The A's batting cage at Oakland Coliseum doubled as the Raiders press conference room when the football team played there. There was typically no rush to revert the space after baseball season ends, with a podium and chairs remaining well after the Silver and Black played a game.
That wasn’t the case following the Raiders' final home game in 2019 and, well, ever. The netting was down, the turf reset and the pitching machine back in place within hours of that final Raiders whistle.
Turns out there’s a good reason for that. One never knows when Marcus Semien might drop by.
The A's shortstop lives in nearby Alameda full time and uses the stadium as a training center, even in the dead of winter.
“The Coliseum has everything I need,” Semien said. “I use the weight room there and the cage and the field to run.”
Sometimes it’s just him, working quietly on his craft with games that matter far, far away. All this training away from view, whether it’s during quiet periods on the baseball calendar or behind closed doors during the season is aimed toward being an ironman.
“162 is always in the back of my mind,” Semien said. “If I’m healthy and available, I want to play every game. It’s as simple as that. I think a lot of us have that attitude, but you have to be smart and understand there’s a bigger and better goal out there of winning the World Series. Whatever it takes to play your best, do it. Some guys need a day off to recalibrate or adjust or take a breath. I think I’m better if I play every single day.”
This isn’t an ego thing. This isn’t a Cal Ripken chase. It’s the way Semien believes he can best help the A's. It used to be a point of mild contention with manager Bob Melvin, who would face resistance when trying to give his stellar shortstop a breather. That hasn’t happened much recently. The Bay Area native's nearly impossible keep off the lineup card.
Semien played 162 games in 2019 and 159 the year before that, accumulating 1,450 plate appearances over his past two seasons. A fractured wrist in 2017 is the only reason why he has played fewer than 155 games since joining the A’s in 2015.
“I’d try to give him a day and he wouldn’t want it,” Melvin said. “In years past it had something to do with performance, and that really spurred him to play better the day and stay consistent and eliminate reasons to take him out.”
Keeping Semien in the leadoff slot proved essential last year especially, when he set career highs in most every important offensive category, including batting average (.285), OBP (.369), slugging (.522), home runs (33) and RBI (92). His 8.1 WAR was better than everyone save Cody Bellinger, Alex Bregman and Mike Trout.
Semien believes those numbers come from quiet days at the Coliseum and a strict pregame itinerary that properly locks him in.
“I had a really good routine last year so when I got to the game I felt ready and able to focus on competing and not thinking because I had done the groundwork in days leading up to it,” Semien said. “You have to use your time wisely before the game. Getting there at 1 o’clock before a 7 o’clock game with a plan is essential. You check off everything you need to do to get to the point where you can just compete when the first pitch is thrown. I found that last year.
“That’s my foundation. The goal this year is to make it even better.”
Consistently quality performance isn’t all about routines. It’s also about the ability to work through trouble on the job, a somewhat rare trait Semien has in spades. Melvin called him a “great self-evaluator,” another reason why he’s more comfortable leaving Semien in when he might pull others.
Semien has the experience and knowledge base to know what works and great feel for when something’s off. He can make quick corrections, with the mental fortitude to not go chasing when times get tough.
“His pitch selection has become excellent,” A’s hitting coach Darren Bush said. “When you add that to a quality approach and mechanics, good things happen.
“…When you’re in there every day, especially that many days, you don’t get caught up in the ups and downs. You know you’re going to be out there the next day. He’s the same every day. He puts in the same work. He’s consistent with his pregame routine and a consistent presence in the lineup. Good things happen when you work hard for the results.”
[RELATED: How Olson developed refined swing that A's]
Semien always believed he could reach these heights, even when he struggled defensively and with offensive consistency. He doesn’t spend time looking backward these days, knowing full well that he’s a completely different player. His swing is different. So is his approach and his defensive acumen. Semien has found an excellent groove now with a routine and diet and use of data available to him with the Athletics.
Everything he does is designed to help him produce and play well every single day.
“Marcus keeps himself in great shape,” Melvin said. “He’s very disciplined in that. He eats right and works out hard. He doesn’t everything required to play a game, so when I try to take him out of the lineup, it’s tough to make a case for why he needs a day off. He never looks run down. He’s always ready because he works hard to be ready. That’s a real badge of honor for him.”