Entries in A's (87)


Piscotty shows what he can do for A’s

By Art Spander

MESA, Ariz. — This was Stephen Piscotty the ballplayer, the man talented enough to be picked in the first round of the major league draft. He still was the humanitarian, the loving son, helping nurse an ailing parent.

But for a short while, he could be viewed like any other big leaguer in spring training, for his performance.

The Piscotty story is sad and heartwarming. The St. Louis Cardinals traded him to the Athletics so he could be close to his mother, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the disease that struck Lou Gehrig in the late 1930s, and for whom it was labeled.

Piscotty came to bat Saturday with a man on in the second and hit a shot over the fence in left in a Cactus League game at Hohokam Stadium that Oakland eventually would lose to the San Diego Padres, 10-4.

It could be glossed over as just another of the many home runs in the desert during the exhibition schedule. Except it wasn’t. And Piscotty, 27, is not just another ball player, as you must be aware.

This was his first homer of the spring, his first, unofficial as it might be to many, since coming to the A’s in December. A trade that showed that big-time sport, all dollars and show, has a very human side.

“He takes good approach to hitting,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said of Piscotty. “This is spring training, but a home run like that with a new team makes it easier on yourself.”

For the past several months, since Piscotty’s mother, Gretchen, was diagnosed, nothing has been easy. With the loss of muscle control, she requires round-the-clock attention.

She has been attended to by Piscotty’s father, and his two younger brothers, and after the Cardinals consented to send him to Oakland — “That’s what makes the Cardinals one of the class organizations in sports,” A’s executive Billy Beane told the Bay Area News Group — and until spring training began, by Piscotty.

“I knew I’d be gone a few months,” Piscotty said, “but I’ll be back home, Before (at St. Louis) it would have been hard going into the season, leaving and not coming home for eight months.”

A’s management has always wanted Piscotty, who played his high school ball at Amador Valley, over the hills from Oakland, and then developed at Stanford. The opportunity to get him was serendipity.

Maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise that Piscotty would do well against the Padres. As a rookie in 2015, he hit two homers on a Sunday against them at Petco Park. Asked that day if it was his best game as a pro, he responded in classic understatement, “Probably.”

When home, Piscotty is back in the room he once shared with his brothers. “Although,” he said, chuckling, “they’re out of there now.”

Piscotty became engaged in February, and his fiancée helps at the family home. A bad situation, a terrible situation — there is no known cure for ALS, but Piscotty has helped create a fund for research — has become tolerable.

He is playing his sport, and for a team for which he cheered as a kid, and he has been able to reconnect with his mother.

"I thought, if I were to get traded, this is the absolute best option for me and my family," Piscotty told after the transaction. "I think the best word that sums up a lot of our emotions is bittersweet. We're pretty emotionally tied and invested in [the Cardinals'] organization, so it's sad to kind of cut ties with that. But I think family comes first, obviously, and sometimes there are things more important than baseball.”


A’s Melvin: ‘We feel like it’s trending back up’

By Art Spander

MESA, Ariz. — The wall where players enter the clubhouse is lined with history, at least with posters of those who made history for the Oakland Athletics — Rickey Henderson, Dennis Eckersley, Catfish, Reggie, Rollie, and with those players who really who needs last names?

Oh, the glory days when the A’s were on top, not just on top of the Giants but all of baseball.

These, however, are the frustrating days, the days when every good player on the A’s — and they’ve had a ton — leaves, when Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick and Sonny Gray go to another team because Oakland cannot afford to keep them.

Bob Melvin has been through this from top to bottom as the A’s manager since June 2011, six and two-thirds seasons heading into 2018. Time flies, until the roster flies apart.

“The first three (seasons) went a lot quicker than the last three; we were, much more successful then,” said Melvin, confirming the obvious. “For us it’s difficult to trend up all the time when we have to get rid of some players.

“So the trend line went down. We feel like it’s trending back up. We like the younger group we have here right now. We’re excited about it. So after three difficult years, I’m looking forward to being with this group for a while — and hopefully it’s longer than one more year.”

Melvin, “Bo Mel” as we came to know him, the Menlo-Atherton High kid, the Cal guy, was sitting Sunday in the dugout at Hohokam Stadium, the Athletics’ spring home, a few minutes after Oakland and Kansas City played to one of those exhibition anomalies, a tie, 4-4 in this case. Hey, the Royals had to motor 45 miles west to Surprise, and the game already was only four minutes short of three hours. So, adios.

Which too often is what the A’s have said, figuratively, of course, to their stars. Now they have another group with potential to make it big, to make the A’s very good. One of those players, 6-foot-7 lefthander, A.J. Puk, pitched the first two innings. Didn’t allow anyone to reach base. Did allow Melvin to dream.

“What we saw last year,” said Melvin of Puk in spring 2017, the pitcher’s second season of pro ball, “today was even a better mix of pitches.”

Puk has added a two-seam fastball. Of the six batters he faced, four grounded out and one struck out. He threw only 20 pitches.

"Great command, great poise, throwing strikes, easy innings,” said Melvin, a former catcher. "I told (pitching coach Scott Emerson), 'Why are you taking him out?' He was only going to pitch two regardless, so off to a really good start.”

Puk is 22, from Iowa (yes, so was Bob Feller, but please, no comparisons) and went to the University of Florida. He’s learning. He’s improving. The A’s very well also might be improving. But then a key player is dispatched. Whoosh, gone.

“That’s one of the chief complaints,” Melvin conceded of the turnover of personnel. “Hopefully that all changes with the new ballpark. I know we’re still counting on that but just haven’t found a site yet.”

This is 50 years for the A’s in Oakland, and for almost the entire half-century, since they moved here from Kansas City before the 1968 season, since they won three World Series in a row in 1972-74, since they had their decent stadium, the Oakland Coliseum, horribly transformed for a football team now preparing to desert, there hung the question whether the team would belong to Oakland.

They were going to move to Portland. To Sacramento. To Las Vegas. To San Jose. They were as restless as a willow in a windstorm, to steal from Oscar Hammerstein.

Tarps covered seats, and in some years, such as 2016 when almost nobody in the infield could play defense properly, fans covered their eyes.

Spring training is for optimists. Every team is undefeated. Bob Melvin and the A’s have gone through good times and bad times. Maybe this time won’t be better, but the suspicion is it won’t be worse.


Dramatic A’s win, and now Coliseum belongs to Raiders

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — That’s it for baseball at Oakland. This year, at least. A dramatic conclusion, a successful end. Now the Coliseum will be in sole possession of the Raiders.

The pitching rubber was dug out almost before the before the ball Mark Canha smacked in the bottom of the ninth Wednesday cleared the left field fence.

The next day or two, the infield will disappear. No more dirt. No more ground balls. No more home runs. Until next spring.

Until baseball returns to the East Bay.

Before that, the merchants and politicians can debate the proposed A’s stadium near Lake Merritt that, knowing how things work in Nor Cal — or maybe that should be don’t work — might never be constructed.

Whatever, the ball club has been built — and disassembled and rebuilt — and with only four road games remaining this season of ’17, all against the Rangers, the A's seem destined to be considerably better in the years ahead. Depending on the whims and needs of the front office.

It’s a long season. We know that, 162 games, from the end of March until the end of September. Yet, it’s not the grind we remember, it’s the moments.

The little things. Franklin Barreto, sprinting around the bases in the third — “out of the box, running hard,”  said A’s manager Bob Melvin — a double and getting to third on an error. He would score on Jed Lowrie’s sacrifice fly.

The big things. Canha, a Cal guy as is Melvin, hitting his second walk-off of the year, on a 1-0 pitch in the last of the ninth that gave Oakland a 6-5 win over Seattle, which Melvin in so many words indicated was huge.

This had been a good month, September, 14-10 for an A’s team with a bad overall record, 72-85. But add a victory in each category.

”We had a lot of good things going, and then to get swept the last series at home ... ” sighed Melvin. Which, after dropping the first two games to Seattle and then losing a two-run, eighth-inning lead Wednesday, appeared a strong possibility.

Then Canha came to bat with one out, nobody on and the score tied, 5-5. He was 0-for-8 in the series. Wham. He was 1-for-9 and being swarmed at home plate by jubilant teammates.

“It was a fun way to end it,” he said.

An appropriate way to end it, according to Melvin. This was the A’s 11th walkoff win of the season (out of the 73 so far) and the eighth by a homer.

Yet Melvin didn’t approach it as enjoyment as much as relief.

“We’ve been consistent at home all year,” said Melvin, “and to get swept the last series would have been pretty disheartening. And of course we wanted to win for our home fans on this last day."

Few as there might have been, the announced attendance of 13,132 perhaps a bit misleading. But the gate was not the issue, the game result was.

Finale or not, it still was an autumn, midweek afternoon game against a team with talent but not much charisma. Maybe not even the Yankees or Red Sox would draw, given the particulars.

The A’s players found contentment in the score and their contribution.

“I had a tough series until (the home run),” said Canha. He’s from San Jose and Bellarmine Prep. After Cal, he was taken by the Miami Marlins, then chosen in the Rule 5 draft by Colorado, which traded him to Oakland for Austin House. Canha led the A’s in home runs in spring training 2015 and that year led all American League rookies in RBIs.

But 2016 brought hip surgery, and then this year he was optioned to Nashville April 15. He came back. In a big way, a walkoff home run in May, and now another.

“It happened so fast,” he said of the pitch from Shane Simmons and the swing that produced only his fifth homer of the year. “It’s been an up-and-down season for us as a team and for me personally. Nice to cap it off with that.”

Very, very nice.


One day, but a day of homers and brilliance for the A’s

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — Sometimes you have to take a day out of context, have to appreciate what happened in those few innings or few hours, forget about what it means in the great scheme of things, the standings, the record book, and revel in what happened.

At the Coliseum on maybe the warmest Saturday of the season — the temperature hit 80 — and for the Oakland Athletics unquestionably the most exciting, seemingly everything happened, from a ton of home runs to an 8-3 victory over the Red Sox that all but silenced all those expatriate New Englanders.

Fine pitching? Absolutely. From Oakland starter Sean Manea, who went five innings, allowed three runs and got the win (he’s now 2-3), and relievers Frankie Montas and Josh Smith, who extended the A’s bullpen streak of scoreless innings at home to 25.

Power hitting? Certainly. Four Oakland home runs, including one to dead center in the fifth by Chad Pinder that landed in the seats of the plaza level, some 460 feet away. He joins Mark McGwire, Larry Walker and Jarrett Parker to have landed balls there in the lower region of Mt. Davis since the area opened in 1996.

Consternation? Indeed. A’s manager Bob Melvin was angry after a ruling in the second on a ball that was thrown by Boston catcher Christian Vazquez (for an error) into the right field visitors bullpen. Everyone believed that Melvin argued because he wanted an extra base, but he said after being ejected by crew chief Mike Winters that he had another issue.

The A’s are last in the American League West. Boston is in the middle of the AL East. So this one didn’t exactly quite change the standings. But it was wonderful for entertainment, and isn’t that what we most demand of sports?

The Red Sox fans who once filled the Coliseum are not quite what they used to be, in numbers or voice. Game one of this four-game series Thursday night drew only around 14,000 people — a number that you might expect for the Rangers. The gate was 24,378 Friday night, but Saturday, as fine an afternoon as one could imagine, there were only 20,235. Did Red Sox Nation shrink?

Oakland had home runs by Jed Lowrie, Khris Davis, Mark Canha and that monster by Pinder. Well, shrugged Melvin, when the A’s are hitting, that’s their game. Especially when the weather is hot. Over the years, the cold nights in Oakland cost Reggie Jackson, Jose Canseco and McGwire so many chances on balls that were hit hard. But on a day like Saturday, everything takes off — as Melvin agreed.

”Everybody just sat up and watched,” said Manea. “We had a good time in the dugout. Never seen a ball hit as far as Pinder hit. He’s really built.”

Melvin said Pinder is no surprise, although he hardly expected that sort of shot. “Everybody raved about him,” Melvin said. “We just have to find a position for him.” On Saturday Pinder was the designated hitter — emphasis on the word hitter.

Pinder’s homer followed those of Canha and Khris Davis in a five-run A’s fifth. There were some walks and a single in the mix. What do we call these guys, the Lash Brothers?

"Day games, the ball carries a little more, but I don't know if any of them would have been affected," said Melvin. "It seems like they got longer and longer. Canha crushed that ball. K.D. (Khris Davis not Kevin Durant, Warriors fans), we've seen it, and the Pinder one, I don't even know how to explain that.

Neither does Pinder, but he doesn’t need to. "It's one of those swings where you kind of just black out," Pinder said. "You see it and you hit it, and you don't know what happens after."

What happens is the ball goes forever, and people who have seen it grab their head in disbelief. Including Khris Davis, who now has 13 homers himself.

"That was amazing," Davis said of the Pinder bomb. "He's got a great swing. That was impressive."

So, on this warm day of excitement and long balls, were the Oakland A’s.


A’s not going anyplace — except maybe in the standings

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — “Rooted in Oakland.” That’s the A’s slogan, their implied promise. “We ain’t going anywhere, people,” they’re telling us. Unlike the Raiders. Unlike the Warriors.

Except, with good fortune, going up the American League standings.

It’s different on this side of the bay. No ballpark by the water. No Frank Sinatra recording of “Strangers in the Night” in the top of the seventh. Hey, when the announced attendance is only 11,383, nobody’s a stranger.

The A’s dropped one on Tuesday night to the Angels, 7-3. Three walk-off wins in a row and then a loss. Anyone in baseball gladly would accept that statistic.

Especially the Giants. They’re awful, and becoming more awful. They can’t win any, never mind three in a row.

The A’s? The Royals? The Blue Jays? No, the San Francisco Giants have the worst record in the majors. They lost opening day, and there went the season.

About the time the A’s were coming out for batting practice Tuesday, just after 4 p.m., the Giants, having played only two innings against the Mets in New York, were behind, 5-0, the score posted on the right field board even though nobody but players and workers were inside the Coliseum.

Somebody not in uniform was heard to comment, “Unbelievable.”

As if anything in baseball really is.

The Yankees and Cubs play 18 innings in one of those absurd ESPN Sunday night games that ended at 1:05 a.m. in Chicago, the Yankees then flying to Cincinnati, arriving at 5 a.m. and playing that night. The A’s win consecutive games in the final inning by a home run.

Yonder Alonso hit a couple home runs Tuesday night for Oakland. Maybe he’s on his way to becoming a star. Maybe he’s on his way to another team. With the A’s, one never knows.

The often-repeated theory held here is that with cars, wine or ballplayers one gets what he or she pays for. Sometimes you get a kid before he’s eligible for the big contract or vino the critics haven’t reviewed, but that’s not the norm.

So if the A’s, with their 2017 payroll of some $75 million — it’s still higher than those of the Rays, Padres and Brewers — are doing as well or as poorly as might be imagined, the Giants and their $170 million payroll are a disaster. Well, they’d be a disaster no matter how much money they earned.

Nostalgia is big at the Coliseum, as it should be. There’s Rickey Henderson Field, a wise public relations idea — and in the pre-game home clubhouse, there’s Rickey his ownself, chattering, laughing, lending as much credibility and direction as possible.

The wall of the walkway through which the athletes pass on their way to the clubhouse is lined with photos of everyone who played for the A’s, even if as brief as a season, elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, Dennis Eckersley, Reggie Jackson and, of course, Henderson.

Past and present mingle beneath the framework of a stadium that management hopes to replace with a new ballpark. On the waterfront, perhaps. Or on the very site of the Coliseum. But definitely in Oakland.

The questions of when and where have persisted virtually from the time the A’s arrived in 1968. That was 10 years after the Giants, who — and isn’t this ironic, now having become established at AT&T Park? — moved to a ballpark accurately described as the worst in America, Candlestick Park.

The A’s were going to Denver. The A’s were going to Las Vegas. The A’s were going to San Jose. But they’re still in Oakland and seemingly will be for a long while.