Marcus Semien is not of this world. He is an alien being. What other explanation could there be for a man whose every atom seems stacked together into the perfect baseball player.
His dark eyes twinkle when he smiles, bringing pokes of dimples in his cheeks, a dusting of perfect perpetual five o’clock shadow framing his beaming smile. He’s toned with lean muscle, not ballooned like a beefy bodybuilder. Semien’s demeanor is laid back, friendly, a level of humble that doesn’t seem possible for a guy as highly skilled as he is.
And he may be cool as a peppermint, but his speed and power have now built up to an MVP candidate level, something that would surely swell a guy’s head — or send him into a spiral of performance anxiety demise. To come up from a trade chip who puked out a league high level of errors to #3 in the AL MVP voting, directly following Mike Trout and Alex Bregman.
If Semien was a character in a movie, he wouldn’t be believable. Too concocted, too perfect.
When put in the spotlight, Semien shies back. He doesn’t yearn for the pedestal others do, all he wants is to keep playing baseball, keep improving himself to further assist his teammates. However, when asked about his family, Semien perks up to wax poetic about his loved ones.
Much like teammates Stephen Piscotty and Khris Davis, Semien was born with local roots. Even closer, in fact, Semien was born in San Francisco and grew up playing his Little League days at Central Park in El Cerrito, carrying his undying desire for the game through St Mary’s high school in Berkeley. It was there the Chicago White Sox took their first stab at drafting the young infielder, but Semien turned them down. He had UC Berkeley in his sights.
Not only did choosing school mean Semien could stay closer to home and the family he held dear, but, he also had some big shoes (or bear paws?) to fill heading into Cal — his mom and dad both attended and Marcus was following in their footsteps. Marcus’ dad, Damien Semien — yes, that’s his actual name — played football for the Golden Bears from 1990-93.
Everyone has heard of die-hard, traveling parents, but Semien had a die-hard, traveling grandmother. All throughout college, Grandma Carol showed up to every game she could afford to save up and travel to. With Semien’s parents both working long hours, it had been Grandma Carol who rode the trains from her home back and forth to Niners, Giants and A’s games with kid Marcus. The two shared a mutual passion they bonded over: sports.
In 2011, Semien finally answered the White Sox hook and was zipped far away from home and family. Grandma Carol found her ways to be there, streaming Semien’s games on her computer, then calling him up to talk. Home was far, but the support never left his side.
In 2013, Semien was in the midst of playing for the Birmingham Barons when he got the news: Grandma Carol had passed, only a few months before Semien got his call-up.
To this day, Semien wears a silver chain around his neck with a single, metal pendant: Grandma Carol’s fingerprint. She still goes everywhere with him, he will never take her off.
At the conclusion of the 2014 season, the A’s sent Jeff Samardzija and Michael Ynoa to the White Sox, receiving a bundle of Semien, Chris Bassitt, Josh Phegley, and Rangel Ravelo in return. Not a bad deal! Little League kids joke about one day playing for their hometown teams, but for Semien, this childhood fantasy had just become a reality.
2015 was a year of worsts and woes. The A’s were the worst team in the AL, and Semien picked up the trophy for most errors in all of baseball at 35, including another league topper of 18 throwing errors. Coincidentally, an A’s player held the AL error “honor” in 2014 as well, a man by the name of Josh Donaldson.
The following season, the A’s hired Ron Washington, who was eager to work with Semien’s defense. With Wash’s help, Semien showed improvement. He edged his errors total down to 21 and put up a league high 477 assists. He also worked his dingers up from 15 to 27.
Each year, Semien has come in poised to perform, and he’s continued to improve steadily. In 2019, he came in with the best season yet, finishing as a top-3 finalist for both a Gold Glove and the AL MVP ballot. Sadly, he fell short of the hardware and honors, save a Player of the Week in June, but the numbers Semien put up are a monument to his efforts.
Semien is 29 now, with his own family, back in the Bay where his own journey began, riding around on BART and MUNI with Grandma Carol. She’ll still be there, every step of the way as the start of Semien’s 2020 season draws closer. Every year, Semien finds ways to improve by leaps and bounds, and we’re only a few short months away from seeing how he can do it again and leave 2019 in the dust.