From sociology courses to Safeco: Chris Smith's unique journey


From sociology courses to Safeco: Chris Smith's unique journey

SEATTLE — The smile never left Chris Smith’s face as he talked about the opportunity that awaits Saturday.

The right-hander joined the A’s at Safeco Field on Friday, in advance of his first career major league start. At age 36, he will become the oldest pitcher in A’s history to make his first big league start.

He appeared in 13 games out of the bullpen for Oakland last season, ending a six-year absence from the major leagues. From 2011-2015, he kicked around the minors with Seattle and San Diego, took the mound for two different independent league teams and even returned to school at UC Riverside, taking sociology courses and serving as an undergraduate pitching coach for the baseball team.

“Two tours of winter ball and two tours of independent ball. I’m in Safeco Field now,” Smith said. “It’s just unbelievable. It’s just part of the ride, I guess.”

Smith’s unique story includes the fact that he’s lived in a 33-foot camper trailer in Nashville for the past two seasons while playing with the A’s Triple-A club. His wife, Lisa, is a teacher. She and their three daughters join him during the summer.

Smith got the call-up from Nashville to fill in Saturday for Jharel Cotton, who required a trip to the 10-day disabled list for blister issues. The A’s are hopeful of getting Cotton back for his first turn after the All-Star break, so this could be a cameo in the rotation for Smith.

But that’s missing the point.

When manager Bob Melvin addressed the team upon the start of spring training in February, he referred to Smith as the example of why every player in the farm system should keep working hard, never knowing when a call from the bigs might come.

“We’re excited about (Saturday),” Melvin said. “This guy made a big impression on us last year, what he’s been through.”

After getting released in 2011 while pitching in Seattle’s system, Smith decided to go back to school at UC Riverside. He assumed at that point his playing career had ended and a coaching career might be starting. But he got the itch to give it one more try. He wasn’t going to pursue an opportunity in independent ball until he got the blessing of his wife.

“When it came time, I said if that’s what he wanted to do, I supported him,” Lisa Smith said in a phone interview. “It’s what we knew, and we missed it. It’s what I knew. I missed watching baseball.”

Independent ball led to a minor league deal with the Padres in June 2014. Then the A’s signed him to a minor league deal before the 2016 season. This year he’s gone 4-3 with a 3.16 ERA in 15 games (12 starts) for Nashville.

As for their in-season home on wheels, the Smiths own a 33-foot Forest River EVO.

“It’s so much fun,” Lisa said. “We go find campgrounds. We meet people. We meet our neighbors.”

She’ll be in the stands Saturday night. It will mark Smith’s 64th career major league appearance, but his first start in a career that began way back in 2008 with the Red Sox.

All the dues he’s paid make him appreciate these late-career opportunities even more.

“Competing with younger kids,” he said, “and competing with those prospects like I was at one time, then to get that phone call (for a promotion), it’s a nice little soft pat on the butt.”


Now officially in the fold, Lucroy ready to work with young A's pitchers


Now officially in the fold, Lucroy ready to work with young A's pitchers

The Oakland A's made it official: They finally got their man behind the plate. 

Oakland officially announced the signing of veteran catcher Jonathan Lucroy on Monday. Lucroy's deal is reportedly worth $6.5 million, according to the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser.

Lucroy joined his new teammates for the first time in Arizona on Monday, and told reporters that he is especially excited to work with the club's young, promising pitching staff. The three returning leaders in innings pitched (Kendall Graveman, Sean Manaea, Jharel Cotton) are all 27-years-old or younger, and 22-year-old top prospect A.J. Puk is pushing for a rotation spot after allowing just one run in three appearances this spring. 

"I'm looking forward to working with these guys and trying to help them get better and get better myself along the way," Lucroy told reporters. "I think that's what it's all about; taking what they do best and try to simplify their approach ... Really, just doing anything I can with them to get hitters out."

Manager Bob Melvin told reporters that he thinks Lucroy's experience will prove beneficial to his young staff.

"If we can't go out and get ourselves a [starting pitcher], that's the next best thing," Melvin told reporters on Monday. "So, he's got a lot of experience, and a great reputation for being a teriffic leader behind the plate."

Lucroy, 31, slashed .265/.345/.371 in 481 plate appearances with the Texas Rangers and Colorado Rockies last season, hitting six home runs with 40 RBI, his lowest marks in those categories since his rookie season in 2010.

In order to accomodate Lucroy's signing the, the A's designated left-handed pitcher Jairo Labourt for assignment. Labourt was acquired off of waivers on Mar. 4, and Labourt's arrival prompted the eventual release of Brandon Moss one month into his Oakland reunion.

Maxwell speaks about anthem protest, but stays mum on legal issues


Maxwell speaks about anthem protest, but stays mum on legal issues

When A's catcher Bruce Maxwell knelt during the anthem last season, he was the first MLB player to do so. He knelt before each of each of Oakland's final nine games, in order to protest racial inequality and in response to President Trump's incendiary comments about NFL players kneeling, but ended the season as the only MLB player to kneel during the anthem. 

This season, he won't kneel at all, he told reporters in a statement on the first day of spring training. 

“Obviously, I didn’t take that lightly,” Maxwell told the San Francisco Chronicle prior to the release of his statement.  “That was to bring awareness to a problem and the face we do see it, we do experience and we have empathy for what’s going on. This year I don’t plan on kneeling. … And we’ll move on forward.”

While Maxwell did address his protest during the anthem, he largely did not address his offseason legal issues.

“It’s ongoing, I can’t really discuss details,” he said. “It’s something me and my lawyers are handling.”

On Oct. 28, Maxwell was arrested in Scottsdale after allegedly pointing a gun at a food-delivery person. He pleaded not guilty to felony charges of aggravated assault and disorderly conduct in November, and is set for a settlement conference on April 13 after failing to reach a plea agreement on Monday, according to the Chronicle. 

If an agreement cannot be reached, Maxwell's trial is set to begin on Aug. 9.