
games from Aug. 9-17 that season.

 

Right-handers Rick Langford (28, still a club mark)
and Mike Norris (24) combined for 52 complete games in 1980.  Norris, the Cy Young Award runner-up, carved
up AL hitters
for a 22-9 record and 2.53 ERA, while Langford wasn’t far behind at 19-12 with
a 3.26 ERA.  Matt Keough (16-13, 2.92),
Steve McCatty (14-14, 3.86) and Brian Kingman (8-20, 3.83) rounded out a
five-man rotation that combined for 1,257 innings–an average of 251 innings per pitcher.

 

As an encore, Martin led Oakland to a 64-45 record to claim the AL
West title by five games in a strike-shortened 1981 season.  The A’s enjoyed an April for the ages that
year, going 18-3.  Despite a dearth of
front-line position players, the A’s fleet-footed trio of Henderson, Dwayne Murphy and Tony Armas
comprised one of the better outfield units in the league, virtually eliminating
balls from falling in the gaps.  2010 A’s
fans, does this sound familiar?

 

While Martin’s tenure in Oakland was brief and went
up in flames after a 68-94 downturn in 1982, Billyball will always have a warm place in the heart of A’s
fans.  Oakland was really struggling, having
suffered through three straight dismal seasons, losing 98, 93 and 108
games.  Attendance had hit an all-time
low in 1979, averaging only 3,984 fans
per game.  Buoyed by Billyball, Martin revived an ailing franchise.  His teams reeled off the three highest home
attendance seasons since the A’s moved to Oakland
in 1968–in other words, more fans than the team drew in any of their three
World Series championship seasons of 1972-74. 
Billyball, truly a remarkable
chapter in Oakland
A’s history.  Whether another improbable
chapter can be written in 2010 with the likes of Rajai Davis, Coco Crisp and
Ryan Sweeney and a plethora of gifted young pitchers, remains to be seen.  It will all start on Opening Night against
the Mariners April 5.

SO LONG NOMAR, YOU WERE A CLASS ACT

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Like many of you, earlier this week I watched the
televised news conference where Nomar Garciaparra officially announced his
retirement from baseball.  Appropriately,
“No Mah” had signed a one-day minor league contract with Boston so he could hang ‘em up as a Red Sox.  Knowing about his rare condition that genetically
made him susceptible to muscle injuries, the news that he was ending his
playing career at age 36 really wasn’t surprising to me.  Yet, as I sat there in my office at Phoenix
Muni watching him at the podium, I couldn’t help but reflect on my first
meeting with the Red Sox legend.  As you
know, we signed him to a one-year contract about this time last spring.  I’ve dealt with a lot of superstar athletes
in my career–Barry Bonds, John Elway, Steve Young, Deion Sanders, Aaron
Rodgers, Natalie Coughlin, Darryl Strawberry, Jeff Kent, Joe Carter, to name a
few–so I’ve seen all kinds of personalities and egos through the years. 


When I first encountered Nomar, I was prepared
for anything.  We met in the clubhouse
here in Phoenix.  He greeted me with his hand out and a warm
smile.  We shook hands and I told him I
needed to take him upstairs to our administrative offices to have his “mug
shot” taken by a photographer. Then he would join Orlando Cabrera, who was also
signed that day, for a brief media session in a nearby conference room
overlooking the field.  When we arrived
in the lobby area of our offices, I stopped to introduce Nomar to our long-time
Spring Training receptionist Wilona Perry. 
I was interested to see how he would respond to her, as I have always
found that you can tell a lot about a person by how they treat “ordinary”
people.  Virtually every star player or
celebrity I’ve known has been cordial and kind to the owner, the GM or the
network sportscaster.  Sadly, that is not
always the case with rank-and-file folks. 

But
I will never forget how Nomar treated Wilona. 
He could not have been more kind to her. 
He probably spent 15 minutes just chatting with her, even regaling her
with the now well-publicized story about how he and his brother once saved an
inebriated young woman who had accidentally fallen into the bay near his
condominium in Boston.  It was clear to me that Nomar had a big heart
and virtually no ego, and that he
clearly could separate Nomar Garciappara, the icon, from Nomar Garciaparra, the
real person.  As he left the lobby, he
made a point to shake Wilona’s hand one more time to say what a pleasure it had
been for him to meet her.  Then
we proceeded upstairs to the press conference. 
And before we could even start the conference, Nomar had personally
walked up to each and every journalist in attendance and greeted them with a
sincere handshake.  At this point, I was
starting to think, “This guy is too good to be true.”  Well, as I learned during last season, Nomar
was even better than I could have
ever imagined. 

While his path crossed
mine in the twilight of his career, I’m not sure I have ever admired an athlete
more than Nomar.  To watch him arrive
early every day at the clubhouse so he could be stretched–I’m sure with much
pain–and massaged so he might be available to play, if only for pinch-hitting
duties, was a revelation to me.  Most
superstars who had already tasted fame and fortune would have really had a hard
time accepting such a limited and arduous role. 
Nomar, however, never complained and was a remarkable gentleman.  He always treated everyone, from the media,
the fans, the trainers, the groundsmen, the clubbies, to someone from the front
office staff, with the utmost respect and kindness.  It made me recall an experience I had in a
previous life as the San Francisco Giants’ VP of Communications. 

Shawon Dunston, the former Chicago Cubs’ star
shortstop, joined the Giants late in his career after injuries had curtailed
his playing time.  Like Nomar, Shawon was
a very proud man with an accomplished background.  One of the more touching clubhouse scenes I
have ever witnessed was when one of Shawon’s young sons asked his father, “Hey daddy,
what position are you playing now?  I
don’t see you at shortstop anymore.” 
Shawon’s eyes began to tear up. 
He paused, and then answered, “Well, son, things have kind of
changed.  My position now is just…just to
be a good teammate.  As I look back to last year–Nomar’s final
chapter of a remarkable career–I know one thing that is absolutely
certain.  If you asked anyone in the A’s
clubhouse about Nomar Garciaparra, to a man they would say, “he was good
teammate.”  And perhaps more than
statistics, records or awards, those simple words might be the greatest tribute
a player can ever receive.

PHOTO DAY: SKAALEN & CRISP AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN

Photo Day is always one of
the rituals of Spring Training and today we honored that ritual by staging
ours.   Choosing the short straw among
the PR staff, it was my responsibility to arrive at the stadium at the obscene
time of 5:45 a.m. to accommodate photographers who set up equipment early.  Once the clock struck 7 a.m., A’s coaches and
players started to file by in rapid fashion, stopping at the various stations
along the way.  Hitting coach
Jim Skaalen, clearly a “morning person,” was the first to show
up at 6:59 a.m.  In home whites, Jim entered
the visiting clubhouse, where team photographer
Michael Zagaris and AP’s Eric Risberg
were the first two stops.  Skaalen was
the first of 70 coaches and players to run the gauntlet, which also included stations
for MLB Photos and Comcast SportsNet inside, plus newspapers and various
MLB-licensed trading card companies situated outside near the home dugout.

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Shortly thereafter, Bob Geren and some of his coaches arrived on the scene.  It is a time-worn tradition that the manager
and his staff get VIP treatment when they check in for Photo Day.  They immediately are taken to the front of
the line, ahead of the players.  And who
was the player at the front of the line, almost at the Promised Land? 
Craig Breslow.  First, I had to hold him for Geren.  Then Curt Young was
waved ahead.  Then
Tye Waller.  Breslow, demonstrating
the same type of poise and composure he exhibits on the mound, didn’t even
flinch.  The good news today, was we finished
Photo Day on time, thanks to stellar cooperation from the all guys. 
Coco Crisp, donning his not-yet-familiar No. 4 jersey, was the last player to be shot and he
was 15 minutes early.  This was a good
thing.  One thing you learn as a veteran
PR man is, don’t ever deliver players to practice late, because if you do,
managers tend to let you know they are not
happy.  Today, Geren was happy.

 

One guest instructor who
may have gone through as many Photo Days in his playing career as anyone alive
is Hall-of-Famer
Rickey Henderson.  What a
privilege it was to watch the all-time stolen base king working with our
players over the weekend.  Suited up and
looking like he could still play, Rickey has been instructing
Rajai Davis, Crisp and some of the younger base runners on the proper explosion
techniques for getting the optimum jump. 

Years ago when I was the
PR director across the bay for that other
Major League team, I had the great fortune to know another Hall-of-Famer named
Willie Mays.  I see a lot
of similarities between the A’s No. 24 and the Giants’ No. 24.  There’s a certain genius in their view of the game. 
They just see things that ordinary players do not.  And maybe just as impressive is the sheer
passion they continue to have for the sport. 
Both almost have an ageless quality about them.  When Rickey or Willie talk baseball, the
energy level is always at full throttle. 
And if you are a player standing next to them at the batting cage, you
can’t help but just feel that energy
and passion.  It inspiring, really.

I’ll be leaving for the
Bay Area after tomorrow’s intrasquad game and won’t return to camp until
Monday, so my next blog won’t come your way until some time next week.  If you’re not down here in the desert, make
sure you tune into XTRA Sports 860 AM for our first Cactus League game this
Thursday, March 4, when the A’s travel to Mesa to play the Chicago Cubs at
12:05 p.m. PST (1:05 Arizona Time).  The
familiar voices of
Ken Korach, Ray Fosse and
Vince
Cotroneo
will be booming on our
50,000-watt station.  Ladies and
gentlemen, 2010 A’s baseball is about to arrive!

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