Thursday, October 10, 2013

July 30- Oakland Athletics

This is one of the few articles I’m writing in which I’m writing in real time as opposed to the date that I am specifically writing for. I realize how far behind I am in these posts, a little more than 70 days if my count is correct, but this is an important post that lies heavily upon the game that’s about to take place, Game 5 of the American League Division Series.
There comes a time when the people play the game transcend themselves into something beyond what takes place on the field. Some guys do it more publicly, others in private. No matter what the motivator is the important thing to remember is that they are putting in the effort as often as they can. That’s what I see when I look at this cap. When New Era released the 2013 Memorial Day cap I immediately fell in love with them. If you recall my posts back in May I was a huge fan of the 2012 models witch only featured the digital camouflage on the logo, leaving the panel the exact colors of what the teams normally wear on the field. Prior to that all the caps were red, white and blue and featured some variety of the Stars and Stripes despite the fact that the colors may not have corresponded with the teams’ uniforms. Thus, the 2012 did a better job of that; however, like in years passed each hat used was worn on both Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, another thing I really didn’t mind. In 2013 New Era introduced caps specifically for each holiday. The Oakland Athletics Fourth of July cap is one I currently have waiting in the wings to write about as the approach that New Era took was original and fascinating. In the case of this cap, the Memorial Day cap, I love the approach with the all-digital camouflage panels; however, I’m a little confused about the color choice for the “A’s” logo. For the Fourth of July caps New Era went back to the Stars and Stripes motif, but they made the panels for each teams’ cap in the color which corresponded to where each team was playing: grey for the road, white for home and even a Canada Day cap specifically for the Toronto Blue Jays. The reason I bring this point up is because the Athletics played their Memorial Day game at the Coliseum against the San Francisco Giants; however, the “A’s” logo is in yellow which has been the traditional color scheme for the road cap. I know this is something that very few people think about, but for some reason it jumped out at me. I assure you that it isn’t a complaint; in fact, the color scheme actually works better for the cap and perhaps the traditional white “A’s” logo would have been lost within the rest of the cap. My only point of reference I have with this comes with my post from June 30th about the misprinted Texas Rangers caps in which the “T” logo was done in white as opposed to the red as it was intended.

The one constant in all of these caps is that the proceeds benefit Welcome Back Veterans, a program to help returning veterans get treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome as well as to create awareness for others who may not understand it. To date Welcome Back Veterans has raised over $17 million to make a difference in the lives of our courageous veterans and their families. While they may not seem like much, these caps are a great way to show your support as well as a way to give back to the brave men and women who serve their country to provide stability for our freedom and ways of life. As a cap collector I’m proud to add it to my collection. As a baseball fan I’m proud to wear it to show support for the game. As a citizen of the United States of America I’m proud to support those who serve.

I’ll do my best not to butcher this portion of the post as there is a lot of history behind it. Like my Memorial Day posts back in May I did my best o focus on how the military played a part in the history of each team. In a few cases I hit the nail on the head, while in others I focused more on people who served but were still living which really wasn’t the way I should have approached it if I were staying true to the holiday and its meaning. Rather, in most cases I treated it more like a Veteran’s Day piece. I don’t regret those decisions for the sake of their importance and the importance that the men and women I shared stories for still deserve the recognition they may never have gotten as quite a few of my stories dated back to World War I. Since I only own two of the three caps from last season I made sure to do a write-up on each, which I did on May 21st and May 30th. When it comes to this cap I’m focusing more on the veterans’ side of things so please don’t call me out for it as I’m well aware of what I am doing. So, without further ado, the story.

#62- If there was one player on this current Athletics team who I feel truly exemplifies what it means to be an Oakland Athletic as well as a great human being, I would have to nominate relief pitcher Sean Doolittle. In the last two years I’ve run into Doolittle four times, in every case he’s popped The Shark before he says hello. I realize that’s a personal thing to me, but the action goes a long way when it comes to character. We all know him as the jokester of the team, follow his Twitter account and you’ll see what I’m talking about. His comedy skills cover a wide range of topics, even his tweets about the Athletics always hit home as he comes off as a real fan of the game, but more important the teams and the fans who support them. His signature right arm extension and curl under the chin before he throws has become a phenomenon with fans called “Doolittling.” It’s much like “Tebowing,” except it’s awesome. I for one call it “What I do Every Night and Day When I Sleep,” but I’m a rare case. Seriously, I actually make that same motion in my sleep. See…

His bushy red beard has become a near iconic representation of the team itself; scrappy, rugged, but 100% Green Collar Baseball. He gets fired up when he comes off the mound after a great inning and cracks jokes amongst his teammates when he’s sitting in the bullpen or chillin’ in the dugout. But the one thing that many tend to forget about is that he’s a fan just like every one of us. Not necessarily a fan of the game, but a fan of the team that suits up and takes the field for. He has been since he was old enough to pick up a ball, much like the rest of us, while he was living in the Bay Area when his family was stationed nearby.

 Sorry for stealing this.

During this time of his life his family had season tickets to the Athletics before moving on to Tabernacle Township/Medford, New Jersey where he went to school at Shawnee High School before attending the University of Virginia.

I bring all of this up for a bevy of reasons, the first of which has to do with the amount of grief I’ve seen him get, direct or not, on social media. People make mistakes. It’s not our job to point them out, complain about them or rub in the person’s face. Yes, we all have the right to do so, but there is a fine line between being a fan and being a jerk. When I see Athletics fans blast him or any other player it upsets me. How can anyone call themselves a fan if that’s what you’re going to do to your own guy? I guess it’s one thing if a particular player is vocal about not wanting to be on the team and that he “plays for himself,” but all I need to do is direct you back to the picture above, mostly the kid on the left who is cheering on the team he loves much in the same way that we do. I don’t think he would do the same.

Like all of my other Memorial Day posts there is some connection that I try to keep with the team and the holiday. In the other posts I listed each teams’ record on Memorial Day; however, I have already done that in a previous post for the Athletics; instead, it just so happens that Doolittle came into the game played on this year’s Memorial Day, May 27th. Doolittle pitched two shutdown innings, taking over for starter Dan Straily who had gone a solid six, only allowing one run to the Giants. Doolittle pitched perfectly, literally, striking out two and not allowing a single base-runner as he locked up his ninth hold on the season. Grant Balfour came in for the ninth inning and closed the door for his 11th save on the year.

When I originally bought this cap I had no idea what I was going to do with it, from a writing perspective. I had already touched most of the military/Memorial Day history with the other two posts, but with this I had found myself in a bit of a jam. That is, until I caught a commercial on Fox Sports 1 right before Angie and I left to run errands. I tried to find the video online with no success, so hopefully a few of you have seen it by now. The commercial starts with Doolittle walking out from around a corner saying something to the tune of, “Hi, I’m Sean Doolittle, pitcher for the Oakland Athletics.” To be honest, which I saw this I almost laughed out loud as, for some reason which lies more heavily on his Twitter account and the station it was on, I thought something funny was about to happen. Nope! Instead, Doolittle was doing a public service announcement for the United Service Automobile Association (USAA), the service that provides insurance and benefits to veterans and their families. In the commercial Doolittle talked about his father and stepmother, both of whom are veterans. His father is retired Air Force and teaches ROTC back in his home state of New Jersey while his stepmother is still active duty Air National Guard stationed at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. This was the point where I started to get a rough idea of where I wanted to take this piece.

I conducted quite a bit of research and came across an article written and published by the Associated Press from late August, right around the time when I moved to Florida. In it, a writer followed Doolittle to the USS Hornet, a decommissioned US Navy aircraft carrier that was converted into a National Historic Landmark in 1998 where it has serves as a museum open to the public in Alameda, California. Doolittle’s visit came at his own inquiry which started as a photo of a patch from the Doolittle Raiders. 

Forever Into Danger

The patch set Doolittle on a quest of his lineage as the man behind the Raiders was Lieutenant Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle of the US Army Air Forces who planned and led the first air raid bombing of the Japanese Home Islands on April 18, 1942, six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The raid was not necessarily intended to win the war, but to boost morale throughout the country in stir up more support for the cause. They succeeded. Because of the surname Sean wanted to better understand the connection to see if there was any relation, especially considering that he comes from a military family. After many twists and turns it was determined that the late General was in fact Sean’s seventh cousin. On his cleats and under the bill of his cap Sean has a written tribute General Doolittle and the Doolittle Raiders, not necessarily because of the family ties, but for everything they did for their country.

Doolittle's contributions to the military have been widespread. This season he was one of the finalists for the Branch Rickey Award which is given annually to an individual in Major League Baseball in recognition of his exceptional community service. Doolittle has meets with veterans at the VA Hospital in Palo Alto and has invited them to games on numerous occasions, speaking with them in the dugout before home games. In August he went to Walter Reed in Washington, D.C. to meet with veterans and wounded warriors when the Athletics visited Baltimore to play the Orioles. He and his teammates started “A’s Relief” this season to honor local heroes from the Bay Area who are Good Samaritans and providing relief. The Reliever-of-the-Month receives four game tickets, food vouchers, onfield recognition and a chance to watch batting practice with the bullpen staff. The heroes also receive a donation to the charity of their choice. He also supports Freedom Alliance, an educational and charitable organization that honors service members and their families.

I know I haven’t talked much about baseball in this post, or really much about his playing career even though he has a truly extraordinary story of how he got the Majors, but that’s the story that everybody seems to know now. Everything I wrote above wasn’t exactly new information, but I felt that it was the right story to tell under the theme of this cap. I guess the thing that I mostly wanted to do with this piece was share a bit more humanity rather than just focus on his job. That is the part that I think a lot of people tend to not separate when talking about Doolittle the person, or any other player for that matter. Sometimes, and coming from me I know how ironic this is, there’s just more to life than baseball.

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