I did a story on Eric Chavez for the early edition of Saturday’s paper. Many of you won’t receive it, so here’s the full version. …
By Joe Stiglich
A picture of Eric Chavez from his A’s glory days hangs on a wall just outside the visitors’ clubhouse at the Coliseum.
Chavez, now wearing a New York Yankees uniform, couldn’t help but notice it as he walked to the field Friday.
“It’s a little weird,” he admitted.
That picture conjures up memories of Chavez’s happy times in Oakland.
By the time he left the A’s after the 2010 season, the six-time Gold Glove third baseman couldn’t wait to turn the page.
His final four seasons in green and gold were sabotaged by injuries, leaving Chavez feeling burdened that he hadn’t lived up to a six-year $66 million contract.
But the twilight of his career has taken a happy turn. Chavez, 34, made his first return to the Coliseum on Friday, serving as the Yankees’ designated hitter in the opener of a three-game series. He signed a minor league deal with New York before the 2011 season, made the team and has since served as a valuable backup corner infielder/DH.
“It’s been refreshing,” said Chavez, who was injured when the Yankees visited Oakland last season. “I remember early in my career I said I’d never play in New York. Here I am, back-to-back years.”
Chavez remains a West Coast guy at heart, and his parents made the drive up from his native San Diego to watch this series. But he’s blended well into the Yankees clubhouse.
No longer saddled with the biggest contract in A’s history, Chavez is the rare player who went to the Big Apple and escaped the limelight.
Yankees lefty CC Sabathia was happy to greet Chavez last season. The Vallejo native broke into a grin recalling the trips he made to the Coliseum to watch Chavez.
“He probably doesn’t want to hear this, but I was in high school when he first came up,” Sabathia said.
Chavez said he’s watched with interest as the A’s, who traded another cycle of starts this past winter, have held their own with a 22-23 record entering Friday.
“They’re doing a pretty good job with what they’ve got on payroll,” he said. “It’s kind of the same old story here.”
He also hopes the A’s get their long-awaited green light to build a new ballpark.
“You kind of wonder why it’s taken so long,” Chavez said. “But they need a new stadium here bad. They needed one when I was here.”
Chavez ranks sixth on the A’s all-time home run list (230) and seventh on the RBI list (787). He helped them reach the postseason five times, but the farthest they advanced was the American League Championship Series in 2006.
“I kind of felt like we just fell short of what we wanted to accomplish here,” he said. “We were pretty close to accomplishing it. The ’01 team, I felt like, probably had the best opportunity to win.”
That squad beat the Yankees twice in the AL Divisional Series before losing three straight and failing to advance. But Chavez insists that bitter postseason memories aren’t the reason he never thought he’d wear the pinstripes.
“I always respected them as an organization and the way they went about playing the game,” Chavez said.
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter was within earshot when Chavez gave reporters that quote.
“Liar, liar,” Jeter deadpanned.