Athletics

A's team with 'Baseball For All' to inspire girls pursuing careers in baseball

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A's team with 'Baseball For All' to inspire girls pursuing careers in baseball

OAKLAND -- Earlier this month, the United States women's national soccer team captured the hearts and minds of the entire nation as they won their second straight World Cup title.

Their incredible run served as a great reminder that women's professional sports have never been more popular, from soccer to tennis to softball and baseball. This past weekend, the A's hosted multiple events encouraging young girls to pursue their dream, whether it's on or off the field.

Last Friday, the team welcomed about 30 middle school girls from Girls Inc. of Alameda County for a panel led by A's and Chevron female executives. Among the speakers was A's Vice President of Communications and Community Catherine Aker.

"I just feel really honored that I get to be a part of panels like this," Aker told NBC Sports California. "The work that we're doing for women of the A's and the mentorship I do on a daily basis, I feel like it's my responsibility. But it's also an incredible honor for me to be able to make sure that women know about the careers that are on the field and potentially off the field with the front office."

That same night, the A's hosted more than 500 youth athletes and coaches from Baseball For All, an organization that aims to give girls a better opportunity to play and coach baseball. Founder Justine Siegal, who made history with the A's in 2015 as the first female coach of a Major League Baseball team, returned to Oakland for the event.

"The A's have been really supportive of Baseball For All and girls playing baseball," Siegal said. "I was 13 when I was first told that I shouldn't play baseball because I was a girl, and so that's when I decided I'd play forever. But incredibly, girls are still being told too often that they shouldn't play baseball, and so we had to stop that loop."

Then on Saturday, the A's teamed up with Baseball For All for their opening ceremony in Albany. Even A's mascot Stomper was on hand for the festivities.

"I think it's incredible," Aker said. "Any way that we can increase participation in baseball, both for boys and girls, is incredible for Oakland, for the sport, and for girls across the Bay Area. We're really excited that (Siegal) is back here partnering with us."

Finally, on Tuesday, the A's capped the long weekend of events with a softball clinic at the Coliseum for more than 100 youth softball players. Players from Bishop O'Dowd High School's championship team helped run the clinic.

Both Aker and Siegal shared a similar message for young girls hoping to follow in their footsteps with successful careers in professional baseball.

"Don't let anyone tell you you can't do something," Aker said. "Find incredible mentors and people who really can help you along in your career. Also, make sure that you are advocating for yourself. At 13 years old, I knew I wanted to work in sports. I told every single person I possibly could, whether it was teachers, coaches, or my parents, that I wanted to work in sports.

"It's amazing when you tell people what you want to do that people come and say, 'Oh, I know so-and-so, I can introduce you to this person or that person, here's some advice for you.' I think really being able to share your vision and your ideas and goals can really help you move that vision forward."

[RELATED: A's believe best to come after good first half]

Siegal echoed that sentiment, emploring young girls to pursue their passion, regardless of what anyone may tell them.

"If you have a dream, you should go after it. Don't let anyone put you in a box. Girls can do anything."

Mike Fiers, Jesús Luzardo build close bond while social distancing in pandemic

Mike Fiers, Jesús Luzardo build close bond while social distancing in pandemic

Baseball can occasionally manifest some pretty fascinating personal connections.

Like how Mike Fiers, the eldest starter in the A's rotation, currently is forging an even tighter bond with Jesús Luzardo, one of his youngest counterparts.

“He only lives like 10 minutes from me,” Fiers told NBC Sports California on Tuesday from Florida. “So it’s not even like the home state, it’s like the home city.”

But their acquaintance didn’t start in Oakland. It actually began in the late 2000s.

“I remember him as a 10-, 11-year-old kid,” Fiers said. “Throwing bullpen [sessions] over by my high school, and helping out over there.”

Fiers has been following the lefty’s journey ever since. What a coincidence they’d end up on the same big league team.

“Obviously he became a big name coming through high school," Fiers said, "and his velocity getting up there, and then being a high draft pick.”

Now the two are workout partners in the strangest of times, with MLB, sports and much of life on complete pause.

Fiers and Luzardo get together every couple of days and complete socially-distanced pitching workouts, where they are able to push and provide each other inspiration.

“We cut it down to only a couple of guys,” Fiers said of the workouts. “We know how serious this thing is, and nobody wants to jeopardize their families and their livelihood.”

[RELATED: Fiers gifted Profar, Laureano for catches to save no-hitter]

The pair are taking thorough precautions in the no-contact sessions, which also feature strategically placed bottles of Purell hand sanitizer. There’s also a portable pitching mound, supplied by Fiers.

“We actually took that out to a church,” Fiers said. “It’s the only place we have left, a church parking lot. There’s a field next to it. So we just keep that pitching mound under a tree.”

It’s hardly the Coliseum, but it will have to do for now.

How Mike Fiers rewarded Jurickson Profar, Ramon Laureano for no-hitter

How Mike Fiers rewarded Jurickson Profar, Ramon Laureano for no-hitter

It was a unique night. 

Back on May 7, 2019, the lights went out at Oakland Coliseum, causing a delay in play for the A’s as they hosted the Cincinnati Reds. On that same night, A's pitcher Mike Fiers threw the second no-hitter of his career.

He threw 131 pitches in the outing which was the most since, well, his previous no-hitter in 2015 with the Houston Astros.

It was also an entertaining display for those watching.

In the sixth inning, Jurickson Profar made a spectacular catch at second base to help Fiers preserve his no-no. It was immediately followed by a stellar catch from center fielder Ramón Laureano to rob Joey Votto of a home run. The robbery would have made Mike Trout blush. 

They were rewarded for their efforts, as Fiers compensated the two with a gift.

“Yeah, I had to,” Fiers told NBC Sports California’s Brodie Brazil. “That’s just something that happens in baseball. Someone makes a great play and for the game to turn out the way it did for me, it’s a big accomplishment for me, so for them to help me in that way, to go out of their way to make a crazy play, you got to give them a little something.”

Fiers said they got “nice little watches.”

“It wasn’t anything too crazy,” Fiers said. 

He said he appreciates everyone on the team and would have gifted every guy a watch, but admitted it would have been pricey at that point.

[RELATED: Watch A's defensive gems preserve Fiers' no-hitter]

If A's third baseman Matt Chapman received a watch for every stellar play he made, the watch industry would never suffer again.

It’s nice to see Laureano and Profar were taken care of.