Reflections on the baseball part of the 10 days in Arizona my wife and I wrapped up earlier this week.
Our visit was capped by St. Patrick’s Day in the desert, highlighted by the A’s beating the Cubbies 12-6, while we had comfortable seats in the shade at Phoenix Muni. So we were almost as comfortable watching the action on a 90-plus-degree day as the A’s were at the plate, especially Adam Rosales.
Rosales entered the game in the sixth inning as a pinch runner after the Cubs had rallied to erase a 6-1 deficit and tie the game 6-6. Rosales, running for Josh Donaldson, was stranded when Hiro Nakajima inexplicably tried to bunt with two outs and Rosales in scoring position at second.
Still, Rosales stayed on, taking over at shortstop for Nakajima, and homered twice later, both two-run shots, first in the seventh to put the A’s back on top 8-6 and then in the eighth in the middle of a four-run burst that put the game away.
We were with my sister and her husband, both from the Dallas-Fort Worth area where we were grew up, and I told them before Rosey came up that he doesn’t homer that often, but I hope he would just so they could see him run around the bases as if he were trying for an inside-the-park homer.
And bingo! Not once but twice. What fun. A nice side note was that the game was televised on WGN, and Rosales is from the Chicago ’burbs. Nice to put on a good show for old friends stuck back in cold.
My sister and her husband are Rangers fans, of course, and I might have been too except this old native Texan left the land of bluebonnets in 1970, long before the Rangers arrived. Blame it on the Navy, which stationed me in California at times when my ship wasn’t in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War.
As a line in Jerry Jeff Walker’s rockin’ version of a Willie Nelson song goes, “I’m wild and I’m loud and I like gravy/I’m about half off the wall, but I learned it all in the Navy.”
The A’s grew on me over the many years we have lived in Northern California after moving here for the first time in 1971 after 18 months in Orange County.
Our visit to Arizona wasn’t all baseball, as we took in four games spread out from Sunday, March 10, to the A’s St. Patrick’s Day four-homer outburst. We took in two A’s games, two Rangers games (one between the two AL West rivals) and Team USA’s 9-4 win over Canada in the first round of the World Baseball Classic.
The best baseball by far was the U.S.-Canada WBC game, the first we saw. It’s always better when the teams are playing to win. The USA was, predictably, eliminated later before the finals in San Francisco at AT&T. My feeling is the Americans won’t have a chance of winning, even though it’s our game and our pastime, until our best players and our fans think of it as a huge deal.
Right now, the top pitchers and many of the top position players pass it up, and those who do play take the attitude that it’s just a “good experience” to represent their country, and the general attitude among the players, the baseball teams’ managements and Major League Baseball officials is that it is basically a duty and honor. Goal 1: promote baseball globally and Goal 2: Oh yeah, play for your nation.
But until winning the WBC becomes as important to our players and fans as winning the World Cup is to soccer players and fans, it’s not going to happen for the U.S.
While some of America’s best players were there, many more were not.
Ryan Vogelsong is a very good and underrated starting pitcher, but is the No. 4 starter for the Giants, as good as their rotation is, the No. 2 starter in the USA? The Rangers’ Derek Holland, the No. 3 starter in the USA? He may not even be No. 3 for the Rangers. The players there were all good, but how would the starting rotation stack up against one of Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, C.C. Sabathia and David Price?
Team USA fielded four position players who arguably may be the best American players at their positions: Ryan Braun LF, David Wright 3B, Alameda native (Encinal High) Jimmy Rollins SS and possibly Brandon Phillips 2B.
Some say Phillips is the best defensively, but A’s fans would know he’s at best second to Mark Ellis, and for the overall package I would go with that fiery little guy from Woodland, the Red Sox’s Dustin Pedroia. To quote the Emmylou Harris’ “Born to Run” song not to be confused with Bruce Springsteen’s anthem: “Well, I was born to run/To get ahead of the rest/And all that I wanted was to be the best.” That’s the attitude Pedroia brings.
Some may say Joe Maurer is the nation’s best catcher, but I’d would take Buster Posey. Other of America’s best missing from the 2013 starting lineup: 1B Albert Pujols, outfielders Mike Trout and either Josh Hamilton or Andrew McCutchen. Add Prince Fielder to DH and back up at first base or have Braun DH and have an outfield of Hamilton, Trout and McCutchen.
I didn’t mention some deserving players because they were hurt and might have been better options if healthy. But that’s all 2013, and that opportunity has sailed. The next one comes 2017, and whoever’s is and has been the best for two or three years as of the end of the 2016 season should be clamoring for and be put on the 2017 team.
In our mini-family reunion we also saw the Rangers rout the Milwaukee Brewers at the Rangers’ park at Surprise, and the Rangers beat the A’s 6-2 at Phoenix Muni.
Impressions from the A’s and Rangers getting together Thursday down in the hot Arizona sun:
Just as Bogey and Ingrid will always have Paris, A’s fans will always have Oakland in October 2012. How “sweep” it was.
A few observations from the couple of A’s games I saw:
The A’s are hitting great, taking full advantage of pitchers needing a full four weeks to round into shape for the start of the regular season. But my prediction is there will be some unhappy campers who will be sent down to Sacramento even though they produced over a 1.000 OPS. Think Shawn Peterson, Eric Sogard and Andy Parrino. Gary Green already has been shipped out after posting a 1.045 OPS this spring.
Worrisome, though, is that the pitching is still not sharp after a full month of camp, and some defensive lapses.
In the game against the Rangers we saw, for instance, Hiro Nakaiima’s wild throw to first base on the first ball hit in play by Rangers’ leadoff man Ian Kinsler led to two unearned runs in the first. But the reason it did were because of couple of errors by Yeonis Cespedes in left field that don’t go in the book as E’s.
On a hit into the hole by Elvis Andrus, Cespedes seemed surprised Kinsler was trying to go from first-to-third on the play and threw late and off-line to third base. That throw also allowed Andrus to go to second, setting up second and third with no outs.
Then on Lance Berkman’s line out to medium left, Cespedes tried to throw out Kinsler at home, which Cespedes has shown he can do. But the throw not only was off line but also missed the cutoff man, and Andrus advanced to third with one out, where he scored on Adrian Beltre’s sacrifice fly to deep left center.
A good sign though: Cespedes made a great running catch on Beltre’s belt while looking up into the sun, the first of two such grabs he made.
Defensively, Nakajima and Weeks likely will be subpar compared to Stephen Drew and Cliff Pennington down the stretch last year. Don’t know yet about the defensive prowess of Derek Norris and John Jaso at catcher, but they’ll probably be at least as good as they were last year, which is still a little south of Kurt Suzuki. But both should hit much better than Kurt.
Norris is having a good spring at the plate, but Jaso is one of the ones struggling. But you got to go with his track record. Others struggling at the plate: Nakajima and Scott Sizemore, while Cespedes, Josh Donaldson and Chris Young have been tepid. Cespedes and Donaldson were showing signs of coming to life with their hitting while we down there.
My choices to make the club among the position players on the bubble: Sogard and Rosales.
There will be 12 pitchers I’m pretty sure on the 25-man roster, and besides the nine in the Opening Night hitting lineup, that leaves one backup catcher (Jaso or Norris), whoever sits among the five proven outfielders (my guess Chris Young with Seth Smith starting at DH), and two more.
My pitch on the pitching will have to wait until another day.