Results tagged ‘ Oakland Athletics ’

.500 Can Mean Many Things In Eye Of Beholder

Okay,
A’s fans, your team is currently resting uncomfortably at the .500 mark after
32 games.  The rhetorical question is
this:  is that a good or bad thing?  Well perched at
.500 can have different connotations to different people.  For those who think our 16-16 record is
merely a continuation of last year’s team that carved out an 81-81 mark, maybe
the .500 mark is a negative.  And with
our early season bloated with superior pitching and anemic hitting, it’s no
wonder some frustrated A’s fans will declare “same old, same old.”

 

However,
my view is a bit more encouraging. 
First, the general feeling in the clubhouse, as well among our
fans,  was that last year we pretty much
maxed out by posting an 81-81 record and second-place finish.  This year, the vibe is much different. This
team expects to win and is clearly frustrated with a .500 mark at
this juncture of the early season.  I
think these guys know they’re a better club this season.  In fact, they knew it in spring
training.  And when you think about it,
the vital signs are more postive then you might think for a 16-16 team.  First, we sport a .500 record (8-8) on the
road, playing top-rate competition.  The
axiom that championship teams play .500 baseball on the road is true, so even
though we really haven’t consistently played good baseball this past month, the
fact remains that we’re getting it done on the road.  Then consider some other other omens.  We’re in AL West contention even though we’re
missing our All-Star closer (Andrew Bailey), Perfect Game starter (Dallas
Braden) and last year’s most valuable supersub (Adam Rosales).  And, we’re coming off a solid 4-3 homestand
against the defending AL champion Texas Rangers and baseball’s winningest team
this year, the Cleveland Indians, with recent wins triggered by the clutch
hitting of the three key offseason lineup acquisitions in David DeJesus (two
homers Wednesday), Hideki Matsui (walk-off home run Monday) and Josh Willingham
(game-tying homer and double Monday). Then add the apparent return of Michael
Wuertz’s devastating slider out of the pen and the recent dominating
performance of new starting pitcher Tyson Ross, and this club clearly is moving
in the right direction, .500 mark or not.

 

I
had the distinct pleasure to work with Dusty Baker for nearly 10 years when he
managed the Giants and Dusty always told me, “early in the season, the key
is to stick around .500.  If you can hang
around .500, eventually you’ll catch a hot streak and you can make your
move.  It’s the teams that dig a hole
early that have trouble getting into contention.” So folks, don’t
despair.  I know yesterday’s 12-inning heart-breaker
wears on all of us.  A win would have
clinched another series win and a 5-2 homestand.  But as my friend Dusty would also say, it’s
not a race, it’s a marathon.  So, we jet
to Kansas City, where I plan to grab some big league barbeque–some place called
LC’s, located in a former gas filing station (ambience, yes!)–and also expect
our boys to grab two or three wins (sauce optional).  Keep the faith, A’s Nation.  I think this group knows it can hit
better than it has.  And they also know
it’s up to them, and no one else, to prove it. 
Time, as it always does, will tell. 

 

Role Players Pivotal To A’s Success This Year

My first observation following yesterday’s 2-1 win in Toronto:   Trevor Cahill (left) looks like the same guy who won 18 last year and earned All-Star honors—if not better. His ball still darts downward with a bite almost unfair to hitters.  And this, from a 23-year-old kid who still sports peach fuzz on his cheeks.

It took some courage from Bob Geren to remove him from a 3-hit masterpiece after eight innings and a 105-pitch count, but in the long run, I think they felt it was time for Brian Fuentes to notch his first save.  We don’t make a serious run at the AL West crown unless we’re clicking on all cylinders, and that means Fuentes,   Bailey and Balfour providing the final touches on A’s wins.  Same goes for sitting down David DeJesus in favor of Conor Jackson (left, below) and plugging in Andy LaRoche to rest the ear-infected EllisJackson and LaRoche will play vital roles on this team if we want to join the 90-win echelon of other playoff contenders.  This means specialists and backup players will need to step up and flourish when they’re asked to perform, whether it is an occasional start, a pinch-hitting appearance, or a summon from the bullpen.

The good news is they’re passing the early tests.  After a bout with a finger blister, Fuentes looked like his old self at the Rogers Centre, whipping that cross-body heater that can tie hitters up in knots.  Jackson has been nothing but sensational in his two starts this season.  Not only has he wielded a hot bat, he’s also more than held his own in the field.  His shoestring catch of a sinking liner off the bat of Adam Lind in the sixth inning today may have been even more impactful than his game-deciding RBI single was in the eighth.  And LaRoche, thrust into the unaccustomed role of utilityman, may have emerged as our most consistent hitter in the early season while starting at shortstop, third base and second base in consecutive games.

Yes realists, we are only 2-4 as we enter the frigid confines of Target Field.  But as I mentioned in my previous blog, this is a work in progress.  While expectations are high, and the early season schedule presents challenges, those wearing green and gold uniforms are focusing merely at the task at hand.  With 156 games left to the finish line, there will be many revelations in store as the season unfolds.  Today, the Twins christen their home season.  Brett Anderson will take the mound for the Athletics, aiming to spoil another team’s Opening Day in the same fashion King Felix did in Oakland last week.  As always, time will tell.

Matsui Mania Officially Begins In A’s Land

For a guy who
hasn’t even picked up a bat or thrown a ball yet,
Hideki
Matsui
is already
creating quite a stir in the desert. 
This morning, the A’s new slugger arrived at the team’s Papago Park
minor league complex to shoot a commercial for Japanese television.  The commercial is for Komatsu, a
Japanese-based construction company which used to employ Hideki’s father,
Masao
Matsui
, for 23
years. 
Ted Polakowski, our director of minor league
operations, and I looked on with amazement as a small village of people and
vehicles descended on the Papago complex this morning.  Equipment and food trucks, Winnebagos–even an
industrial forklift–and catering tents served as a backdrop to dozens of local
Little Leaguers who joined Matsui-san on one of the baseball fields for
filming.  However, by early afternoon,
the rains and winds came, and the shoot was cut short. 

 

Matsui.JPG

But Hideki’s
day was far from over.  With the help of
his long-time PR aide, former Japanese sportswriter
Isao
Hirooka
, we then made
Matsui available for his Spring Training debut to both the Bay Area and
Japanese media.  First, there were rows
and rows of Japanese photographers, lined neatly in a small space on the patio
outside the Papago administrative building. 
Clearly, Matsui is a real pro who has posed for these “photo ops”
countless times.  Under bright lighting
and in full Oakland uniform, he waggled his bat, smiled for the cameras and
took a few swings.  Then he switched to
his glove, pounding the pocket and striking a different pose.  I kept thinking, “man, this guy is a real pro.”  Then once the photographers were satisfied,
Matsui seamlessly moved over to one of the picnic tables on the patio.  He sat down and spoke to the Bay Area media
through an interpreter.  He could not
have been more accommodating for the Chronicle’s
Susan Slusser, Bay Area News Group’s Joe
Stiglich
and the other
media.  Then when that session ended, Matsui
moved over to another area on the patio, where he addressed a much larger Japanese
media contingent.  Talk about stamina!

 

Of course, I
would be remiss not to share one other Matsui-related story that came from
today.  While he was entertaining media
at our Papago complex, three of Hideki’s new teammates were entertaining themselves back at the team clubhouse at
Phoenix Municipal Stadium this afternoon. 
Like a kid on Christmas morning, the irrepressible
Dallas
Braden
could hardly
contain himself as he awaited the delivery of a special gift he had ordered for
Matsui–a six-foot high inflatable Godzilla
replica.   As scheduled, it arrived
around 1 o’clock this afternoon.  Some of
the team clubbies inflated the plastic creature, then Braden and fellow
conspirators
Andrew Bailey
and
Craig Breslow
began their handiwork.  First, Dallas tossed
on the A’s alternative gold jersey–a tight fit, I must say–complete with the
word Matsui and No. 55 displayed on the back. 
Then Breslow suggested baseball cleats. 
Braden was delighted that he had one pair of Japanse-made spikes, which
he proudly fitted onto Godzilla’s feet. 
Then came the wrist bands, an A’s cap, and the
Pice de rsistance, a jock strap!  
Tomorrow morning, we expect Godzilla to meet Godzilla.  The world awaits.

BILLY O, CURVEBALLS AND CHRIS CARTER

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About
two months after I started my job as the new public relations director, I had
the pleasure of meeting
Billy Owens,
the A’s affable director of player personnel. 
It was August 2008, the White Sox were in town and Owens was parked next
to the batting cage at the Coliseum during BP. 
I asked him about a young prospect named
Chris Carter (right), the outfielder who came over in the Dan Haren trade
with Arizona
and had unleashed a 39-homer, 104-RBI season in his first year in the A’s farm
system at Single-A Stockton.  I
distinctly remember what “Billy O” said: 
“No one here in uniform tonight has more natural power than that kid,”
he said.  “He’s still raw but you can’t
teach that kind of power.”  Then I looked
around, and I saw
Ken Griffey, Jr., Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye, Frank Thomas and Jack Cust,
all in uniform.  “Billy O” looks at me
again and just nods his head. 

AND WHO’S THIS GUY DESME?

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Could this guy be for real?  Add him to Carter and
two-time All-American and Pac-10 Player of the Year
Brett Wallace (right), the prize piece in the Matt Holliday trade, and A’s fans may be seeing
the long ball return to Oakland sooner than we think.

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