The most highly anticipated event of the spring — the A’s first annual player talent show — was also the highlight of a day in which the A’s played to a fairly mundane 2-2 with the Chicago White Sox.
Organized by new closer Jim Johnson, who staged similar shows while with the Baltimore Orioles, the mid-morning show – held behind clubhouse doors in lieu of the usual morning workout – was a huge success, according to manager Bob Melvin and several players. Melvin said his players showed off surprising array of talent, and said the timing of the event came just at the right time to ease the monotony of mid-spring.
“I’ve seen several of these over the years, but I can’t remember a time when there was actually talent involved,” the manager said. :Usually it’s more laughing and booing somebody off the stage, where this was a very talented group, each and every guy. Jim Johnson said it best afterward, that we could have a fundraiser with the talent we had today.”
Alas, the media was locked out of the show. Pitcher Jarrod Parker offered to sell video to the Chronicle’s Susan Slusser for $1,000, but Melvin advised to wait for the inevitable YouTube leaks.
So what were the acts? Shortstop prospect Addison Russell performed a dance he concluded with a standing back-flip. Pitcher Andrew Werner performed an original song he wrote about second baseman Eric Sogard. Outfielder Billy Burns juggled bats and balls. Outfielder Michael Taylor sang a song while playing a miniature piano. Pitcher A.J. Griffin played guitar and sang a song in Spanish with a trio of Latin players backing him.
But the surprise winner was infielder Jake Elmore, who performed a musical country/rap/pop panache while drumming on a table and alternating various hats. Elmore dreamed up his routine the night before, but it was enough to upset the heavy pre-event favorite, catcher Stephen Vogt.
“I heard the pot was getting pretty big for the winner, so I figured I’d better get in,” said Elmore. “This is the first one of these I’d ever entered.”
Vogt, who so dominated two talent shows with Tampa Bay that he was banned from entering a third and was made the host, re-enacted a Saturday Night Live routine of the late comedian Chris Farley. He wasn’t upset whatsoever that he finished second in the judging, which was conducted by Coco Crisp, Nick Punto and Scott Kazmir.
“I brought my A game today and I nailed it, but at the end of the day, Jake Elmore’s performance was better than mine,” Vogt said. “Jake killed it. No one saw that coming at all.”
No one saw Russell’s back-flip coming, either. It stunned the A’s and maybe gave the staff some a few heart palpitations.
“Maybe more so the training staff,” Melvin said. “It was a little unexpected. When he’s in mid-air, you’re thinking, `I hope he comes down in the right position here.’ ”
“I knew I had to land it,” Russell said with a grin.
Werner’s song about Sogard, entitled “Hashtag Eric Sogard,” was the hard-luck loser. Werner said he worked on the song for two days and offered up the chorus: “Hashtag Eric Sogard, his glasses never fog / Chuck Norris thinks he’s the boss, in his four eyes I get lost. “ It was really a tough day for Werner, as it turned out. After the game, he was reassigned to minor league camp with four other players.
Johnson said it was easily the highest level of talent on a show he’s produced, and added there were no turkeys. Melvin, meanwhile, hopes the show becomes an annual event with the A’s, for more reasons than just laughs and hijinks.
“We have turnover here from year to year, so it definitely can act as a bonding type of deal,” he said.
Dan Straily had a solid second outing, throwing 50 pitches in the A’s 2-2 tie with the Chicago White Sox and pitching into the fourth inning. Straily allowed two hits, three walks and no runs, striking out two. It was a distinct improvement from his first spring appearance.
Straily, entering his second full year, said he is much more focused on detail work this spring during his outings.
“I definitely know what it takes now. Last year, coming into spring, it was completely foreign to me. I never had a spring training that lasted two months. I didn’t really know how to prepare myself. This year, I had a lot better idea of what I needed to do.
Straily got support from Sogard, who made a gorgeous backhand glove flip of a ball up the middle to shortstop Jed Lowrie to start a double play, maybe the best infield play of the spring so far.
Straily added that he bought his way out of the talent show, noting, “I don’t think they really want to see me play `Call of Duty’ in front of everybody. That probably would have been my talent.”
— Tommy Milone, whose role has yet to be determined for the regular season, pitched four strong innings of relief, allowing one hit and two unearned runs. Milone will get five days off and start a split-squad game later this week, Melvin said.
— Brandon Moss dropped a beautiful bunt single to the left side in the second inning, something he’s been working on to try and offset severe infield shifts against him. “If he can get that down, you’ll see some defenses kind of shift around for him because he can do it,” Melvin said. “That’s the most comfortable we’ve seen him do that. He didn’t stab at it, he wasn’t running out of the box too quick.”
— The left hamstring injury Daric Barton suffered against Colorado Saturday was evaluated as a Grade 1 strain (the mildest). “He’s day to day, but it’s probably going to be several days,” said Melvin.
— Catcher Derek Norris (back spasms) said he was feeling much better, did some on-field work and Melvin said he could get a start on Tuesday. Outfielder Craig Gentry, sidelined all spring with a back problem, did some running Saturday, a sign he may be on the mend.
— Trayce Thompson, younger brother of Warriors guard Klay Thompson, played right field as a reserve for the White Sox A’s and hit a fly out to right in his only at-bat. He’s described as rangy outfielder with good power, and a top 10 prospect for the Sox. But he’s having a rough spring. His 0-for-1 dropped his spring average to .167.
— The A’s reassigned five players to their minor league camp – left-handed pitcher Werner, right-handed pitchers Jose Flores and Jeremy McBryde and catchers Dusty Brown and Bruce Maxwell. Outfielder Shane Peterson can’t be optioned until Monday but was packing his equipment after the game. When the Peterson move is official, that will leave the A’s 49 players in camp.
–Josh Donaldson immediately began acting his renewed 2014 contract at the major-league minimum of $500K by hitting his first spring homer.