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A’s: Latest trend in clubhouse: Going to the jungle

I went to the jungle Friday.

I had no idea of what was going on when I walked into the A’s clubhouse shortly after it opened at 3:30 p.m. ET and heard multiple players yelling “I went to the jungle!’’

The phrase was new to me in a baseball sense, well in most any sense, really, so I asked the nearest player I could find, infielder Nick Punto, what was going on.

He said he wouldn’t let me write about it unless I did it. That’s a challenge writers can get from the players in a baseball clubhouse from time to time. I pursued it.

It seems that on Wednesday in New York, leadoff man Coco Crisp brought a small vial of hot sauce. A few of the players rubbed some on their gums before the A’s-Mets game. Second baseman Eric Sogard was one of the first, and when some of the stragglers came over to join in, Sogard coined a phrase.

“I told them, `Welcome to the jungle.’ ’’ Sogard said.

It caught on. Immediately the practice became “Going to the jungle.’’

The A’s then went out and scored six runs in the first two innings. In baseball, everything that happens has a certain level of causality, so the hot sauce was back Friday.

The challenge, Punto said, was to put a dollop on the tip of my index finger, then rub it over my gums.

Me, I’m just dumb enough to do that. Punto said later he didn’t think I would. He was wrong.

Let me say here and now that there was some pain involved. Not an unbearable amount, but it’s safe to say the practice isn’t for everyone.

Crisp wasn’t around to see me do it, but word got out quickly. A fist-bump ensued.

He explained that he has three small bottles of intense hot sauce. This was the mild one. It registers, he said at 300,000 on the Scoville Chile Flame Scale. Your average Jalapeno comes in at about 2,500-5000. A sweet bell pepper goes at 0-100. So 300,000 is way, way over what most people are used to. These intense sauces are mostly used in small amounts to

Crisp’s other two are Scoville listed at 5 million and 9 million.

I don’t think I’ll be trying those.

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Tough roster move faces A’s before Tuesday in New York

Setup man Ryan Cook should be activated for Tuesday's game in New York.

Setup man Ryan Cook should be activated for Tuesday’s game in New York.

As May turned to June, the A’s found themselves closer to the roster they thought they might have in April.

Sunday’s recall of catcher Stephen Vogt gives the club three catchers, meaning manager Bob Melvin can play two of them on any given day (one of them as the designated hitter) and still have the ability to pinch-run.

That’s the way things worked for much of the middle of the 2013 season before injuries got in the way.

More than that, having a three-catcher ensemble means Melvin doesn’t have to fret about the scenario of having to either give up the designated hitter or have third baseman Josh Donaldson, a former catcher, get back behind the plate.

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A’s running game vs. Angels not as sharp as it should be

Eric Sogard says he will be more alert to Angels' deception in future

Eric Sogard says he will be more alert to Angels’ deception in future

One of the issues addressed by the A’s in their review Monday before the start of the three-game series with the Angels was the need to keep in mind how much the Angels like to throw behind runners.

On Tuesday, despite the preparations and the warnings, the A’s ran into outs on the bases with the Angels throwing behind them twice.

In the third inning, Josh Donaldson, batting with Jed Lowrie on second base, singled to right, thought Lowrie would try to score and was caught between first and second when Lowrie held at third

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Barton convinced ninth inning call wouldn’t be altered

Daric Baton was confident ninth inning call wouldn't be reversed.

Daric Baton was confident ninth inning call Monday against Angels wouldn’t be reversed.

Daric Barton couldn’t see the play at first base in the ninth inning.

He could feel it, though, and that was good enough for him.

Moments after John Jaso’s homer put the A’s in position to score a 3-2 win over the Angels, Oakland reliever Luke Gregerson came out of the bullpen and got two quick ground balls.

The first one was routine. The second was bobbled at second base by Nick Punto, who quickly regrouped and fired a throw to Barton. Umpire Chris Segal called base runner Howie Kendrick out, and the Angels howled.

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`Let It Go’ from `Frozen’ is soundtrack of A’s first week

There is always music going in the A’s clubhouse before a game, but this first week of the season it’s been a little odd.

Or one thing, the usual hip-hop and rock has been replaced by old school rhythms dating back to the 70s, including Fleetwood Mac, which was at its peak when most of the members of the roster were busy being born.

But mixed into all of the old-ish tunes is the extremely current `Let It Go,’’ the song by Idina Menzel from the animated film “Frozen,’’ which given it’s pedigree as a song from a movie marketed to kids doesn’t seem like a song one would typically hear in the A’s clubhouse.

Guess again.

It’s in the music rotation every day, and with “Frozen’s’’ target audience is a bit younger than the A’s 20-someting average, so we asked about it.

“It is awesome,’’ first baseman Brandon Moss said. He’s seen the movie three times. “It’s very empowering. But I’d have to say it’s very un-us.’’

“It’s a good life lesson,’’ second baseman Eric Sogard said of the tune’s lyrics, which talks of putting the past behind, of ridding oneself of one’s fears and moving forward while the storm rages on.

Infielder Nick Punto doesn’t have a problem with the song, per se. But he is starting to burn out on it, nonetheless.

“We have two daughters,’’ he said. “That means I hear it maybe five times a day. And that’s before I get here and hear it again.’’

First baseman Daric Barton, who says he hasn’t seen the movie, said simply of the song’s popularity in the clubhouse, “I don’t get it.’’

The suggestion that the song was atypical for a Major League clubhouse struck reliever Sean Doolittle funny.

“Does this,’’ he said looking around the aging digs the A’s call home 81 games a year, “remind you of a normal clubhouse?’’

If you want to check out what the A’s have been listening to, you can click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=moSFlvxnbgk

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Sogard’s #FaceofMLB run `like going to Disneyland’

The bespeckled face of nerdpower isn’t, ultimately, the face of baseball.

A’s second baseman Eric Sogard’s wild ride through the Twittersphere came to an end Friday morning when a late push got the Mets’ David Wright over the top and a victory in MLB Networks’ #FaceofMLB competition.

“It was like going to Disneyland,’’ Sogard said Friday after the results were announced. “I just sat back and enjoyed the ride.’’

Sogard did nothing to promote his own candidacy, and said he was shocked when A’s fans originally picked him as the Oakland contestant in the competition. But as he rolled past the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo, the Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki, the Giants’ Buster Posey and the Jays’ Jose Bautista, his momentum morphed from a strong surge into a tidal wave.

Were fans into it? Just a little. They took photos of the man whose black-rimmed glasses have had him crowned the face of #nerdpower, digitally imposed them on every picture they could think of and inundated Twitter with them.

There was Sogard in a poster for the movie Fight Club. And Raiders of the Lost Ark. And Toy Story. And the list goes on.

“There were so many amazing memes,’’ Sogard’s wife, Kaycee, said. “Eric took it all in stride, but we loved them all. I’m going to track them all down and make a book of them. They’re too good to lose.’’

Sogard just laughed when asked if he was going to ask for a recount of the vote, which saw him lose to Wright by two percentage points, 51-49. Sogard had been ahead when the West Coast went to bed Thursday night, but the East Coast rallied early.

None of which bothered Sogard.

“It goes to show the passion of A’s fans,’’ Sogard said. “It’s not just about me, it’s about this team and the fans we have. They are amazing.’’

Reliever Sean Doolittle has a theory on how the Sogard phenomenon got so big so fast.

“Who are the Oakland A’s?’’ Doolittle said. A’s fans had a chance to flip baseball on its side and they did a great job of it.’’

As did the A’s players, at least those who are on Twitter.

“We had a blast with it,’’ Doolittle said. “It got to be seeing who could come up with the coolest things to say to promote Sogie.’’

Josh Reddick dropped a few names and got Larry the Cable Guy and WWE wrestler The Big Show on board on Sogard’s behalf.

Starting pitchers Sonny Gray and Dan Straily orchestrated a scam in which Gray directed to Straily a tweet of support of Sogard his “new’’ phone number, asking that Straily call him. The number was the A’s ticket office.

Jarrod Parker, Josh Donaldson, A.J. Griffin, Derek Norris, Stephen Vogt and Tommy Milone all were out in front in leading the charge for Sogard. Even former A’s pitcher Travis Blackley, now pitching in Australia, chipped in, as did Brett Anderson and Pat Neshek, both of whom spent 2013 with the A’s.

Tweeted Norris: “Vote for the guy whose glasses are so powerful he can see the future.’’

Tweeted Crisp: “Who do you think showed @Coco_Crisp all his dance moves? Yup!! It was #EricSogard #FaceofMLB Sogie’s got skills.”

Tweeted Cook: “My timeline is a joke …  #EricSogard #FaceofMLB all over the place!

“I think you saw the personality of this team come out through all this,’’ Gray said. “Everybody was into it.’’

Sogard, a second baseman who has a fight ahead of him to hold the job he won last spring, won’t soon forget any of this.

“We may not have the most fans, but we have amazing fans,’’ Sogard said. “They get the credit for all this. This was them.’’

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Sogard enjoys fan support and chance to be starter again

There’s no one wearing a wider smile these days than Eric Sogard.

It’s just the way he is. The fact that he’s made it into the semifinals of MLB Networks “The Face of MLB’’ competition gives him more reason to smile perhaps, but he’s never been one to need much encouragement.

In his fifth year in the Oakland organization, he’s the incumbent second baseman who has a decent chance of retaining his job with Cactus League games starting up today.

“It’s obvious the baseball is the most important thing,’’ he said. “I’m here to win a job, just like every year.’’

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Sogard and Posey do battle for `Face of Baseball’ Monday

OK, let’s get right to it – the MLB Network’s “The Face of Baseball’’ campaign is just hokey.

Using Twitter to pick one player on each roster to represent that franchise, then put them in a series of head-to-head fan votes is just a little over the top.

But since it’s pitting the Giants vs. the A’s, it may be time to look past that.

Monday morning fans will be asked to vote on Twitter on Eric Sogard of the A’s against Buster Posey of the Giants in the third round bracket of the competition.

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Head’s up – Mr. Head-first joins the A’s

The A’s may be the early favorites to win the head-first-slide title in the American League in 2014.

That’s because they signed Nick Punto Wednesday. He’s 36-year-old utility infielder who is revered around baseball for his willingness to go head-first into any base – including first base – in an effort to help his team.

“Yeah – the head-first slide,’’ A’s assistant general manager David Forst said laughingly Wednesday. “We’ll probably lead the league in head-firsts at first base. Actually I’d like him to do it a little bit less.’’

When he heard that, Punto chuckled.

“Diving into first base, that’s definitely not something I think about when I hit a ball,’’ Punto said from his Southern California home Wednesday. “But it’s part of the way I play.’’

Punto is one of those hard-charging players who tends to maximize his talents playing the game. He’s 5-foot-9 and 195 pounds and he doesn’t have a lot of power – just two homers last year – and it took him until the fifth of his 13 big league seasons to get more than a quick look.

He’s a career .248 hitter who averaged .255 last year with Los Angeles and who begins more games on the bench than he does in the starting lineup. But between his ability to give his team above-average defense at three positions – second, third and short – and his ability to switch-hit, he has managed to play in two-thirds of his team’s games the last decade.

“But the fact that Nick can play shortstop, third and second is a real plus. As far as where he fits in, there is a long time to get that figured out.’’

There seems to be a reasonable chance that Punto will free the A’s up to trade Alberto Callaspo, who is another switch-hitting infielder, but one whose defense isn’t as good and who doesn’t play shortstop. The A’s picked up Callaspo from the Angels at the trade deadline, and he turned out to be a valuable part of the lineup, although his defense at both second base and third wasn’t the best.

More than anything, however, the A’s picked up Punto because he is one of those players who has a tendency to make a good team better. He did it with the Dodgers last year, he did it for years with the Twins, and he won a World Series ring with the Cardinals in 2011.

And for Punto, he sees some of that ring potential in the A’s.

“This is a team that fits the way I play,’’ Punto said. “I won a World Series with the Cardinals, and now I’m trying to find a way to win another one. You watch this team from the other side and they play hard, they play right, and they have good young pitching and a terrific manager.

“Bob Melvin being a great manager was a huge influence in my wanting to come here. His teams always play so hard; you have to love watching them play. Watching on TV and again in the playoffs this year, I saw those young pitchers. They have young, talented arms. I’m hoping to add what I have to that clubhouse.’’

Part of what he adds is in the clubhouse as a player others rally around. He’s called “Shredder’’ for his habit of celebrating ninth-inning and extra-inning wins by tearing the jersey off that day’s hero, shredding it.

Will that be brought to Oakland? Well, maybe. With a contract that brings him $2.75 million for this coming year, plus a $250,000 buyout if his option for 2015 isn’t picked up, the man who calls himself “@ShredderPunto’’ on Twitter just might be able to keep on doing it.

“The shredding, that’s never a planned thing,’’ Punto said. “And every time I do it, it can cost me a little. Those shredded jerseys are $150 a pop.’’

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Game 156 wrapup: Beane says depth crucial to A’s West title; Crisp surprises himself with 20-20 output; This celebration means more to Sogard

The fact that the A’s were able to clinch the American League West title on Sunday, the final home date of the regular season, worked out well for Billy Beane.

Securing the title meant the A’s general manager could stay at home and not join the team Monday in Anaheim for a possible clinching party there. Beane isn’t much for road trips these days.

As it was, Beane stayed mostly out of the clubhouse celebration Sunday and was uncontaminated by the sprays of champagne and beer that coated most of the rest of the members of his organization.

He was with his twins, Brayden and Tinsley, when I caught up with him far from the madding crowd.

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