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A Letter To the Fans From Brad Ziegler

(Note from baseballgirl: I received this from Ziggy about five minutes ago and I am posting it in its entirety.)

Hey, everyone! I wanted to check in here now that we’re about a month into the season...and also explain some of the comments I made that have been portrayed in a much different light than I intended. I know this will be lengthy, but I hope that you take a few minutes to read it. If nothing else, you will know that it came straight from me and there will be zero media slant to what is said.

First of all, this season has been a BLAST so far. This team is scrappy – a bunch of guys who are going to fight, and fight TOGETHER. We all believe in each other, and we hope that people all over MLB realize that this team has a great chance to be in the thick of things come September (and even if they don’t, we believe it in the locker room)… That said, as if this isn’t obvious, anything we accomplish is going to be done as a TEAM. We don’t have the 1 or 2 guys we can rely on to carry us for 6 straight months. We need contributions from everybody every single night to have success, and so far, that’s happening. If you’d have told our team in spring training that we’d be at the top of the AL West as we near the end of April, everyone would’ve been happy, but NO ONE in our clubhouse would’ve been surprised.

However, that does NOT mean we’re not going to face our share of trials along the way. The most prominent that seems to keep popping up every year is the injuries. The DL list is growing quickly, and we know at SOME point, that will change – just by sheer logic, it HAS to. Just hope that it’s sooner rather than later, and in the meantime, we just have to weather the storm and stay afloat so that we can thrive when we get healthy and make that push as we head past the trading deadline into what everyone hopes is an August/September/October we will remember for a long, long time.

OK, now, to address the Twitter comments and the subsequent articles that were written:

First of all, let me state that I’m SHOCKED at the amount of attention this has received, especially outside of Oakland. We need some new story lines in baseball, apparently, if THIS is the focus of so many people’s attentions a month into the year. At the same time, I’m glad that, between this and the Braden/ARod issue, the A’s are getting some national press, because it’s allowing people all over the country to take note of our good start and realize, "Oh, hey, this could be a good, young, fun team to watch the rest of the season and for several years to come…"

That said, what I actually said and what I meant to portray with the words I chose somehow became extremely blurred. Part of that may have been because I can’t, on Twitter, type out long statements like this one because of their character limit. However, no matter the reason, I don’t want what I said to be misconstrued or taken out of context or taken in a way that I didn’t intend. I don’t want to be known as (or even worse, truly be) a spoiled, pompous twit (pun intended) who is ungrateful to our fans.

A few days ago, I was being bombarded by dozens of people on Twitter (people I don’t really know – I think they just knew I was an athlete so I was targeted) to jump on board in supporting a boycott of Arizona sports as a way to protest the new immigration law in that state. And I’m not talking about just D-backs games – they were wanting me to support the boycott of NCAA games, NFL, NHL, NBA, spring training games, and even future potential Super Bowl bids for that area, which, to me was singling out primarily the Phoenix area.

My initial reaction was this: I don’t know ANYTHING about this law. I’m not from Arizona. I don’t vote there. I have zero connection to Arizona, other than the fact that I spend 2 months a year there for spring training.  So I was confused why I was being targeted to support a boycott to protest a law that, in many ways, doesn’t seem to directly affect me.

When I initially said I wasn’t going to support the boycott, I gave the reason that I didn’t know enough about the law to pick a side on it. Then I moved on, stating essentially that I wouldn’t want to support a boycott of D-backs games anyway, because I wouldn’t want to do that to their players. I know what it’s like to play in front of a mostly-empty home stadium. It’s difficult, as a player, to get the same amount of adrenaline when the majority of the stadium is empty and the atmosphere isn’t as electric as it is in some places when we go on the road…or when we’re at home and we’re playing against the Yankees, Red Sox, and Giants when people come out in droves to the games – primarily because of our opponent. When a team’s having success like we are right now, it’s human nature that we want to be noticed. When the Yanks came to town, there were less than 20,000 people at the opening game of that series, and the majority of the fans there were wearing midnight blue. I know some can viably say that we’ve lost a lot of games the last couple of years and helped erode our own fan base.  But we’re giving it all we’ve got every time out, loving and trying to respect the game...and we’re just hope fans will stick with us in that.

There have been games this year where we’ve essentially estimated the number of fans in the seats at the beginning of the game from the bullpen, and we’ve come up with numbers like 2500. I realize lots of people come in later during the game, but from our perspective, imagine what that feels like to a starting pitcher. I don’t mean for this to sound like some spoiled kid.  I’ve been through a little bit to be where I am today.  I hope (and think) that that’s not who I am...but the truth is, we loved playing in front of a crowd in little league, in high school, in legion, in college, and in the minors.  It’s part of what makes the game part of what we love to do. We have a couple All-Star caliber pitchers competing every 5 nights for us, and very few people are there to see them throw the first pitch of the game. It just makes it slightly tougher to get the same energy level as it does when the stadium is packed and electric. I know we’re professionals and I know most of that is on us, but I’m just telling you how it is. As a reliever, it’s similar when you come into a blowout game. When the team’s down 11-1, neither team’s fans are on the edge of their seat, and it’s a different energy level than it is when you come into a 2-1 game in the 8th inning against the Angels.

I’ll be among the first to say: I realize our stadium is out-dated and probably isn’t as fan-friendly as most parks (largely in part to the distance from the fans to the field because of the enormous amount of foul territory). I can see how that, along with ticket and parking prices, can be a major deterrent to fans, especially when the economy is in its current state (it was that way often for my family growing up). I stated that in the interviews, but that seemed to be left out of most articles. We, as players, realize that we’re blessed to have a job like we do, and hopefully soon, everyone else will be prospering and excited about new opportunities that present themselves as the economy slowly (and hopefully) recovers.

Just to present a player’s perspective, we think we have an EXCITING team on the field. We may not hit a lot of home runs, but we pitch, we play defense, and we make things happen offensively to create runs – and, consequently, win ballgames. This team is going to play a lot of close games this year, and we’ve already won several games in our last at-bat. That, to me, creates an exciting environment for fans at games. Celebrating a walk-off win is something we LOVE sharing with our fans, and hopefully there will be much more of that to come this season…

All that said, back to the boycott issue: I was just stating that I don’t think boycotting D-backs games is going to be an effective way of protesting a non-sports issue.  For starters, with revenue-sharing in baseball, teams that have low attendance just get more $ from the big-market clubs after the season. The owners are not going to be affected nearly as much as a casual fan thinks they would be. And I was just saying that I (as a fellow player) would never wish for (and support) smaller crowds for baseball games.

Now, to address A’s fans specifically: When I came up in 2008, one of the first things that I was made aware of by multiple people was that I will have to get used to playing in front of smaller crowds than I played in front of in Sacramento on some nights. I was (and am) fine with that. I even talked to and joked with some fans about it, and I was told NUMEROUS times  by numerous fans that Oakland-area fans were boycotting games as a way of protesting the potential move of the club to Fremont. I realize there’s not an official boycott now, but when I’m not from this area and people tell me things like that, I just figured it was news that had been well-documented in the Bay Area. And it seemed to be a valid explanation for small crowds, so I accepted that it was true – and that was my mistake. I realize now that the economy and our team’s history of trading some of its best (and highest-priced) players has made it very difficult for fans to latch on and support the team on a night-in-night-out basis. Thank you for educating me.

NOTHING I said was ever intended to take a shot at our fans. In no way did I intend to disrespect the fans we do have. I just wish we had more fans, that’s all – what player wouldn’t? It’s obvious to all of us that the fans we do have, even small in number, are some of the most passionate fans in all of pro sports. We LOVE the connection we have with our fans and the fact that they DO still support us in tough economic times. And from a player’s standpoint, who wouldn’t LOVE playing in front of a sellout crowd every night?!? I realize that’s not going to happen here, but we’re a 1st place team (and hoping to stay there) in an exciting division, playing an exciting brand of baseball, and we just want to continue making noise in the West. We’ve been a doormat to the division the last 2 years, and trust me, it has SUCKED losing.  But this season is different. This team is going to win games, and we want our fans to very much be a part of an exciting season for us.

I realize I may not be a very popular player on the team, especially right now, and I can accept the consequences for what I said (and to be fair, I’ve never thought I was a really popular player on any team I’ve ever played on). But you will not see a change in who I am – I will still sign autographs, take pictures, joke with fans, throw balls in the stands, and I will continue to do my best getting ground ball double plays and trying to do my part in maintaining 1-run leads late in games. I want to thank each and every member of A’s Nation (on and off the website) for the support you’ve shown me, our team, and the future support we’ll get as this season progresses. It’s an exciting time for us, and we very much want to share this season with all of you.

God bless all of you, and we’ll see you at the ballpark!