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Field of dreams?

My first baseball memories are of growing up in Alameda during the A’s heyday of the 1970s (Vida Blue’s son was on my tee-ball team). I had season tix during the Bash Brother glory days of the 1980s (to this day, I’ve never seen anybody, not even Barry Bonds, dominate a full season the way Jose Canseco did in 1988). I was there for Rickey’s record-breaker in 1991. I covered The Streak in 2002.

In other words, I go back a long way with this team. And I bring this up, because Lew Wolff left me with the sad feeling that there may not be many more seasons for the A’s in Oakland.

Wolff and I discussed the A’s attendance situations, and I turned the subject to that of Cisco Field, and what he said wasn’t encouraging. And if Cisco Field isn’t built, that would leave the A’s without much choice other than to move. I discussed that option with Wolff, too, but that part of our conversation was off the record, so I’m not privileged to share it.  What I can tell you is that without a new stadium, the options become these: The A’s move. Wolff sells. Or both.

Personally, I think Wolff is in a tough spot. He got annoyed when I suggested that it would be impossible to ask fans to help with a stadium, especially with the current economy, and he insisted the A’s have never asked for a dime. He didn’t say that they don’t intend to do so. That, and the bureacracy is takes to get projects completed stacks the odds against Wolff succeeding in this vision, and if he doesn’t succeed, nobody else will, either.

Perhaps the best solution for the A’s would be for the Raiders to high-tail it out of here. Then they could pour money into renovating the place, the way the Angels did with their home. Nobody remembers that the Big A was as much of an eye-sore and revenue-sucker as the Coliseum now is.

I can also tell you this. As long as the A’s stay in their current home, don’t get too attached to any ne player. But then, you probably knew that already.

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Mr. Positive

How many of you believe in the notion that positive energy attracts positive energy? Just askin’ this morning, because I had a brief encounter with Mike Sweeney before the game, and if anybody has positive energy to give, it’s him.

Sweeney befriended me in spring training during an interview I did with him to talk about his background. We finished the interview, and then we talked for another 20 minutes about my pending divorce, the spiritual journey that the event has engendered in my life and the inherent challenges awaiting. I left the interview thinking that this was one of the great people I’d ever met in my life.

Now, I’m asking for some positive energy to go his way. Sweeney likely won’t play again this season because of knee problems, and it’s a distinct possibility that he’ll never again be healthy enough to be an effective major league player. I walked up to him before BP today and told him I was sorry to hear that news, and, in typical Sweeney fashion, he said, “Thanks. Things could be a lot worse, though.” Indeed, they could, and that’s a little reminder I keep saying to myself during this own tumultuous time in my life.

Anyway, then he walked over to the dugout, spotted a woman with two very young girls (say around 8 years old) at her side. First, Sweeney said hello. Then he told the girls that they were beautiful. And then he went into the dugout, grabbed two baseballs and gave them to the two kids. Brought a smile to my face and took me from a glum place to a peaceful one.

The man is a special one. Keep your good thoughts coming his way.

 

 

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Let the auditions begin …

A little news today involving two of the players the A’s received in the Rich Harden/Chad Gaudin deal. Outfielder Matt Murton was sent down and 2B/OF Eric Patterson was called up from Triple-A. Bob Geren had two lineups sitting in front of him before the game — one with Patterson in the leadoff spot and one without Patterson — depending on whether Patterson arrived from Round Rock, Texas, in time for Sunday’s game. Patterson did make it and he’s starting today in left field.

Not a shocker Patterson got the call. There’s no use for the A’s to wait until rosters expand to see what some of these minor leaguers can do. That’s the reason Brooks Conrad was called up last week. Patterson has seen his most action playing second base this season, but Geren mentioned before the game Patterson will get his immediate playing time in left field.

More than anything, I think the A’s want to give this guy a chance in the leadoff spot, which has been a revolving door situation. The A’s will say they don’t always utilize a prototypical leadoff guy like most teams. True, but you at least need to identify someone you want in that spot on a daily basis. Patterson has some speed (16 steals in the minors this season) and a little pop in his bat. One scout told me after the Harden trade that Patterson projects as a better player than his older brother, Corey, who plays for the Reds. And look for the A’s to get Patterson a little time at second base. Might as well see if he’s capable of holding down that position in case Mark Ellis isn’t re-signed. I know fans are getting fed up with the young, anonymous players shuttling in and out of the lineup. But now that the A’s have committed to this direction, they might as well see what kind of hand they’ve been dealt with some of these guys. 

 

  

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Seen enough?

Had trouble accessing our posting page the past couple of days, so I was unable to take credit for the reassignment of Donnie Murphy in timely fashion.  The joke is that my last post got him run back to the minors, but I think it’s the fact that he couldn’t hit a breaking ball to save his life.

Anyway, I’m predicting about 10,000 max for tonight’s second-place “showdown” against the Rangers. I don’t blame all the folks who’d rather stay at home. I’d argue this is the most unwatchable the A’s have been since 1998, early ’99. It’s not that they haven’t found some pieces to the puzzle, but I’d rather watch Carlos Gonzalez and Ryan Sweeney when they reach their full capabilities (assuming they do).

Meantime, they just became a bit more unwatchable today, because third baseman Eric Chavez hinted big time before the game that he might not play again this season. Dude’s got a bad shoulder, and he said it’s not gonna get much better, surgery or no surgery. So I’m thinking the A’s better start thinking about moving him to first base pretty soon. Too bad, because nobody in the 50 years of Bay Area baseball has wielded the glove at third base like Chavez has, but it’s time.

One thing left unsaid is whether he’s facing the end of his career. That would be too bad. Chavez really has never had a chance to be physically sound at a stage in his career where he was emotionally mature enough to let his talents show. He gets a bad rap from fans, because his production hasn’t been great, but if you guys knew what this guy went through to get himself ready for a game, you’d be stunned. I asked him several times if I could do a story on it, but he always turned me down because he’d say his job was to be on the field, and it didn’t matter what it took to get there. He’s a real humble, decent guy, and his inability to get on the field bothers him more than you know.

Are you guys Eric Chavez supporters, or have you tired of him?

 

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Welcome to The Show

Just had first pitch here at Tropicana Field, which still has the feel of a Costco more than a baseball stadium if you ask me. I’ve read a lot in the national media about how much the atmosphere has changed at Rays games, how much bigger and enthusiastic the crowds are (as well they should be, with how good this team is). But from talking to a couple regulars who cover the team, attendance is still an issue except for when the Red Sox or Yankees are in town or if there’s a special promotion. The Rays are big on Saturday postgame concerts. They brought M.C. Hammer in recently. Coming soon: L.L. Cool J!! (no joke).

Today’s A’s transaction: Infielder Brooks Conrad was called up, Donnie Murphy was designated for assignment (the A’s have 10 days to trade him, release him or send him to the minors if he clears waivers). Conrad is a switch hitter who had 21homers and 67 RBI at Triple-A, though he was hitting just .242. He’s in the lineup at third base, and Bob Geren likes the fact he can play all the infield positions and has some pop. Can it hurt with the way the A’s have swung the bat?

Conrad is 28 and this is his first trip to the big leagues after seven-plus seasons in the minors. You have to feel good for the guy. The A’s have had so many young players shuttle between Oakland and Sacramento in the past two seasons, it’s easy to lose track of who’s been where. But it’s really cool when a new player walks into the clubhouse before his first major league game. Congratulations all around … he has to ask where everything is, just like someone’s first day at the office. Just so happens this office looks a lot like Costco …

 

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Escape from New York

A year ago, the A’s opened the All-Star break by losing four straight in Minnesota. That was the continuation of a nine-game skid that set the table for a 32-42 second half.

Anybody else sensing deja vu following a three-game whipping at the hands of the Yankees this weekend? This one extended the A’s losing streak to five games, and now that they head to Tampa Bay — one of baseball’s best home teams — I can see this thing getting out of control.

Work committments limited me to seeing only a bit of Friday and a tad bit of today’s contests. But this is one of those series where the box scores speak volumes. The A’s, as their roster is constructed, simply can’t hit, at least not consistently. Ryan Sweeney was the only guy to collect an RBI (he had four) all weekend. Ridiculous.

Does anybody want to watch this lineup anymore? I mean, Jack Cust (1-for-9, eight strikeouts) is the lefty version of Richie Sexson. Donnie Murphy is one of the worst hitters I’ve ever seen. Jack Hannahan is just not very good. I think the state of the A’s offense was best summed up last Sunday, when Rob Bowen (now at .196) was summoned to pinch-hit against Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez in the ninth inning.

And let’s understand something. This is not a hitting coach problem. This is a personnel problem. You can see why general manager Billy Beane is acting as if he’s conceding the division to the Angels.

Ugly. Real ugly.

 

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One strange injury

Yet another addition to the A’s disabled list Saturday, and this was an odd one. Daric Barton went on the DL with a stiff neck, complications from an unusual accident over the All-Star break. Barton dove into a swimming pool, not realizing how shallow it was, and struck his head on the pool floor. Barton said he never lost consciousness, but he suffered a substantial cut on top of his head that required a trip to the ER. He received six staples to close the gash, though they’ve since been removed. The lingering neck pain isn’t severe, but it was enough to keep him out of the lineup for a few days anyway, so the A’s recalled first baseman Wes Bankston, who started Saturday.

Considering the circumstances, it’s good to see Barton didn’t hurt himself more severely. But the whole turn of events has him in hot water with A’s manager Bob Geren, who called the incident a “careless mistake.” I can see why he’s upset.  Managers come out of the All-Star break assuming their players will be well rested, not nursing new injuries.  

Barton is having a tough year hitting-wise, and I can’t imagine this will do much to help his cause. Will the A’s chalk this up as a lesson learned by a 22-year-old rookie and leave it at that? Maybe. The A’s  think highly of Barton’s potential.  He’s one of the centerpiece players in this youth movement they’re emphasizing, and they’ve stuck with him in the lineup though he’s hitting just .224. But Bankston got lots of playing time during his most recent call-up, much of it at Barton’s expense, and if Bankston keeps hitting, there’s no reason to think the A’s won’t keep playing him.

Totally unrelated thought … I’m never sure what to expect each day when I glance at the A’s batting order. Geren is trying every combo he can think of to get some steady offense going. Last night Ryan Sweeney batted third. Today he’s at the top of the lineup. Carlos Gonzalez was in the 7th spot last night, today he’s the cleanup man. The A’s just don’t have that obvious choice for an everyday leadoff guy. And with Frank Thomas and Eric Chavez on the DL, there’s no middle-of the-lineup presence either. …  

 

 

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The Second Half

A few very quick thoughts before the A’s commence the second half with their final visit to Yankee Stadium:

— Huston Street will be the next one out the door. This is pure speculation, based on nothing other than what the A’s already have done this season. Can’t imagine Street’s value getting much higher than it is now, and clearly, the A’s have made the decision internally that they don’t think they’ll win this year. Among the teams that could use a closer or additional set-up guy: The Tampa Bay Rays, Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals.

— Justin Duchscherer will finish the season here, but don’t be shocked if he’s sent packing over the winter. Personally, I would hate that move — I love watching guys who can’t light up a radar gun pitch as effectively as Duke has — but again, it gets back to value, and Duchscherer’s may be at its peak.

— The A’s need to be very careful about the workoad they give to Dana Eveland and Greg Smith. No reason to pile on innings for these young arms.

— A .500 season is very doable, still. But it shouldn’t be, nor it will be, a primary focus of decision-making.

— Finally, a little late for this, and some obvious choices, but my first-half awards go to:

MVP: Justin Duchscherer. 

Biggest disappointment: Daric Barton.

Most pleasant surprise: Bobby Crosby, for staying on the field. P

rospect who impressed me the most: Carlos Gonzalez.

Prospect I didn’t expect to be this good: A tie between Ryan Sweeney and Greg Smith.

Won’t be blogging again til Sunday. Talk to you then.

 

 

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Blanton trade official

The release is on the A’s Web site. Starting pitcher Joe Blanton goes to the Philadelphia Phillies for three prospects that casual fans have barely heard of, if at all. Two of them, second baseman Adrian Cardenas and outfielder Matt Spencer have not played above Single-A. Oufielder Matt Spencer just reached Double-A.

In other words, this is a deal for 2010, one that will supplement the deals that already have been made for 2009. Not an easy time to be an A’s fan, to be sure, but the A’s charted this course over the winter, so if anybody is shocked about this, they don’t know this team.

I understand the annoyance felt by A’s fans. It seems that as soon as a player gets good enough for fans to latch onto, he’s dealt. But I honestly don’t think it’s that the A’s don’t want to win. In fact, I know that’s not the case. General manager Billy Beane is as competitive a guy as I’ve ever met in my life; you don’t get to where he is in life without that streak and he would not stay in a place where winning is not the ultimate goal.

But one other thing about Beane is that he’s a realist.  And what is happening here is that he has determined that the A’s as presently constructed are unlikely to do special things. Therefore, the emphasis is on trading guys at their peak value. If the A’s had a young, dynamic lineup that was scoring five runs a game, I guarantee Dan Haren would still be here, and so would Blanton.

I asked assistant general manager David Forst on the conference call what he would say to the fans, and to paraphrase him, he essentially said that A’s management is “not immune” to the feelings of their fan base, but that the desire is to build a team that’s really good for a really long time. That was the thinking back in 1999 when the A’s made some trades to add to a foundation that eventually made four straight playoff appearances. 

Forst also said the A’s like the team they have now, one that should get a lift from the returns of Frank Thomas and Mike Sweeney from the disabled list by the end of the month. So don’t be shocked if the A’s go out and add somebody. But the bottom line is that the team they had was six back of the Angels in the American League West, and as Forst said, “we want to be the team being chased.”

Does it take faith to feel OK about what’s happening. Darn right it does. But Beane does not whiff on deals very often, and I like that the A’s are adding young hitters to the mix. The lineup they’ve trotted out recently could match the ol’ 1978 and ’79 A’s for sheer impotence, and there’s nobody in the minors that’s going to make that a lot better anytime soon. So the A’s need to add some offensive talent. Whether they’ve done that here, who knows, but I don’t blame them for taking a shot at it.

Tell me A’s fandom, what’s your reaction?