Here is the link to my column about the A’s home opener. The full text runs below:
OAKLAND — The old Coliseum started coming alive at 3 p.m. The grounds crew was watering the infield before batting practice, and A’s radio announcer Vince Cotroneo was sitting in the dugout saying, “Opening night is like the postseason. All those expectations.”
And manager Bob Melvin walked slowly down the tunnel toward the field, walked alone. He sat next to Cotroneo. He was checking on the weather, seeing if it was cold outside, seeing if the wind was whipping, seeing if clouds were rolling in, judging if it might rain, eyeballing the new scoreboards. Getting the lay of the land. Being a manager.
He wasn’t wearing a cap. He looked young. Hopeful. He watched the grounds crew, watched the yard come alive — already pitchers were throwing in the bullpen.
He said he always feels edgy opening night. He wants to do well. He’s never won an opener as manager of the A’s. Lost three in a row. The schneid.
His mind drifted back to opening day 1989. He had played three seasons with the Giants and now he was with Baltimore, and Frank Robinson was the manager. Robinson was a tough guy’s tough guy. Through the entire spring training, Robinson never told Melvin his signs — managers are constantly giving signals to the catcher for pitchouts, even for pitches.
Before the game, Melvin went over to Robinson and asked for the signals. Robinson gave Melvin a Robinson look. Imagine a raised eyebrow, curled lip. Imagine scary.
“What are you asking me for?” Robinson demanded.
Melvin didn’t know what to say.
“You’re my quarterback,” Robinson said. “Well, aren’t you?”
Melvin said he was. The concept was new.
“You see the whole field,” Robinson said. “You know how the pitcher is throwing. I’m depending on you.”
Melvin told Robinson he could depend on him. Melvin grew up that moment. At the Giants under the kindly Roger Craig, he had been the young guy. Craig flashed him signs. Craig coddled him. Melvin was used to a certain amount of coddle. Robinson wouldn’t coddle a newborn. He was telling Melvin, “Be a player. Be a man. Grow up.” And Melvin did.
He remembered all that four hours before the A’s 8-0 win over the Rangers. And then he walked back into the clubhouse.
A few minutes later, he returned to the dugout again. This time for his pregame news conference. Someone asked about all the turnover on the A’s. It is Topic A on the A’s. “I embrace younger players,” Melvin said. “Quoting Gordon Gekko, ‘Poor, smart and hungry.’ You know they’re hungry. I don’t know about poor in this game. They play hard. They play with a team concept.
“The way we do things around here, there’s going to be some turnover. If you don’t embrace it, you’re going to have a tough time with it. In my experiences here, the turnover has always been good. We’ve brought in good players you may not know the first couple of days you see them or halfway through the season. But at the end of the year, you’ll know their names.
“I’m not going to sit here and say we don’t have Coco (Crisp), we don’t have (Josh) Reddick and we don’t have Sean Doolittle, that those are easy things to overcome. They’re not. But we do feel we have the pieces that can hold the fort down until they get back.”
The A’s began holding down the fort at 7:05 p.m. They manned the battlements early in the bottom of the first when Sam Fuld crushed a triple and Ben Zobrist homered to right. It was 2-0 A’s just like that. And new third baseman Brett Lawrie immediately made two big-league plays. On one he raced toward an Adrian Beltre grounder and threw to new first baseman Ike Davis, who scooped it out of the dirt. And Fuld made two running catches in center. And Ike Davis owned the area around first base. These A’s can field.
Things were exciting to begin with. And then, Sonny Gray threw a no-hitter through seven innings. He faced a lineup with Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre and dominated. He was efficient and precise and as calm as a man sleeping, and he threw 95 mph and he mixed in a slider, unusual for him.
“Every now and then, he’ll come up with a slider,” Melvin said afterward. “He gets a feel for a slider and he’ll start inventing pitches. For a guy you think is a two-pitch pitcher (fastball, curve) with a changeup every now and then, he can turn himself into a four- or five-pitch pitcher.”
Gray entered the top of the eighth leading 7-0. He had been yakking it up with Melvin. “He’s not the type that sits over in the corner,” Melvin said. “He’s walking up to me between innings talking about walkup songs. And I’m like, ‘Get away from me. Nobody wants to (talk to ) you right now.’ ”
“Talking about whose walkup songs?” I asked.
“His,” Melvin said. “‘Did you hear my walkup song? Did you like that one?’ I’ve given him some ideas for walkup songs. It’s the way he keeps himself loose.”
You heard it here. Sonny Gray was thinking about walkup songs during a potential no-hitter?
Gray already had made a statement. Gray could make a further statement completing his task. The final six outs awaited him. He had thrown 83 pitches. About 12 pitches an inning. A pittance.
But Ryan Rua bashed a clean single through the right side of the infield to lead off the eighth. No no-hitter. And although it mattered that Gray didn’t get his no-hitter, it really didn’t matter. The A’s showed maybe they are a team, maybe they can surprise yet again, maybe their offseason chaos wasn’t so chaotic after all.
And Bob Melvin finally won an A’s opener.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.press democrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.