Results tagged ‘ Oakland A's ’

St. Petersburg and Oakland Could be Sister Cities

 
 

Going into this weekend 4-game series between the Oakland Athletics and the Tampa Bay Rays, I decided to take a little look under the municipality covers of both locales and see if there is any similarities that would provide a common thread to mend these two communities together. My reasoning is simple here, both are not the largest cities within their regional boundaries, but yet they both currently support a Major League Baseball American League franchise within their own unique city limits.

With something like this in common, you know there has to be more than a few links and similarities that might have gone unnoticed to most people outside these two cities. Let first step into the cities themselves and provide a few interesting facts, then we will end with the two teams common bonds within the scope of Major League Baseball.

*** Both cities lie on the western most shorelines of their separate natural harbors or estuaries. St. Petersburg is located on the western edge of the Tampa Bay estuary, while Oakland is situated within the larger San Francisco Bay estuary.

*** Both cities are relatively close in size with Oakland encompassing 56.1 square miles of land, and St. Petersburg having 59.6 square miles of land.

*** Both cities were incorporated within 25 years of each other with Oakland being established on May 4,1852, and St. Petersburg being incorporated on Leap Day February 29,1876.

*** Both municipalities got their prominent starts thanks to the growing railroad industry with St. Petersburg being a main railroad terminus thanks to one of the city’s founders Russian railroad tycoon Peter Demens, and Oakland owes its debt to the Central Pacific Railroad.

 
St Pete Trolley Line

*** Both had little known trolley systems with Oakland’s system expanding into the modern day Key System while St. Petersburg’s trolley system, which ran from its most western point at Park Street down St Pete’s main road, Central Avenue to the eastern ending point at the end of the Million Dollar Pier.


*** Both cities boast a special place in aviation history as St. Petersburg was the site of the first known commercial airlines (1914) flight. Oakland was the starting point of Amelia Earhart’ s final flight on her World-wide flight plan. She had envisioned landing again in Oakland to conclude her journey.

*** Both cities primary newspapers started within 10 years of each other. The Oakland Tribune started in 1874, while the St. Petersburg Time started it first printing in 1884.

*** In both cities, local Major League Baseball support groups have been critical and instrumental in changes for the MLB’s team future homes. In Oakland, “Let’s Go Oakland” (Keep the A’s) has been a grassroots civic group trying to keep the team in Oakland. They even have a face book page to advertise their plight. While in St. Petersburg, POWW (Protect Our Wallets and Waterfront ) has been instrumental in blocking the formulation of plans for the Rays 2008 vision of a waterfront ballpark on the site of the team’s former Spring Training stadium.

*** Both Oakland and St. Petersburg are currently fighting to keep their MLB team’s within their city limits, with Oakland currently losing their battle to have team leaders consider a future home in O-town. St. Petersburg officials and Rays personnel will discuss more details following the 2010 Rays season as to their future plans.

 

*** Both have cities on the eastern coast of their estuaries fighting for recognition in the MLB team’s fight for a new state-of-the-art stadium. Oakland has the east shore communities of Freemont and San Jose fighting for the Athletics, while St. Petersburg has Tampa wanting the Rays to relocate in the downtown region of the city.


*** Both communities had team employees who went onto brilliant careers after serving as batboys for the teams. Tampa Bay had Jesse Litsch, who served as a Devil Rays batboy and worked as a team intern transform his baseball talents into becoming a member of the Toronto Blue Jays rotation. In Oakland, A’s owner Charlie Finley hired a local dancer, Stanley Burrell as his team’s batboy and also gave him an honorary title of Executive Vice President. Most of use know him by his stage name M C Hammer. Also interesting, both were locally born natives of the region’s where the teams are located.

***Oakland has long been known as the home of the “Moneyball” system of baseball talent evaluation set up by Athletics GM Billy Beane. Tampa Bay is home to the risk management style of players evaluation made famous by new MLB hotshot Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman. Both are considered baseball wunderkinds for their new provocative ways of evaluating their farm system’s talent.

 

*** Both team’s primarily use their farm system to restock their MLB 25-man rosters with limited outside Free Agent signing. Free Agents are brought in to fill holes, not institute major roles within the team’s core, which keeps both team’s payrolls within some of the smallest payrolls in the Major Leagues.


***Oakland closed their Third Deck seating areas to fans in 2006, including the famous “Mount Davis” sections built by Oakland Raider’s owner Al Davis to push his NFL football capacity to over 60,000. This effectively lower the A’s potential sellout capacity to 34,077, the smallest current MLB stadium capacity.
Tampa Bay covered up a higher section of their Upper Deck or 300 sections with blue tarps to lower their usual game attendance to 36,048 ( not counting Standing Room Only tickets). During the Playoffs, the Rays can remove the tarps and increase their stadium overall attendance to over 41,810 seats.

*** According to their 2010 Opening Day payrolls, the Tampa Bay Rays are ranked 25th ($ 63,313,035) and the Oakland Athletics are ranked 26th ($ 62,310,00 ) respectfully in Major League Baseball.

***
Both teams are also ranked in the lower third in attendance with Tampa Bay currently ranked 22nd and Oakland holding onto the 28th spot within the MLB’s 30 teams. Surprisingly, the Rays hold the bottom spot at number 30 in 2010 road attendance with a 22,780 road attendance average, while Oakland sits at the 20th spot with an average of 29,416 fans in the stands at away games.

 

As you can see these two communities definitely have a few things in common beside their future fighting and wrangling about their stadium situations. But what is amazing that even with this uneven playing field in front of them, both teams are above the .500 mark in 2010. One team (Tampa Bay) has a chance to secure their second AL title, while the Oakland will just have to be happy to play the spoiler role in 2010.

But both teams have one of the best baseball talent evaluators in their front offices, and one of the best stocked farm systems with young talent to keep their payrolls under control for many years. Maybe one day, both these communities could become “Sister Cities”, or would that just feel too darn weird?

 
 
 
 
 
 

Braden’s Gift on Mother’s Day is just….Perfect

 
 
Jed Jacobsohn / Getty
Yogi Berra would have been very proud to watch this Mother’s Day baseball game today. In fact his classic line of “Déjà vu happening all over again” would have been the “perfect” ending to the conclusion of the game. All week long there have been numerous National media members and broadcasters  who have been saying that your team had to be almost perfect to beat the surging Tampa Bay Rays right now.
 
And for one Sunday afternoon, the level of perfection by Oakland A’s starting pitcher Dallas Braden proved to be the right and exclamation point answer to finally trumping the Rays, and securing the first road series victory by an opposing home team from the Rays this season. Coming into today’s game, the Rays boasted an unheard of 13-2 road record, and were 4-1 on their present road trip. 

With an overflowing sea of pink Mother’s Day MLB merchandise scattered across the assorted tables in the Oakland A’s clubhouse, you have to think that primary on Braden’s mind coming into this start was his departed mother, and the maternal grandmother who stood by him in rough times and turned the rebel youth into a prototype model for left-handed perfection. His Grandmother did not teach him to pitch, but she did teach him how to be his own man. And after today, no one will ever remember the “mound” spat with Yankees Third Baseman Alex Rodriguez earlier the 2010 season when absent-minded A-Rod stepped on Braden’s mound during one of his starts.

Now the world will remember Barden for his articulate off-speed pitching that seemed to dazed and confused the Rays. All day long the Rays were caught looking or guessing at the combination of change-ups, sub-90′s mph fastball and a stifling curves thrown at them over the nine innings. Barden never seemed to sweat, or seem remotely nervous in this Mother’s Day start and was still throwing in the ninth inning for the first time of his short MLB career. Along with the “Perfecto”, Braden threw his first complete game of his career on a day that MLB used to celebrate all of our mothers.

 
Jed Jacobsohn / Getty

And firmly planted within Braden’s mind during his pitching performance on Sunday afternoon was the many sacrifices and the pain and suffering shared by his two “Mother-figures” in his life. For Barden’s life might have taken a different path if not for the hardnosed approach by his mother, Jody Atwood during his high school years.  And the light bulb finally came on for Braden during a high school trip to Mexico, he began to see the constant path through his mother’s guidance and talks and made an immediate 180 degree turn in his life choices.


But Atwood was not in the stands today to see the mature and well poised Braden throw his first professional pitching gem as she had succumbed to melanoma cancer while Braden was still in his late teens and turned the ball to her mother Peggy Lindsay. So it was only fitting that Braden was so emotionally charged and focused on the mound today as he wore the pink ribbon over his heart on his A’s jersey. But even more important today was that at no moment in the game did we ever see a crack in his armor, either in his facial expressions or his pinpoint pitching accuracy.

Some will say that he might have been channeling former Athletics southpaw Jim “Catfish” Hunter who only 15,331 days earlier had thrown a similar Perfect game for the Athletics back on May 8, 1968. And this is not to suggest that Braden will transform into the second coming of Hunter, but to even be within  a small piece of that shadow of a Baseball Hall of Fame inductee will do wonders to Braden’s inner confidence as a pitcher, and as a man. And amazingly enough, the final score of that 1968 game was 4-0, the same as today’s final score.

But then some others will say that the always rightious Baseball Gods might have rewarded Braden for his stern discipline of safeguarding the “Unwritten Rules” of the game by his argument with A-Rod today. But the conclusion I  have come up with is divine guidance through physical integrity. This is a guy who was so cool, calm and relatively collected after throwing his last pitch of the game in which Rays Rightfielder Gabe Kapler hit a ball towards A’s shortstop Cliff Pennington who threw to Daric Barton at First Base to secure the perfect game for the left-hander.

 
Jed Jacobsohn / Getty

How ironic is it that within the last year, the Rays have been victims of two different Perfect Games by two outstanding left-handed pitchers. In their July 23,2009 game against Chicago White Sox starter Buehrle, the Rays struck out 6 times in their 27 times to the plate. Interestingly enough, they also struck out 6 times today against Braden. Buehrle threw 116 pitches while Braden only needed 106 to complete the Perfecto. Both pitchers earlky on seemed to be “in the moment” but today, Braden did not need a “big play” to secure his Perfect Game. The closest he got to that was a hard hit line drive by Evan Longoria down the Third Base line that A’s Third Baseman Kevin Kousmanoff took in easily early in the game.


Braden got his own personal revenge on these same Rays who took advantage of his early wildness the last time he faced the Rays on April 28,2010 in Tropicana Field.  On that day Braden also opposed Rays starter James Shields on the mound, but the Rays got to Braden early and chased him from the game after only 88 pitches. The loss he suffered that day ended Braden’s personal three game winning streak. You got to think he mentally put it in the back of his mind for some redemption today to end Shield’s own 4-game winning streak when he took the mound against the Rays today.

It was simply amazing to watch the top of the 9th inning as all 12,228 fans in attendance stood for the entire Rays at bat, then remained standing and becoming more emotionally attached with every single pitch thrown during that final half an inning. For they instantly knew of the impossibility of this moment when Braden came back out to the mound in the top of the ninth inning, and knew the immediate importance of this win that would snap the Rays early season dominance on the road.


Jed Jacobsohn / Getty

It truly did take a tremendous effort on the mound today against the Rays for Braden to eventually have his name mentioned along with Hunters in that elusive collection of Athletic’s outstanding pitching performances and capture this memorable Perfect Game. And if I was in attendance at Oakland/Alameda County Coliseum today, even if I was head-to-toe in Rays gear, I would have stood and cheered along side the huge amount of A’s fans after the conclusion of this sparkling pitching gem.

It is the thought of achieving such levels of perfection that drives some athletes to sweat more, and work increasingly harder within the sport of baseball. And  for an athlete to even have a chance to finally fulfill that destiny, the momentum of the moment and final gasp of breath after achieving that moment is unexplainable. On a Sunday when the entire MLB community is showering the stadiums with support for those special women in our lives, perfection was in Braden’s heart today.
 
And  Braden’s transformation on the mound today was remarkable and makes me want to stand up and cheer loud and proud for him today. Baseball immortality is now shining long and bright on Braden today, or maybe  a few of thowe past motherly influences finally coame to fruition to lighten up this memorable Mother’s Day. 

 
Jed Jacobsohn / Getty

Cherish the moment.

“Rickey” Sprints into the Hall of Fame

 

 
 

 

For the next few days people all over the country, including sportswriters will be writing about their favorite Rickey Henderson moments either in stories or in his wild quotes.  Henderson along with former Red Sox Jim Rice were selected today for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Now I will not be there, but you can bet I will as close to a television set as possible during the Induction Ceremonies to hear the speech that might either shock or amuse baseball for the rest of the year. the biggest surprise to me is the fact that he did not garner more than 94.8 percent of the vote. Now I did not think he was going to challenge Tom Seavers 98.8 percent, but thought he might hit the 96 plateau without a hitch.
 

 
So why did some people not put him on their ballot? didn’t this guy change the way we look at fast hitters and basestealers in the MLB? Come on people the guy who is the career leader in runs scored and stolen bases by a huge margin is nothing more than a scrub to some BBWAA voters. Maybe some of the voices are right, maybe we need to tweak this system a bit and weed out some of the naysayers who look more at off the field actions than on the highlights accomplished on the field.

 



 

 
Is there any argument that Henderson  because of his power and ability to get on base ,could change a games complexity with a  single hit or a walk? Do you think that this one guy could be responsible for the induction of speed demons in the lead-off spot and not buried down in the 7,8, or 9 slots in a lineup? And do you think that Henderson might have viewed himself like a cartoon character to actually not be bothered by the critics and naysayers who thought he was a destroyer of the game?
 

The answer to all three questions is  a huge YES.


Henderson did change a pitchers’ mind when he was on base. It brought  into the pitchers’ mind that he could steal a base on any pitch. I did not matter if it was a 100 mph Fastball, change-up, curve, it made no difference to Henderson, any pitch was a good pitch to steal a base.  His power made you respect his plate discipline enough to not try and finesse a pitch up there, or you would be getting a fresh ball from the umpire.   Henderson went to the plate 10,961 times in his career. 

 

 

 


During his career from 1979 to 2003, Henderson had 3,055 hits, which in its own right should be a good consideration for the Hall of Fame. He hit 510 doubles and  66 triples. I think those numbers might have been a lot higher if he did not have a great thrill in running and stealing bases on any pitcher that took the mound. I could see him pull up at first or second base just so he could play that cat and mouse game with a pitcher then steal the base on him and give him that grin from the bag.

 
In his career he got 4,588 total bases.  He stole a grand total of 1,406 bases, and only got caught 335 times during his career. That seems like a low mark to be caught stealing, but Henderson made the act of stealing a base into an art form during his career. Think of the totals he would have left with if he had been active in the MLB, even at his advanced age. 
 

 

 


From 2000 on, he only appeared in over 100 games with one club. While he was with the San Diego Padres in 2000, he appeared in 123 and still stole 25 bases. But during his last year in the MLB, Henderson was mostly a bench player for the Los Angeles Dodgers and only made it into the game 30 times during the season. He did however steal 3 bases that year in his limited role.  But have to remember, not just did he have a few gray hairs by then, but defenses were setting up for him knowing he was in the game to get into scoring position and maybe score the winning run for his team.

 


 

 

I truly feel that the arrogance of stealing a base, along with is knack for sliding around the tags is the reason players like current Tampa Bay Rays speed demons Carl Crawford owe their careers to Henderson. Before Henderson made it an offensive weapon to truly steal a base with gusto, Lou Brock was the only other base stealer to command as much attention when on base.  But Henderson did something none of the other base stealers ever did, he tried to bait pitchers into balks and mis-throws to the plate based on his ability to steal and to take an edge off the team’s pitching game.

 

Henderson changed the lead-off position. Here was a guy who had 2,190 base on balls during his career, and could bring a new dimension to the game with four pitched balls. Every walk he was ever issued looked more like a doubler to him because he could steal a base and get into scoring position at any moment. Henderson also could hit the long ball. Lost in a lot of the translation into his base stealing is the fact he did hit 297 home runs in his career, mostly from the lead-off position. So as you can see, New York Met’s shortstop, Jose Reyes also owes a big round of applause to Henderson in making it fashionable to get dirty stealing bases in the MLB.




 

 

Now for why Henderson always talked about himself in the third-person. Some people have commented that it was a defense mechanism devised by someone for Henderson because it made his character on the field different than the man in the clubhouse after the game. It left him into a secondary world to rant, rave and just be “Rickey” while he wore the team’s colors. This might or might not be true, but if you really think about the image of being able to put your work suit on and take the punishments and the abuse while you are working, then shed those insults, opinions and wild lies when you toss them in the clothes hamper to be washed, it make a bit of sense.
 


Who among us would not relish a secondary personality or a persona that we could use at work and toss aside and forget the troubles and strife in a moments notice. This might not be the true reason for his third-person antics, but it does make good conversation for the next few months. But the antics and the stories concerning Henderson are many and both base in legend and in folly. 
 


But one of the best ones I ever heard was from a Oakland area sports story that told the story about the Oakland A’s front office finding a financial mistake in their bookkeeping. It was  showing that the team had a million dollars more than it was suppose to have in it’s coffers. After a series of check and double checks, it was concluded that they had only one conclusion to this error. A member of the Athletics management went down into the locker room and found Henderson and asked what he did with the $ 1 million dollar check the team had issued to him. Henderson remarked that he put the check under glass. Never cashed it, never even thought of the down the road consequences of the actions, just did what “Rickey” would do. 

 


 

 

I have a story of my own about Henderson based in 1984. I was a newly drafted snot nosed kid who came out to see a friend, Scott Hemond who was catching for the Oakland A’s at the time. I was in the locker room after a game and saw Henderson right before he left for the night. He was dressed to the nines, and I strolled up and introduced myself as a friend of Hemond’s and just wanted to tell him what a joy it was to watch him play baseball. 
 


He remarked how ” Rickey was happy he liked his personal style of play, but that Rickey did not like  to associate with friends of catchers’.”  It took me a second before I started to laugh and then remarked that was why I like “Ricky”, he was wihtout a doubt not predictable or even in the same league as the rest of us.   I saw him a few hours later when we went out to dinner, and Henderson came over and finally shook my hand and sat for a few moments talking to Hemond and some other players’ at the table. 
 


He finally got up and remarked to me, ” I hear you are fast?” I told him I could hold my own between the hash marks and on a  440 yard track. And then Henderson remarked,  ” Guess you never tried to push the bases around.” I only remarked that I played baseball from about 6 years old to college, but was never a demon on the base paths like him. Henderson in perfect “Rickey” form just muttered, ” There is only one Rickey, and he is leaving the building.”  I let out a huge belly laugh and pointed to him acknowledging his comment.

 


 


He was right, there is only one “Rickey.” No matter if you loved the way he played, or hated him for the flamboyant personality. The ability of this guy to get into a team’s head mentally made for a really exclusive career.  Thank goodness he is not the only one getting inducted on that Summer day. After his speech we will all need time to collect ourselves and get serious again. I do not know who will introduce him at the podium, but maybe he should research his stolen bases and find the pitcher he stole the most bases off of in his career.
 


The moment that guy steps to the mic, I will be glued to the television set watching him. Not since Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken Jr gave their speeches when inducted have I waited for such a moment to happen. Those two men gave memorable speeches for different reasons. But you know that the world, and the entire baseball community are awaiting the final appearance of “Rickey” in all his glory and gruff. It will be an historical event that you do not want to miss.  Got to remember to TIVO that introduction.



 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 274 other followers