Land of Oaks and Champions: How the West Was Won

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In years when the Oakland Athletics weren’t back-to-back AL West Champions (writing that will never get old!) I was often asked, “why the A’s?”, meaning, why when you can just as easily root for the bright and shiny, always fan friendly, great time out, pat-on-your-back, never let you down Giants from across the bay, would you continue to cheer on a team built around cheap and available labor? Well it’s not just as “easy” for me. In fact rooting for another team, or, even following one for that matter, seems strange and foreign to me. Being a Giants fan seems like being in a non-stop, year round Summer of Love; gently waking up every morning in a cozy Carmel, Ca bungalow with fog slowly burning off into a stream of sun along the ocean shore with Scott McKenzie singing “Flowers in Your Hair” on your radio while you sip your morning tea as pretty birds come by to check in on you. Horray for the Giants. But have you ever heard “Gimme Shelter” by the Stones? Well, being an A’s fan is like that song and especially at the 3 minute mark in that song where Merry Clayton is singing, actually screaming, so hard about murder and the destruction of society’s most fundamental promise of safety that her voice cracks several times. It’s tough to be an A’s fan. It’s even scary at times to be an A’s fan and you have to have a certain hardness about yourself to stay with them for an entire season. Fortunately for us, this season continues.

“War, children, it’s just a shot away.” And it was a war at times this season. Looking back, the road was not as smooth as the final record suggested. The A’s at one point were in danger of losing the west until August when they rolled into Detroit and rolled the Motor City Kitties. In fact, July was a pretty rough month all together with injuries and Coco only hitting .149 before the cortisone shot heard round the world. Josh Reddick, Jerry Blevins and Chris Young struggled all year as did Yoenis Cespedes until September. Speaking of Cespedes, although he reached great heights on a national stage winning the homerun derby in New York, his local homerun totals seemed to all come in streaky fashion and it seemed as if his homeruns all came in the one run variety. But ultimately it was once again pitching that really anchored the A’s and their championship run this year.

Jarrod Parker proved capable of ACE material. Not only did he overcome his struggles early in the year, he did so in pretty killer fashion by racking up win-after-win and developed a pretty amazing swagger. With his wad of checking tobacco and his bulldog fight of a mentality, he gave the A’s a pitcher they could be confident would give them a chance to win every time he took the mound. Big, Bad, Bartolo had his struggles late in the year as well but a much needed week or so off to peruse the Churro table helped the big fella’ come back as sharp as ever. A.J. Griffin may have even been the A’s most reliable starter by eating a ton of innings and although the long ball was A.J.’s nemesis this year, he still won when the team needed him to win the most and is just now figuring out his potential. It was the story of team that would pick each other up.

Which when you ponder how the west was truly won, that’s the answer I keep coming back to and why the A’s are going to be so dangerous this postseason. This is a team where when the offense falters; the pitching picks them up and vice versa. They’re always going to give you a game and make it difficult to head home with a win against them. But on a more granular level, when a bullpen reliever struggled, another would step up. This was most apparent towards the last few weeks before the A’s clinched when Balfour Rage seemed tamed and Ryan Cook was stewing nothing good, Jerry Blevins finally showed up and Sean Doolittle auditioned for the closer role of the future. Offensively, when the A’s major players looked fatigued and were slumping, Eric “Nerd Power” Sogard came out of nowhere and supplied the green and gold with what seemed like double after double and a magician’s knack for unbelievable feats of strength in the field. Big Nate Frieman hung with the big club all year and had a steady year as a back-up DH/first baseman/pinch hitter and the catching core of Stephen Vogt, Matt Norris and good ol’ Kurt Suzuki helped with clutch defense and offense. Oh, and Jed Lowrie?! Yeah, he was the man!

Bob Melvin and the coaching staff (mainly Chili Davis and Curt Young) did a fantastic job. You never hear about a hitting coach until the team offense is going south but Chili really seems to instill some confidence in the hitting core. Bob Melvin deserves a Tolstoy length blog about the job he’s done the last couple of years with the A’s. For me, it’s hard to forget heading out to games and watching BoMel in the dugout with his arms folded figuring out the situation at hand, always 5 steps ahead of everyone else in the stadium. But of course, we can’t talk about the coaching staff without talking about third base and infield coach Mike “Gags” Gallego. I bring this up because I think “Gags” cyclone arm waving improved this year and the amount of A’s caught at home was pretty low. As an infield coach, you have to tip your hat to “Gags” as well as the infield D was Fort Knox tight during the final push. But mostly, I love that little guy and want to party with him. Anyway…

During the last series of the year, fans began chanting “M-V-P” for Josh Donaldson and I was one of them. His contributions to offense and defense this year made Eric Chavez look more like Eric Fox and A’s fans have finally found their power hitting, team leading third baseman that Chavez could never fully commit to. Donaldson’s second season starting October 4th will surely define his legacy as an A’s fan favorite but what he accomplished this year considering where he was last year after starting off as a reformed catcher who needed time in the minors to work on EVERYTHING, was truly amazing and helped fans believe that the 2012 run was no fluke and that the “bringer of rain” could possibly bring some trophies to Oakland.

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Donaldson brought his game all year long helping the A’s win their second AL West Championship in as many years.

“Oh, see the fire is sweepin’/At our streets today/Burnin’ like a red coal carpet/A mad bull lost its way.” Somewhere along the line in the Lew Wolff era it seemed the A’s did lose their way of winning and what seemed like, even caring. A’s fans on the other hand, despite what you may hear from Little Latin Lupe Lew, never lost their fire which is what has made the last two years so special. These last two years may have been an accident in Lew’s beady little eyes but Billy Beane never lost his fire and kept fighting. He put Bob Melvin at the helm and gave him a hungry, eccentric and scrappy team lead by a spark plug of a captain in Coco Crisp and let the elephants run wild.

It was a great year this year and the fiery streets of Oakland burn victorious embers in the East Bay sky so all, including those across the bay, can be reminded that winning doesn’t come in one, nicely packaged formula. Sometimes it’s the hardened ones who get their day in the fall sun and maybe it’s because they don’t get these opportunities as often that it feels more special and it makes you feel good for being an underdog for a change. So while we celebrate another successful year of catching teams with two or three times the payroll of the A’s and while us fans patiently await for yet another raising of the flag declaring us champions, we cheer loudly and we feel the happiness in what we were fortunate enough to bear witness to this season. But even with all this happiness we’re not quite satisfied. Well, at least not yet…

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A’s fans are ready to take on the post-season. But is the post-season ready for A’s fans?

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Posted on September 27, 2013, in 2013, Athletics, MLB and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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