Monday, September 9, 2013

July 15- 2013 American League All-Star

I almost didn’t buy this cap. I’ve never been too keen on All-Star Game paraphernalia and I pretty much had cast this into the same bucket, even though I thought it was pretty cool. At the time when I was in a position to pick this cap up they had been released to the public only about a day or two before #CrewEra13 got to Buffalo, New York for the New Era Cap Fan Appreciation event I wrote about on June 23rd and June 24th. I found myself in a weird position. I totally thought the All-Star caps were awesome, especially knowing that they came in the Diamond Era styling, but I hadn’t reached that point in my mind where I was planning on buying any of the batting practice caps. After pondering around the New Era Cap store in the lobby of their headquarters I saw John (@Interstate19) and Derick (@LeKid26) each buying the National League version, and John with the American League version as well. I just stood back grimacing at each hat which store manager Billy looked on wondering if I was going to call out a size. Sure enough, his patience and my weakness for cool hats combined as I picked up both caps as well. Well played Billy.

2007 was the first year in which uniform specific caps were introduced to the All-Star Game. By that I mean in previous years the participants wore their own teams’ caps during batting practice and for the Home Run Derby. In 2007, 2008 and 2010 the AL and NL each wore caps that said “American” or “National” across the front panels while in 2009 each cap was outfitted with just the starting letter of each league. With no real tie-in to the city/stadium that was hosting the event. At the All-Star game in 2011, 2012 and this one here (2013) the caps took on the color of the team/city/stadium that was hosting. Personally I thought this was a great touch/addition to the event as opposed to years passed when everything looked rather generic.

As I mentioned above I really didn’t know what I was going to do with these caps nor did I have any specific date intended for when I would write about them or how I would mark them up. The answer to that question came in the form of a direct message I got from my friend Jeff Sammut (@JeffSammut590), a radio show host for 590 Sportsnet in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

On the morning of July 14th I checked my inbox before I scuttled off to work only to find that Jeff had hit me up to ask if I’d be available to do an interview on the radio some time after the Home Run Derby which would be taking place the next day. According to when the show started and would presumably end, it meant that Jeff and his producer would be giving me a call around 10:00 PM Pacific. This worked out rather well as I would getting out of work and heading to the train around that time. I got back to him immediately, told him I’d love to and we had everything set for the following evening. The only bad thing about me agreeing to this is the fact that I would be at work during the Derby and not be able to watch it or really know what’s going on except for each participant’s score at the end of each round… or so I thought. See, back on June 29th I had detailed one of the cool features of the phone that I won during my time in the MLB Fan Cave, the master key. Due to the fact that I always had to be watching the games in the Fan Cave the powers that be made it so that I would never have to deal with blackouts no matter which games were on in whatever region. Well, what I didn’t discover until late into the 2012 playoffs is that special events like the World Series and even the All-Star Game are included in this prize as well; however, I still forgot that I could have watched the Home Run Derby. No matter, I was at work and still had the option of check everyone’s progress on my MLB At-Bat application. Things had started off like as I expected. Both captains (David Wright and Robinson Cano) were completely useless for their teams and the average round came in at about six or seven. So far it had the making of another lackluster home run derby. Well, this is until “La Potencia” came up to the dish.

In the week leading up to the 2013 All-Star Game Oakland Athletics fans, including myself, had become especially restless about the last of a presence from the former AL West champions who were now leading their division going into the break but getting no love from anyone outside of our fan base. Josh Donaldson, the well-worth third baseman had been shafted by voters and manager Jim Leyland, much in the same way that outfielder Josh Reddick had the screws put to him by the voters and then-manager Ron Washington in 2012. Like every season since 2004 the only All-Stars the Athletics have been able to muster have come in the form of pitchers. Not since catcher Ramon Hernandez is 2003 have the Athletics been able to have a representative come in the form of a position player in the mid-summer classic. And I assure you, it’s not for a lack of talent. So, with our only representation going to pitchers who potentially weren’t going to see any action after having pitched on Sunday, Bartolo Colon and Grant Balfour, all that remained was a spot or two on Cano’s team for the Home Run Derby. With a stroke of luck and a pretty fair share of begging from MLB and the fans, I’m sure, Cano called upon Yoenis Cespedes with his final selection.

#52/32- I’ll never forget the moment when I found out that the Athletics signed Yoenis to a four-year $36 million deal. I hadn’t been sleeping much due to the fact that I was balls deep into my Fan Cave campaign so my reaction hovered around the realm of not really caring and saying, “Who the f--- is this guy?” when the news broke. Well, I wouldn’t go as far to say that actually, it was more like, “Wait… we just shelled out money for an unproven player? Damn… he must be good.” Being an Athletics fan for so many years, especially under Bill Beane’s tenure as general manager has taught us a few things:

1. If Billy throws money at a player, they’re probably really good.

2. If Billy sees potential in player who has never really been given the chance in MLB, they’re probably going to have a career season.

I think it’s fair to say that both parts came true last season as Yoenis finished in second place for the AL Rookie of the Year award and 10th for the AL MVP after batting .292 with 23 home runs and 82 RBI. As amazing as those numbers are, those are merely what they are, numbers. It’s not often that fans are given the chance to see a player come up from out of nowhere to crush a ball like Roy Hobbs in The Natural, but Yoenis may certainly be the closest Athletics fans have come to seeing the real thing. Very little was known about the Cuban defector, but at the time, all that mattered was what he could do on the ball field.

I have to admit, I was a pretty skeptical when I first heard about Yoenis back in January of 2012. Like a lot of you, I watched the highlight video “Yoenis Cespedes: The Showcase” that bounced around YouTube, but I was left feeling way more confused than anything. If you haven’t seen, or even if you have, watch it again so that you might be able to see where I’m coming from. The opening plays like Star Wars, I mean literally plays like the intro. Keys words like “new hope” and even the flattened-out text are a dead ringer. Then comes a bevy of dingers and stingers during games, all the while “Sailing” by Christopher Cross is playing as the soundtrack. Now, I’m pretty savvy when it comes to music, but Christopher Cross would be the last thing I would have playing in the background of an action-oriented highlight video. But after that, things get real. The Chris Brown gets kicked on and we’re given a wild display of wind sprints, 45-inch box jumps, 1300-pound leg presses and 4.3 second T-Drills. And it keeps going. Switch it up to Jay-Z and watch Yoenis put on a hitting clinic. I can’t exactly say that the video is the best-edited highlight film on the market; however, it certainly helped get the job done as the 26-year-old was able to land a contract. All there was left to do was prove himself in The Show.

The timing really couldn’t have been any better, all though I’m pretty sure I was chosen for the Fan Cave for the sake of having an Athletics representative in the house for the Opening Day series in Japan and in case Yoenis was going to end up being the real deal. It only took two days for Yoenis to go deep off of Shawn Kelley in the seventh inning in the 4-1 win over the Seattle Mariners, but it was his next home run off of Jason Vargas on April 6th, the official Opening Day in Oakland, where the legend of Yoenis became a reality. Here’s the video in case you forgot. The Coliseum at night is not an easy place to knock a ball over the fence, but in the case of Yoenis the wall wasn’t so much the issue as it was trying to knock it over Mount Davis in centerfield. It is still one of the most amazing home runs I’ve seen hit at the Coliseum. Granted, I saw it on TV; I can only imagine how awesome that would have been in person. After that night though, Yoenis’s numbers started to dwindle, big time. His average was around .245 with five home runs when he hit the DL with back issues after their game against the Tampa Bay Rays on May 6th. With as violent as his swing is, and his inability to shy away from breaking pitches, very few thought that he was going to help the club. Boy, were they ever wrong.

Whoever worked with Yoenis during his rehab phases did a remarkable job. His patience was better, his swing looked more natural and his ability to hit for extra bases was effortless. The $36 million man had been rebuilt and was ready for action. Down the stretch he proved to be a key figure as the Athletics won their first AL West Division title since 2006 in probably the most ridiculous, yet amazingly historic way possible; on the last day of the season.

Going into the All-Star break this year Yoenis had tagged 15 long balls, the last six of which had come in pairs. When Cano called Yoenis to the team we (Athletics fans) all knew that he was going to walk away with the trophy. And he certainly didn’t disappoint.

If you recall above I had said that the average score was coming in around six or seven; well, that was before Yoenis came to the plate. I was helping customers at the time of his at-bat so I was a bit surprised to see the number 17 next his name. I mean, I knew he was going to move onto the second round, but I thought he all ready had and that was his continued score. Good Lord! It was all made even more hilarious by the fact that he technically didn’t even need to take his second round at-bats on account of still having a higher score than everyone else with just his first round numbers. It was also at this point in time that my brain kicked on and I watched the final round on my phone. The bat flip at the end with five out left to burn is pretty much all you need to know about how that contest went as Yoenis finished with a score of 32. At the end of my shift I got the call from Jeff who, in his Nostradamus-like infinite wisdom, picked this day, of all days, to have me on his show.

The most interesting part of Yoenis’s victory on the night is that it came on the heels of the San Francisco Chronicle article written by Susan Sussler that was published earlier in the day about Yoenis and his family’s journey from their native Cuba to the United States. If you haven’t read it yet, here it is. All I can pretty much add to it is that Yoenis is one of the most strong-minded, big-hearted players in the game. How he was able to have the season he did while separated from his family is beyond comprehension.

No comments:

Post a Comment