As most know by now, Sunday's game is a fairly unique one: For the first time since 2005, ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, the premier broadcast for regular-season MLB, will be on site at the Oakland Coliseum to cover the A's and Angels.
I had the chance to speak with two members of the Sunday Night Baseball crew, John Kruk and Dan Shulman, to get a few of their pre-series thoughts.
I figured it would have been a while for either of the broadcasters since their last visit to the Coliseum. I was dead wrong, for Shulman at least — he last visited on July 4 during a four-city ballpark tour with his son.
It's an interesting time to watch an A's-Angels series. Oakland is (hopefully) coming off its first legitimate slump of the year, the Angels just lost their No. 1 starter, the A's are still trying to overcome the aftereffects of the Yoenis Cespedes trade and Los Angeles has a healthy and productive trio of Josh Hamilton, Mike Trout, and Albert Pujols in the middle of its order.
"That's the nature of baseball," said Shulman, in reference to the slump. "The season is so long that ups and downs will happen.
"It's not often you see a contending team trade its cleanup hitter ... but I think the A's are still going to be fine."
Kruk still likes Oakland to win the division, simply because their rotation is stronger and healthier, especially post-Garrett Richards injury. The pressure on Donaldson, he says, has to be drastically higher than it was pre-trade deadline; he went from being a productive hitter whose power was a nice cherry on top of that of Yoenis Cespedes to the only righty power bat the A's can consistently lean on.
ESPN has been ridiculed, perhaps fairly, for taking nine years between Sunday Night Baseball visits to Oakland. To be fair, the dead period between 2007 and 2011 hasn't produced compelling baseball, but the high-caliber teams of 2006, 2012, and 2013 certainly warranted a visit.
Given that, both Kruk and Shulman (neither of whom has been on the Sunday Night Baseball staff for nearly that long) are excited to come to the Coliseum. Sunday's expected sellout will be a nice change of pace to a game two weeks ago in Atlanta, when only a few thousand fans had entered the ballpark gates at first pitch.
As Kruk said, the crowd is what it is, but there's a certain thrill in broadcasting from a full house. Shulman added that he's always appreciated Coliseum crowds, large or small, for their liveliness.
Shulman sounded particularly excited to do exactly what A's fans complain that the national networks fail to do — tell the stories that go consistently under-appreciated by the casual fan around the country. Both broadcasters love Sean Doolittle, Shulman feels that Sonny Gray is a budding star who isn't a household name quite yet, and there are plenty of other stories that should be told during Sunday's broadcast.
They'll have help from an old fan favorite and budding broadcaster — Dallas Braden will be reporting from the field, along with Buster Olney, so the Sunday broadcast will have a nice Oakland flair to it.
Speaking of things that are uniquely Oakland, I had to ask about the Coliseum. Kruk was far more reserved than his counterpart when discussing Oakland's tenuous stadium situation. Kruk claimed to care about the baseball and only the baseball, and while Shulman made it clear that the on-field action was the primary concern, he had this to say:
"As a baseball fan, I'd have to say that the Oakland A's have to get a new ballpark ... these are first-rate athletes in a first-rate league and they need first-rate facilities."
Tonight's matchup features a longtime Oakland fanemy, CJ Wilson, facing off against Jon Lester, who has been excellent in two starts at the Coliseum. Then the Sunday Night Baseball matchup, a 5pm finale, sees Scott Kazmir going up against Weaver.