(From the Sec925 Archives) "Coming Up The Pipeline" - A's Prospect Addison Russell enters Spring Training as the one to watch

By Connor Buestad | Connor@Section925.com

In four years at Pace High School, just outside of Pensacola, Florida, Addison Russell hit a cool .460 with 37 home runs. Living on the Alabama border, it only made sense that the Auburn Tigers would end up extending a scholarship offer to Russell. And at the time, the 6’0” 195 pound shortstop had full intentions of going to school. The oldest of 4 siblings and the owner of a soft-spoken, humble personality, it made sense that even a talent this large could use a few years of seasoning in the SEC.

This was all before Billy Beane made young Addison his first round selection in the 2012 Draft. For years, Beane has avoided high school players like the plague, deeming an 18-year-old simply too much of a gamble to invest millions in. The last time Beane has selected a high schooler in the first round was 2001 when the A’s took Jeremy Bonderman 26th overall. Before that, you have to date back to 1996 when Eric Chavez was picked in the first round out of high school.

Not only was Beane forced out of his comfort zone by picking someone so young, so early, Billy also had to negotiate with super-agent Scott Boras in order to sign Russell. 2.6 million dollars later, Russell, and his seemingly infinite upside, was property of Oakland.

While Big League scouts have most often compared Russell to current Detroit Tigers infielder Jhonny Peralta, A’s fans could also comfortably compare Russell to the beloved former Oakland Athletic, Miguel Tejada. Blessed with a sturdy, compact build, to go along with exceptional bat speed, foot speed and arm strength, Russell possesses everyting one would need to be a breakout Major League star.

Peralta and Tejada, both eventual steroid offenders, possess(ed) the type of five-tool talent that is so coveted in young position players. By all accounts, Russell has all five tools in his quiver, and to the extent that he is the best prospect the A’s have had in their farm system in recent memory.

Scouts have marveled at the way the ball jumps off Russell's 19-year-old bat

In Russell’s first season in the minors last year, the 19-year-old started at shortstop for the Single-A Stockton Ports of the California League. After a slow start, Russell finished the season with 17 home runs, 10 triples, 21 stolen bases and a .275 average. The stat line was good enough to earn him the Rookie of the Year in the Cal League, as well as a trip to the All-Star game in New York City to participate in the Futures Game. By year’s end, Russell was on the field with the AAA Sacramento River Cats getting his first taste of professional playoff baseball.

As Russell turns 20 on January 23rd, he heads into his second year of spring training scheduled to start the year playing for the A’s Double-A affiliate in Midland, Texas. There, while he continues to accumulate invaluable professional at-bats, A’s fans will keep a close eye on their prized possession down on the farm.

“At the minimum he’ll be at the Double-A level (in 2014),” A’s general manager Billy Beane recently told CSN Bay Area. “A kid with that kind of talent, once you get to that level, anything can happen from there.”

“He’ll have the opportunity (this spring) in major league camp to assert himself before he gets to the minor leagues,” continued Billy Owens, A's director of player personnel. “There’s no timetable. People always want to make predictions, but I think his play on the field will dictate predictions.

As you may recall, Oakland's 2011 first round pick was Sonny Gray out of Vanderbilt. And we all know how that panned out. The rookie turned in a masterful Game 2 performance in last year’s Playoffs, throwing eight scoreless innings and earning himself the starter’s role for the subsequent pivotal Game 5. Granted, Gray was 23 when he took center stage for the A’s, but it is still in the realm of possibility that Beane and manager Bob Melvin would decide to bring up Russell to play shortstop for the A’s by the middle of the summer. Jed Lowrie has proven to be a step slow as a Major League shortstop. And moving Lowrie to second to make room for Russell could turn out wonderfully, assuming Russell continues his rapid development.

Coming off back-to-back playoff seasons, one couldn’t blame Billy Beane for keeping things status-quo. But, when you consider how competitive the AL West has become (most recently with Robinson Cano coming to Seattle) change is constantly necessary for the A’s to stay ahead of their deep pocket competitors. Expect part of that change to come in the form of a once-in-a-decade shortstop, by the name of Addison Russell.

"Addison is a 19-year-old with so much upside, not only talent-wise but his work ethic. His tools are all there," Bill Richardson, Russell's former Manager, explains to MLB.com. "Shortstop is such a premium. You get a good shortstop, and when you have that guy, it makes things a lot easier on your club. He might be one of the most talented players in this league. He knows what he wants, and there is no doubt in my mind he will make it. How soon is what it is."

Feeling right at home inside the A's dugout. (photo by Susan Slusser)

Mark Canha - Feeling Right at Home in the Bay Area

(Click above to listen to Mark Canha's interview with Section925)

By Connor Buestad | Connor@Section925.com

Mark Canha is not your average Major League baseball player. He’s redheaded, UC Berkeley educated, and is more interested in Michael Bauer’s latest food review than what’s happening on the latest edition of SportsCenter.

Despite a muscle-bound physique, a set of hefty sideburns and a job as a baseball player, Canha is more cultured than you might think. By now, you probably know of his comprehensive culinary micro-blog (@BigLeagueFoodie) that takes you along with Canha into the nation’s most renowned and unique restaurants. But on top of that, Canha sports a dry, witty, and original sense of humor that A’s fans have grown to love after just one year.  

I was under the radar in high school for whatever reason. I always think it was a conspiracy because of the redhead thing,” Canha joked. “People don’t like readheads, so I like to blame it on that.
— Mark Canha

After spending five seasons on the minor league circuit as an overlooked farmhand for the Miami Marlins, Canha made his rookie debut in an Athletics’ uniform during the first home stand of 2015. Following a mishap at first base and pop-out to the catcher, Canha managed to laugh off the rocky start to his career in the Majors and turn it into a night he’ll never forget.

Canha came up in the bottom of the third inning with the bases full and unloaded a drive to right field that was just inches from a Grand Slam. He settled for a bases-clearing double as his first Big League knock. By the end of the evening, Canha had three hits (two doubles) and four RBI.

The only thing that overshadowed Canha’s monster debut was his humorous post-game press conference in the A’s clubhouse, as he deadpanned a classic line from the iconic baseball film, Bull Durham. “Just trying to help the ball club,” Canha explained to Oakland beat writers with a smile. “Give it my best shot, and the Good Lord willing, things will work out.”

Whether or not Tim Robbins and Kevin Costner contacted Canha to congratulate the rookie on his performance is unknown, but manager Bob Melvin plugged him in the lineup the following night and off he went. By season’s end, he had played in 124 games and tallied 121 hits to go along with 22 doubles and 16 homers. In the month of August, Canha hit over .300. Not bad for a rookie that the Miami Marlins gave away.

With good speed for a power hitter, Ron Washington has no problem wheeling Canha around the bases inside the Coliseum. (photo by Thearon W. Henderson)


Canha was born and raised in San Jose where he eventually attended Bellarmine College Prep. One of the oldest and most prestigious schools in the Bay Area, Bellarmine prides itself on offering top-notch academics to go along with some of the best athletic programs in the state of California. Canha made sure to take advantage of both, succeeding on the competitive campus both on and off the field. But even after putting up big stats for the Bells (a team that boasts 14 MLB alums), Canha was still not as heavily recruited as he would have liked. His dream was Stanford, but then hitting coach and former Phillies first-baseman Jon Zuber convinced him to come to Berkeley and play for him at CAL.

“I was under the radar in high school for whatever reason. I always think it was a conspiracy because of the redhead thing,” Canha joked. “People don’t like readheads, so I like to blame it on that. But Zuber found me.”

In Berkeley, Canha joined a star-studded roster that forced him to wait his turn as a freshman. But come sophomore year, Canha was poised to break out and he credits the work he put in with the equally dry-humored coach Zuber as a key to his success.

“Zub was instrumental in my success of my breakout sophomore season. We did a lot of work in the Fall and I saw results. You build up confidence and see results, then you get more confidence. Zub really taught me how to hit in college. I had to make some changes.”

After leading the PAC-10 with 69 RBI as a junior, Canha would leave Berkeley a year early after being selected by the Florida Marlins in the 7th round. Once in their minor league system, Canha put up solid numbers year in and year out, but still felt as though he was overlooked. “I eventually came to the realization that I wasn’t a part of the Marlins’ Big Leagues plans,” said Canha.

It was hard to tell where Canha’s baseball career was headed following his 2014 season. All he really knew was that his wife Marci (also from San Jose) wanted to pursue her architecture career in the Bay Area. That’s why the Canha’s were elated when A’s GM David Forst gave Mark a call to let him know the A’s had signed him.

“Getting a call from David Forst, it was like bedlam for us,” remembers Canha. “We were unsure where this baseball thing was taking us and the fact that it took us to the Bay Area was outstanding for us.”

From the moment Canha arrived in the A’s clubhouse he was as comfortable as he ever felt. It showed in Spring Training last year as the hungry redhead led the team in homers while down in Arizona. He was playing alongside former teammate Marcus Semien and under Bob Melvin, both of which played at CAL. Needless to say, this felt like home for Canha.

In 2015, Canha played 75 games at 1st base and 58 games in left field, as well as few appearances sprinkled in at RF and DH. Wearing Josh Donaldson’s #20, Canha did his best to fill the void of the lost right handed power bat. A self-proclaimed lover of home runs, Canha didn’t get cheated at the plate as rookie. Seemingly loading up and letting it fly each and every at-bat.

With 2016 Spring Training just weeks away, Canha has a ton to look forward to in his sophomore campaign in the Green and Gold. He figures to be a key bat in the A’s lineup this year as he moves into his prime years as a pro (Canha turns 27 on Feb. 15th). He just recently finished filming a series of Green Collar commercials in Arizona and is now hunkered down at the Baseball Rebellion training facility in North Carolina, working with his hitting guru, Chas Pippitt.

Now that he and his wife are happily settled in San Francisco, one of the only worries Canha has at the moment is what walkup song he should use at the Coliseum this year (he wants your help, btw). Other than that, Canha is thrilled to be in the food centric Bay Area, with plenty of fodder for @BigLeagueFoodie and even more at-bats in the ever-young Oakland A’s batting order.

“I went through the system for so long,” Canha told Tripper Ortman of Section925. “Really it sounds cliché, it’s very Bull Durham of me to say this, but I’m just happy to be here. Truly, I’m just happy to be in the Big Leagues. As cliché as it sounds.”

The Good Lord willing, things will work out.

Canha prides himself on being a versatile defender, splitting time between the A's infield and outfield. (photo by Thearon W. Henderson)

The Bay Bridge Series – Oakland Looks to Stop a Surging San Francisco

Billy Burns has been a bright spot for the A's this season. Filling in for the injured Coco Crisp, Burns is hitting a team best .310 on the year. (photo by Jason O. Watson)

By Connor Buestad | Connor@Section925.com

As Josh Donaldson trotted demonstratively around the Coliseum bases on Thursday afternoon, you could almost feel the last bit of air seeping out of the 2015 Oakland Athletics’ worn tires. His moonshot in the fifth inning easily cleared the extended wall in right-center, and Donaldson seemed to enjoy every second of his journey around the bases. Head bobbing, arms up to the sky, visible grin, etc. He wasn’t shy about it.

This week was Donaldson’s first trip to Oakland after being traded to Canada by Billy Beane, following what most believe was a contentious relationship between the star third baseman and the decorated GM. By the time Donaldson arrived at his post-homer dugout and went into his series of secret handshakes and forearm “bashes” with Jose Reyes, Billy Beane most assuredly shut off the TV from his in-game workout room and turned up the speed on his exercise bike.   

A’s fans know the deal all too well. Real estate magnet and team owner Lew Wolff has billions of dollars in his bank account (literally), but is not a fan of spending it on baseball players. His GM Billy Beane does his best with a limited cash flow and is not afraid to pull the trigger on any decision, no matter how unpopular. Every year, by the time July rolls around and the trade deadline looms, Billy takes stock and decides if the A’s are buyers or sellers. Last year the A’s were buyers, and unfortunately, they flamed out in the playoffs. This year, they are sellers and as always, it’s tough to watch.

Scott Kazmir was scheduled to be on the mound on Thursday against Donaldson and the Blue Jays, but Beane had other ideas, sending Kazmir to the contending Houston Astros for two minor league prospects. With Kazmir’s departure, that leaves only Sean Doolittle on the roster from last year’s list of A’s All-Stars. Norris, Moss, Samardzija, Cespedes, Donaldson, they’re all gone too.   

After Beane put down his white flag, he emerged for a brief press conference on Thursday and reminded A’s fans what we already knew but still didn’t like. Billy did his annual A’s accounting calculation and decided that at 44-53 the A’s were behind the 8-ball and needed to sell. The market is only hot for so long he explained. Now was the time.  

Fortunately, among the many things A’s fans are good at; looking at the glass half full is one of them. The Athletics are still in Oakland, the weather is still Sonny, the tickets are still cheap, the parking lot still has plenty of tailgating real estate, and the Dubs won the whole goddamn thing.

Oakland also has a pretty good squad still in tact with more than a few players worth rooting for. They do find themselves 11 back of the first place Angels, but stranger things have happened. If nothing else, it is time for the A’s to play spoiler across the bay.

Hector Sanchez stops to admire his grand slam on Tuesday night in San Diego. The pose caused benches to clear at Petco Park. (photo by Denis Poroy)

The San Francisco Giants, with three World Series titles in the last five years, have lots to feel good about coming into the 2015 version of the Battle of the Bay. SF is winners of eight of their last nine games including two of three in San Diego this week.

The Giants will feature a healthy and rested Hunter Pence in right field, along with a middle infield who played together in the All-Star Game. Seeing the Giants double-play combo in the Midsummer Classic was more than just Bruce Bochy looking out for the Orange and Black, it appears. Brandon Crawford already has 14 homers to compliment his steady defense, while fresh-faced Joe Panik’s .316 average is good for 10th place in all of the Majors. All of this is a nice compliment to Buster Posey’s typical stellar offensive output and Matt Duffy’s out-of-nowhere performance at third base to make the masses rid themselves of Panda Hats.

Even with Timmy Lincecum on the DL, the pitching matchups in this series surely favor the Giants, especially when you consider that Sonny Gray will be watching from the dugout all three games. Meanwhile, the A’s lineup will be tasked with World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner on Saturday.

Pitching matchups aside, it is probably best to just “throw out the record books” when these crosstown clubs come together for a three game set. But do me a favor, pick a side, and don’t get caught dead wearing one of these hats. My bold prediction: A’s win 2 out of 3…

Oakland Splits with Seattle, Heads to New York to Face Yankees

Stephen Vogt will head into Gotham City as a newly minted All-Star. (photo by Thearon W. Henderson)

By Merlin Edwards III | @Trey_Me

For the 2015 Oakland Athletics, there has not been a whole helluva lot to cheer about. The team has been wildly inconsistent, and every time positive things arise, a bad game or even a prolonged slump snuffs out any light of greatness to come. When the As suffered a tough one-run loss on Sunday afternoon to Seattle, they split the series with the Mariners and ended up finishing their home stand at 5-5. Even with the team playing better recently (15-12 in June), it is still very much in question if they can make an honest run at the first place Houston Astros.

It may seem like a pessimistic stance, but A's fans might have to be real with themselves and admit that this team just does not seem to have the firepower to secure a playoff spot this season. Fortunately, when A's fans step back and admit that this team is not as good as it has been in the past couple of seasons, plenty of silver linings can be found. The team has a respectable run differential, the starting pitching is thriving, and they FINALLY beat Felix Hernandez over the weekend!

To recap the four game weekend series versus Seattle, the Athletics won the first game convincingly, 4-0. Game 2 on Friday night went Seattles way, as the Mariners pounded out four home runs. Game 3 pitted the As against the vaunted King Felix Hernandez, who hadnt lost to the As in Oakland in seven years. The A's jumped on Hernandez early and didnt look back. Fortunately, Kendall Graveman had his "A" game working, as the young right hander went toe-to-toe with the King to pull out a much needed win.

With momentum on their side, Oakland trotted out Chris Bassitt for Sundays finale. Bassitt pitched well early until his location started to falter, giving up a 2-run single with 2 outs in the top of the 6th inning to former Athletic, Seth Smith. That gave Seattle the 2-1 lead and there would be no more scoring in the game. There were bright spots of the series, however, including the bullpen pitching much better. They gave up 5 runs in the series but all 5 came during game 2's home run barrage by Seattle. Otherwise, the bullpen was almost dominant. The main positive take away, though, was most definitely getting the Felix Hernandez monkey off our back.

Ever since Hernandez started pitching well for the Mariners, it seems like there was a curse put on the A's lineup. It is not all that rare for a team to get lucky and miss out on a very dominant pitcher during any particular series. For the A's, however, that is not something fans have been able to count on when facing the Mariners. It almost seems as if the Mariners intentionally set up the rotation from the beginning of the season, to be absolutely certain that every series the A's and M's play, Felix will be on the mound.

Unfortunately for the A's, in recent years, a Felix start meant an automatic L in the loss column for Oakland. Beating him on America's birthday is a step in the right direction that can hopefully build more confidence among As hitters moving forward. The key now is to focus on the next test and take some bravado and confidence with you to the Big Apple to face the Yankees.

For the last road trip before the All-Star break, the As will make stops at Yankee Stadium and in Cleveland. Sonny Gray is on the bump on Tuesday night (back from a serious stomach illness), while the resurgent Scott Kazmir follows on Wednesday. At 38-46, the As first goal should be to climb back to .500. Thankfully, Sonny has the ball tonight, so we are in good hands. As much as Id like to point to the fact that the As are just 6 ½ games out of an AL Wild Card, Ill try to keep my expectations in check, at least for now. 

"Oakland A's And Affiliates Weekend" - From the Farm To The Show and Back

"Adiós Yo" (photo by Jason O. Watson)

By Josh Hunsucker (@JPHunsucker)

Long before this summer began, my wife locked in "La Potencia T-Shirt Giveaway" tickets. The idea was that we could get away for three hours, and be grown-ups for an afternoon, in the wake of a whirlwind summer spent holed up in the DeRosa Center on the UOP campus studying for the California Bar Exam. The day after the bar exam felt like I was living in a power vacuum. I felt like I should be doing something and by about 2:00 PM I was getting stir crazy. I needed something to do and the A’s game was a day away. I checked the Ports schedule, out of town until Monday.[1] Then I thought to myself, “eff it” let’s go to a Rivercats game, Sacramento is only a 45 minute drive. I made the pitch that the boys would like the fireworks (if they could last that long) and I was going to murder someone if I didn’t get out of the house and double down for a "Triple-Header Oakland A’s and Affiliates" weekend. Rivercats for Friday fireworks, Oakland on Saturday for Lester’s first start, and back to Stockton for Dollar Monday.


Sacramento's Raley Field in all its glory (photo by Lisa Ouellette)

I am always amazed at the amount of logistical considerations for a baseball game with two kids (4 and 2). It’s basically like packing out your kit for a 12-hour attack on a fortified compound defended by ISIS. You NEED everything. Water, snacks, snacks, snacks, dipers, wipes, extra underwear, PJs and pull ups for the ride home, snacks, sunscreen (even for a night game apparently), paper towels, napkins, a flashlight, scuba tank, and baseball gloves. We got to the game about an hour early to soak in the pre-game. I humped our gear and my 2-year old on the shoulders so that we could make the 5-minute walk to stadium in under an hour.

We got to the seats in plenty of time, as the grounds crew was watering the infield. It just so happens that one of my old buddies is the head grounds keeper for the Rivercats. Having no baseball action on the field to look at, the boys were immediately restless so I decided the best thing to do was heckle the grounds crew and introduce my boys to the time honored tradition of being loud idiots at the ball park (zero beers deep at this point, just for the record). Our “Hey, there’s a drought, THANKS FOR USING ALL THE WATER!” heckle got some mild laughs from the sparse crowd. Not bad. We continue to provide some bad heckling and cheap entertainment for the 20 and 60-somethings in the crowd until I notice that only one kid is with me.

Just as I turn around my 4-year old has bolted up the stairs and into the crowd. He emerges with two bobble head boxes. It was Addison Russell gnome giveaway day (now a member of the Cubs). Apparently, it was going to be an awkward giveaway weekend for the A’s. Immediately, I think he has stolen them from someone and am about to start yelling at him when he says “that nice lady gave us these.” My man. Haggling random grandparents for free ball-park swag and saving me around $20-$30 in crap that will keep their interest for 5 minutes at home, THANK YOU.

I don’t really remember what happened during the game because I was basically a free safety making sure that no kids got loose into the stadium but I remember wondering why Andy Parrino hasn’t gotten more playing time in Oakland and being amazed when Daric Barton hit not one but two balls for a hit.

In a semi-miraculous turn of events the boys kept it together and we made it to the fireworks. After the fireworks my buddy let us onto the field and the boys ran around the bases, played catch, and ran the warning track. Not bad for a Friday night game on a whim.


Jon Lester, dealing... (photo by Ezra Shaw)

My wife and I had illusions of grandeur that we would get up early and get out on the road to the O dot CO by 8:00 AM. Getting back from the game at midnight deferred that dream to about 10:00 AM. The logistics were much easier for round two: dump off the kids, have a backpack full of beer, sunscreen, and peanuts, and bomb down I-5 for Dublin BART. A short stop off at the Tracy Nations and we were ready to go. Is there anything more satisfying than crushing beers and Nations on BART en-route to an A’s game by the way?[2]

We got to the O dot CO about an hour before Jon Lester took the hill and 15-people short of a La Potencia shirt. Maybe I was super sensitive to the Cespy trade and more perceptive of the jerseys being worn by the fans but if I didn’t know any better I would have though it was “Dearly Departed Day” at the ball park. And I’m not just talking the abundance of #52 jerseys. Let’s get a roll call: Chavez (at least 4 people), Street, Ellis (I almost wore mine), Sweeney (I didn’t realize those were even made), Holliday (I booed him), Honeycutt, Grieve (mesh jersey), Foulk, Durazo, and Hudson. Sadly Olmedo Saenz received a DNP.

My main concern with the Lester start, aside from the awesome and awkward shirt giveaway, is the dichotomy with fanbase’s head and heart regarding the trade. From a heart perspective of course it kills to see one of the most beloved A’s get traded to a team that will likely sign him to a long term deal for much more money than the A’s are willing to trade. From Cespy’s showcase video, to the moon shots, playoff home runs against the Tigers, his back to back Home Run Derby exploits, laser assists from leftfield, and general awesomeness the A’s haven’t had a player this dynamic since Miguel Tejada. The fans loved everything about the guy, and the fact that he was from Cuba and didn’t speak English allowed him to be somewhat sheltered from fans criticizing his character and created a perception of mystery that enhanced the Cespy Experience. So looking at the trade that way I get it, it sucks to lose Yo. The fact that we traded him for essentially a mercenary, a Hessian in our revolution for the world title, didn’t cushion our fragile Moneyball hearts.

My head on the other hand loves this trade. We tried to trade Cespy last year, he only had one more year left on his 4-year $36 million contract, and unless you are insane or were going to buy the team from Lew Wolff, we were not going to resign him. All of the Youtube clips above basically show that his value couldn’t be hirer than right now and if you are going to make a run at the title pitching wins championships. See Giants 2010 and 2012 titles. Also, look at the last two seasons: Verlander and Sherzer won those ALDSs (although Cabrera didn’t hurt). Lester is a two-time champ and shut down ace, bottom line. If that takes us to the SHIP, I can sacrifice Yo even if my heart hurts a little bit.

With that said, Lester took the mound. I couldn't have been more proud of the fan base either. They knew what Lester was walking into from an emotional standpoint and showed him extra love. The crowd answered the call and made Lester feel like the rebound girlfriend who we are trying to prove we are over our last girlfriend. The crowd got to their feet at all of the crucial moments, kept Lester going when he got into jams, and gave him a deafening Standing-O when he left in the 7th, complete with noticeable increase in noise when Lester reciprocated with a tip of the cap. If this works out, he may be the greatest rebound girlfriend/mercenary pitcher ever.

Stockton [3] 

The vastly underrated Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton

If you have never been to Banner Island Ballpark you are missing out. First, it is basically a mini-Raley Field that features an intimate setting, outfield grass, centerfield lounge seats, and a great bar on the first base side. Second, tickets are $10 for behind home plate. Third, the A’s have had and continue to have some great prospects that generally made it to the show. This year they feature the top three prospects in the A’s farm system and 6 of the Top 10 (although catcher Bruce Maxwell just got called up to Midland). Basically their entire infield is in the Top 10. Daniel Robertson is the future at shortstop since Addison Russell’s departure to Chicago. Matt Olson is a better version of Daric Barton that can actually hit for power (34 HRs) and Renato Nunez, who played in the futures game, looks like a sturdier Eric Chavez (.287 AVE, 27 HRs, .907 OPS).

We got to our seats with two 24 oz beers per man and big league dreams in our eyes. In the bottom on the first, the aforementioned Nunez hit a bomb out of the stadium that hit the Stockton Arena to take an early 2-0 lead. Four home runs later, the Ports took home a blowout 8-1 win and we left over 100 ounces of beer richer and headed to B-Dubs to watch the end of the A’s-Rays Derek Norris walk-off win. 72 hours of A’s baseball. 72 hours of wins. 72 hours of new faces and hope. Green Collar.

[1] That’s basically the only ticket in town.

[2] No, there is not.

[3] Open invite to all Section 925ers for a Ports tilt. Accommodations included.

“A Shark In Bay Waters” - Jeff Samardzija Finally Finds His Way Out West

By Connor Buestad (connorbuestad@gmail.com)

Whether you like it or not, the Bay Area has never quite been a hotbed for college football. Conventional wisdom attributes this truth to the fact that there is “too much to do” around San Francisco and Oakland to expect fans to spend every Saturday of the fall tailgating from dawn til dusk. Too many sunny days, too many trips to wine country or Tahoe, too many NFL teams to distract us a day later. Moreover, Cal has been rebuilding over the past few years (literally and figuratively) and Stanford is challenged to sell out their cozy stadium even during runs to the Rose Bowl. Any way you slice it, The Bay is never going to obsess over amatuer pigskin.

Neither is Jeff Samardzija.

Yes, he was an All-American wide receiver at football crazed Notre Dame University, but the 6 foot 5 inch Samardzija never seemed to take the game of football too seriously. He just happened to be really good at it. Kind of like every other sport he ever played.

Samardzija was once a Jesus-like figure on the campus of Notre Dame. (photo by Matt Cashore)

“Yeah,” Samardzija told Dan Patrick in an interview earlier this year, sweeping aside a wavy chunk of his Serbian-influenced locks. “I don’t really watch a ton of football. I don’t always follow it. But I realize I have to while I’m on the Cubs, because people are constantly coming up to me in Chicago and asking ‘hey Jeff, how are we (Notre Dame) gonna be this year?’”

Now that Samardzija has been traded out to Oakland (for top prospect Addison Russell, et al) he can rest easy knowing that he won’t be bothered by golden domer questions any longer. And if he wants to try his hand at surfing or skiing (see Zito, Barry and Byrnes, Eric), he finally can.

“I’ve been begging for this for a while,” said Samardzija the day he arrived in the A’s funky, no-frills pressroom. “Begging” most certainly wasn’t the most PC word to use in such a press conference, but no one in Chicago or his hometown in Indiana seemed to mind, they knew Jeff was a nice guy who was just tired of losing. And if you look deeper, maybe Samardzija subconsciously knows he belongs out west.

Jeff grew up in Valparaiso in a household run by a former semi-pro hockey player named Sam. That tells you a lot about the upbringing of Jeff Samardzija. He played football and soccer in the fall, basketball and hockey in the winter, and baseball in the spring. On Saturday afternoons, he did what every other kid in Indiana does growing up: watch Notre Dame football.

By high school, Samardzija had his sports choices narrowed down to three (football, basketball, and baseball), and according to Indiana lore, Samardzija started in 160 high school sporting events in a row without getting injured. To say Jeff Samardzija was a natural athlete would be like saying the Chicago Cubs were usually a bad baseball team. It went without saying.

Regardless of how well Samardzija’s persona would have meshed at a school like UCLA, CAL, or Oregon, there was no way he was going to escape out of Notre Dame’s backyard. And sure enough, he didn’t.

As soon as Samardzija arrived on campus in South Bend in 2003, he made an immediate impact on the football field, playing in 12 games as a freshman. It was at that point that most people expected Samardzija to finally put away his baseball glove and focus on football once and for all. But Jeff couldn’t stay off the baseball diamond. “I’ve always been a happy guy when I go to the baseball field,” Samardzija told Dan Patrick. If anyone had the athleticism to play both, it was Jeff, so he went for it.

No one has ever accused the Bleacher Creatures of being A students...

It was in the spring of 2004 on Notre Dame’s baseball field when, according to Jeff, he first acquired the nickname of “Shark”. “It all started my freshman year,” explained Samardzija to UND.com. “I was new on the baseball team. I showed up, didn’t know anyone. I was talking to a fellow pitcher and out of nowhere they called me ‘Shark’ because they said I looked like the shark (Bruce) on Finding Nemo. It started during a game while I was pitching and they yelled at me from the dugout. Then coach picked up on it and it just snowballed from there. I guess I look like a shark.”

Turns out, Samardzija does indeed look like Bruce from the 2003 hit, Finding Nemo. From Samardzija’s angular face, all the way down to his teeth, the Notre Dame benchwarmers were spot on. It would be Shark Samardzija from that day forward.

Despite a record setting career for the Irish football team, The Shark finally was able to let go of his multi-sport persona and focus on a professional career in baseball. Naturally, he was selected by the Chicago Cubs, keeping him in the midwest for yet another chapter of his life. And for the majority of his time in Chicago, he loved it, sometimes maybe even too much. Asked by Dan Patrick if he ever pitched a game at Wrigley hungover, he could not confirm nor deny. “You know, I never took a breathalyzer going out there,” laughed Samardzija. “Possiblé.”

Unfortunately, most games in Chicago past July don’t call for much sharp focus, as the Cubs are usually out of the race by then. Not the case in Oakland, where the A’s are consistently contending for and competing in the playoffs.

True to form, the 2014 version of the Oakland Athletics are most certainly competing for a playoff spot. In fact, they are the best team in baseball. The low-budget Swingin’ A’s even managed to send six players to Minnesota for the All-Star Game. Seven if you include Shark. But even despite the A’s hot start to the season, which included the best ERA among starting rotations in the A.L., Billy Beane still decided to double down in preparation for the inevitable battles with Justin Verlander and Miggie Cabrera come October. So excuse Jeff Samardzija if he is a bit thrilled about his recent move to the Bay Area.

Through four starts in the green and gold, Samardzija already holds a winning record of 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA. Compare this to a ten game stretch in Chicago earlier this year in which the Cubs lost 8 out of 10 games Samardzija started. Shark had a 1.68 ERA during said stretch (second best in MLB).

So when you see Jeff Samardzija galvanize the Coliseum crowd with a 95 per-hour strikeout followed by a Dennis Eckersley-esque fist pump, just remember he is probably just as happy as you are to be wearing an A's hat. No more lovable losers, no more polar-vortex, no more crazed Notre Dame autograph seekers. The Shark is finally out west on the pacific coast, pitching with one thing on his mind: the playoffs.

Shades of the Eck. (photo by Ezra Shaw)

Section 925 Podcast Episode 30 - A's Pennant Race, Niner Preseason

(Photo courtesy of the @TheBro49)

Connor brings founding father Josh "The Rogue" Hunsucker (@JPHunsucker) on the pod to talk shop on the A's and Niners. The two discuss the A's season up to this point and look at the upcoming American League pennant race. Josh also provides 49er Faithful with an in-depth report from training camp down in Santa Clara.

Listen Here: http://section925blog.podomatic.com/entry/2013-08-12T23_28_58-07_00

Oakland's Kardiac Kids Get Set To Defend Their AL West Crown

The boys are back in town

By Connor Buestad (connorbuestad@gmail.com)

On Monday night in Oakland, the 2013 version of the Oakland Athletics will get back in the saddle and embark on another 162 game journey. They are coming off one of the most exciting seasons in franchise history in which they somehow stole the bacon from the Texas Rangers and Anaheim Angels to capture the American League West Championship Trophy. With last season’s dramatic run now in the rearview, Bob Melvin and his troops are set to open yet another chapter in A’s history when they host the visiting Mariners and 175 million dollar man, "King" Felix Hernandez.

Many would argue that the two spiritual leaders of last year’s magical club were Jonny Gomes and Brandon Inge. For better or worse, those two are now gone, Gomes to the Red Sox and Inge to the Pirates. The gentlemen replacing Gomes and Inge will be Chris Young and Jed Lowrie. Young comes over from the Diamondbacks and gives the A’s another athlete in an already deep outfield. A seven year vet in the big leagues, Young is a proven threat to steal bases as well as hit his share of longballs.

Lowrie, meanwhile, comes to the A’s from the Houston Astros where he hit 16 homers last year. Before that Lowrie performed admirably in the pressure cooker that is Boston. The shortstop’s presence is especially welcome in Oakland when one considers the struggles Japanese import Hiro Nakajima has shown on American soil.

Despite his uncanny ability to charm Billy Beane in his welcoming press conference in Oakland, not to mention his unabashed love for In-N-Out Burger, Nakajima's performance in the Cactus League left much to be desired. Those hoping Ichiro 2.0 would be arriving in Oakland have been let down thus far, judging by Hiro’s sub .150 Spring batting average and disappointing defense at shortstop.

Of course, the argument could very well be made that Hiro just needs some time in the States to get his feet wet. Hopefully this turns out to be the case. As for now, he is starting the regular season on the Disabled List with a faulty hamstring.

Eric Sogard on the other hand, was scorching hot during the spring season. In 46 at bats, the unassuming Arizona State product tallied 23 hits. Hitting coach Chili Davis was even rumored to have politely asked Sogard to save some singles for the games that count. Nevertheless, he has hit himself into the A’s starting lineup and that’s where he shall remain until he starts to cool off.

The Buster Olneys and Tim Kurkjians of the world have been raving about the 2013 Athletics' depth and rightfully so. An everyday outfielder on most big league teams, Young will start the year on the bench to give way to the likes of Coco Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick. Pound for pound, the A’s don’t stack up to the Anaheim Angels of the world with Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Erik Aybar, and Josh Hamilton, but if they can hang their hat on a competitive advantage as they enter 2013, it would most definitely be depth.

On the hill, the A’s will once again feature an uber young, albeit talented group of pitchers. At one point last year, down the stretch mind you, the A’s were trotting out a five man pitching rotation of all rookies. One would think a year of experience could only help this youthful bunch.

Atop the rotation will be Brett Anderson. The laid back lefty proved last year that he has a penchant for pitching in big games, even despite coming back from Tommy John Surgery. Behind him will be the electric right hander Jarrod Parker, as well as Tommy Milone and A.J. Griffin. And don’t let us forget about Bartolo Colon. The well fed right hander who was popped for PED’s last year will be serving a suspension to begin the year, but he will be thrown into the fire upon his return. Perhaps the biggest question mark involving the A’s pitching staff is whether Grant Balfour will be able to avoid injury following a stressful workload in 2012. The Australian’s health will be paramount to the A’s success in tight AL west contests down the stretch.

It’s not every year that Billy Beane is afforded the opportunity to present A’s supporters with a legitimately competitive team who are in “win-now” mode with no thoughts of rebuilding. With Billy in the front office and Bob Melvin on the dugout steps, there is no reason to belive the A’s can’t once again defy the odds and repeat as AL West Champs. Chapter 1 of a 162 page book will be played out tomorrow in Oakland. Buy the ticket and take the ride...


"And Down the Stretch They Come" - The Oakland A's Bring Their Glory Days Back to Life

By Connor Buestad (connorbuestad@gmail.com)

Last season, after finishing 14 games below the .500 mark, Billy Beane did what he typically has to do during the offseason. He held a fire sale. Strapped with the lowest payroll in baseball, Beane was forced to give up Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey. By that time, Mark Ellis and Hideki Matsui were long gone too. By the end of last Fall, the A’s had nothing in the way of proven talent. They were a dumpster fire, and owner Lew Wolff was determined to keep pouring gasoline all over the flames.

By now, the “Moneyball Era” had run its course. Everyone had read the book and watched the movie. Billy’s secrets were no longer private and it looked as though he had run out of cards up his green collar sleeve.

Meanwhile, Lew Wolff spent the offseason trying to get his A’s the hell out of Oakland. For all he cared, his team might as well lose over 100 games in 2012. The goal was profit, and Oakland wasn’t providing it. If the movie “Major League” was art, Lew Wolff was doing his best to imitate it.

Ironically, the San Francisco Giants, the darling across the bay, have been one of the reasons why the A’s haven’t quite left yet. Giants brass isn’t too thrilled about the idea of San Jose residents going to A’s games instead of Giants games, thus they’ve taken to the courts to prevent a Silicon Valley ballpark.

Instead, the A’s were set to stAy put in Oakland, at least for the 2012 campaign. Lew Wolff would have to wait at least another year to end baseball in Oakland. Yes, the stadium naming rights would be sold to “O.co”, half the place would still be tarped, and the women’s bathrooms would still have troughs to save money (or so I’m told).

I remember it vividly when the A’s signed Manny Ramirez. I was irrationally ecstatic for reasons unknown. Maybe it was because of ManRam’s carefree attitude, or because he ended the most vicious curse in baseball history, or because he was a hitting savant. For whatever reason, I’ve always loved the guy.

Billy Beane, on the other hand, didn’t necessarily love ManRam, so much as he had no money in the bank to work with. Beane drafted a contract for the zany, 40-year-old slugger, that read pretty much as follows: “If you hit, we’ll pay you. If you don’t, we won’t.”

Apparently, steroids really do make a difference, thus forcing a clean Manny into baseball obscurity relatively quickly. He never played a game in the Bigs for the A’s in 2012. For all intents and purposes, he was a bust and Billy Beane had just dug himself a bigger hole.

I remember it even more vividly when the A’s signed Cuban export Yoenis Cespedes. I learned of the news on Twitter of course, from a lifelong A’s supporter, @_Sparky_B. “Did the A’s just land Pedro Cerrano?” he asked. Honestly, no one really knew at that point and fewer people probably cared. A ridiculous, over-the-top video of “Yo” hitting bombs with his shirt off started flying around the interwebs. If nothing else, it gave A’s fans something to talk about.

The only problem with Cespedes, beside the fact that he appeared to swing for Mt. Davis on every pitch, was that the A’s broke their piggy bank on him. On a team where starters routinely get the league minimum salary of $480,000, Cespedes would be earning $9,000,0000 per year. When he sat down in the A’s press room to sign his Yankee-esque contract, Billy Beane (allegedly) whispered to himself, “This guy better not suck.”

Back in March, when the A’s boarded their flight to head off to Japan to start their season against the Mariners, they looked like a safe bet to be the worst team in baseball. Their best hitter supposedly couldn’t hit a curveball, their best pitcher (Bartolo Colon) couldn’t miss a meal, and their owner wanted to lose every game. Even the Banjo Man thought this team was going to be god awful.

In many ways, to be perfectly honest, this team has been terrible. For starters, the team has had no trouble breaking the Major League record for strikeouts (I stopped counting at 1,333). As mentioned before, their most proven hitter, Manny Ramirez, never was good enough to play a game in the Majors. Brandon Inge, who carried the team for much of the year, is now out for the season with an injury. Josh Reddick, the team leader in home runs, recently ran off a streak of zero hits in 30 at bats.

The A’s best pitcher, Bartolo Colon, was exposed as a roid monger midway through the season. Their second best pitcher, Brandon McCarthy, was drilled in the dome by a line drive that fractured his skull. Their third best pitcher, Brett Anderson, was put on the DL with a strained oblique. The list goes on...

Despite all this, for reasons unbeknownst to anyone, through all the injuries, all the slumps, all the burnouts, and all the long odds stacked up against them, the A’s have somehow found a way to bring a winner to the city of Oakland and the greater East Bay.

Now that I stop and think about it, maybe it was the “Bernie Lean” that did it.

As the story goes, pitcher Jerry Blevins of the A’s is a big fan of the movie “Weekend at Bernie's”. The 1989 comedy chronicles the escapades of two young insurance salesmen who discover their boss is dead. Believing that they are responsible for his death and that a hitman will kill them unless Bernie is around, they attempt to convince people that he is still alive. Thus, a dead Bernie is constantly being dragged around and looks like he is leaning back, or “doing the backstroke with no arms”. In "Weekend at Bernie's II", Bernie acutally rises from the dead and does a zombie like dance.

In 2009, the rapper ISA created the song "Moving Like Berney". The song became popular in the South and somehow made its way onto Blevins' ipod. Blevins then suggested the song to Coco Crisp, who then put ISA's "Moving Like Berney" on the clubhouse playlist.

Next, as an inside joke, third baseman Brandon Inge decided to make "Moving Like Berney" his walk up song. By this time, the berney lean was really catching fire as the Right Field Bleacher Creatures caught wind and started leaning themselves.

Most recently, the rappers ATM and IMD decided to make a remix of the original "Moving Like Berney" track. They approached Coco with the song and have now granted the rights of the remix to the A's. After Inge went out with a season ending injury, Coco made sure to keep the Berney tradition alive and walk up to ATM and IMD's "Bernie Lean" each at-bat. 14 walkoff wins later and the rest is history.

Heading into the A’s final series of the year versus the Rangers, Oakland finds themselves in a last second sprint toward a most improbable trip to the playoffs. With a payroll of just $49,137,500, the A’s hold a record of 91-68. With a payroll of $195,998,004, the Yankees are 92-67. Amazingly, the A’s are doing this with a five man pitching rotation made up of all rookies. Pardon me for not spending my Friday nights at Stockton Port and Sacramento River Cat games, but who in their right mind has heard of dudes like Jarrod Parker, Travis Blackley, AJ Griffin, Dan Straily and Tommy Milone? The timeless phrase “Well, stranger things have happened before," could and should be replaced by, “Well, the 2012 Oakland Athletics did (I won’t jinx it) the playoffs.”

It is certainly no secret that the city of Oakland has seen better days. A sputtering economy, struggling schools, and increased violence never seem to be far from the discussion when one talks about Oakland in 2012. That said, it is even less of a secret of how far fetched and unlikely this Athletics playoff run has been.

You won’t see any splash hits, panoramic bay views or Coke bottle slides when you come to Oakland. Nor will you see any panda hats or lines for gourmet sushi rolls. But, what you will see is team seemingly destined to shock the baseball world, one Bernie Lean at a time. The Athletics’ days may be numbered in the city of Oakland, but they sure have decided to throw one hell of a going away party. Fortunatley, everyone is invited.