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Willingham gets Stewart award, verifies he’ll file for free agency

In for Joe Stiglich …

Adding to what has already been a solid year for Josh Willingham in Oakland, the outfielder will receive the 2011 Dave Stewart Community Service Award prior to Wednesday’s game.

Willingham and his wife Ginger raised more than $100,000 through silent auctions to aid relief efforts in the wake of devastation by tornadoes in the Willingham’s native Alabama.

During the All-Star break, Willingham also traveled to Alabama to visit with families affected by the tornadoes and assist in cleanup efforts. During the visit, the outfielder presented personal checks to two high schools from the hardest-hit areas to repair baseball fields that were destroyed.

Willingham’s wife led more than 200 volunteers in a cleanup effort of vairous towns in and around Florence, Ala., where the the couple lives with their two children. The Willinghams are also working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to build nine tornado protection shelters around the north half of the state.

On the baseball front, Willingham said Tuesday that he has not had any discussions with the A’s about a contract extension and that he would file for free agency at season’s end.

“This is my first time to do it, and I don’t really know what to expect, so I’m going to go into free agency with an open mind and see what happens,” he said. “I don’t really have a timetable for anything, and as far as next year, I have no idea what’s going to happen.”

Willingham, who leads the A’s with 23 home runs and 81 RBIs, said he would not rule out a return to Oakland based on the good experience he’s had here.

“We haven’t had the on-field success,” he said. “Obviously, coming to spring training, we thought we’d have a better record. But my experience has definitely been a positive one. I’ve built up a lot of good relationships with players and coaches.”

The outfielder did admit that playing so baseball so far away from Alabama is a challenge.

“It’s difficult to travel with family, especially with two kids,” he said. “But I’d say that’s the only difficult part, and I don’t think it’ll impact my decision about next year.”

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Coco Crisp, originally in the starting lineup, was scratched due to right foot soreness suffered when he fouled a ball off his foot Saturday in Cleveland.

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Even though the A’s are still first in the AL in errors, manager Bob Melvin sees some gradual improvement.

“I’d like to clean it up a little bit more,” Melvin said. “We’re still last in the league error-wise, but you’re seeing some better plays. I think for the most part we’re making the routine play a little bit better, but we have to do it consistently. It’s not something we feel like we’re past.”

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Really, REALLY small crowd at O.co tonight. Might be the smallest in years, although surely it will be announced as more than the 3,000-ish I see.



Carl Steward