OAKLAND — This season obviously has been a trying one for the A’s, but they’re finding creative ways to cope with it.
There’s a Zen-like theme permeating the clubhouse, from the incense that’s occasionally burning, to a locker that temporarily housed bamboo and a Japanese rock garden, to the bonsai tree that now sits by the dugout during batting practice.
A baseball clubhouse isn’t the first place that springs to mind when one thinks of Eastern philosophy. But the A’s have a group of players who have spent large chunks of time on the disabled list, rehabbing together and trying to keep the inactivity from driving them batty.
It’s taken them on a search to ease the mind as well as heal the body.
“The DL’s a dark place,” right-hander Chris Bassitt said, “and you’ve got to kind of get out of that darkness.”
When the A’s leave on road trips, players rehabbing from long-term injuries usually stay back in Oakland and continue to rehab under the supervision of assistant trainer Brian Schulman. That develops a bond between players who can relate to what each other are going through.
Bassitt, knowingly or not, seems to have spurred the whole Zen-like vibe when he began listening to yoga music at the Coliseum one day. Pretty soon players were gathering in the training room with the lights off “just to relax for five minutes and let everything go,” as Bassitt explains.
Bassitt’s locker gradually became a shrine of sorts. Realizing he didn’t need all of the space while rehabbing, he temporarily moved his belongings out. Soon, players started decorating it with rain sticks, bamboo, a rock garden and other items.
Think of the locker belonging to Pedro Cerrano in the movie “Major League,” minus anything exploding during a team prayer.
“Some guys had some stuff and we found some stuff on Amazon,” reliever Sean Doolittle said. “It kind of came together pretty organically. Everybody had something in there.”
Bassitt knew something was up when he went off for a minor league rehab outing, and teammates were texting him asking for permission to fully take over the locker.
“I was expecting some small stuff, not fountains and fish and all that other stuff that was in there,” he said.
The whole idea has light-hearted roots but players agree that the benefits are real when it comes to relieving tension and keeping things loose through the peaks and valleys of coming back from injury.
Asked to name a player who perhaps surprised him with how much he embraced the whole vibe, Doolittle identified outfielder Jake Smolinski.
“He’s not going to talk about it, but Smo’s the chi master,” Doolittle said. “He plays it real close to the vest.”
Someone brought in a bonsai tree that reliever Michael Brady has become caretaker of. He was seen clipping its branches in the clubhouse earlier on this homestand, and he brings it out to the field for batting practice.
“I always wanted a bonsai tree and there was one here,” he said. “I looked at the soil. It was a little dry so I watered it. It looked like it needed some clipping. I read a quick Wikipedia article.
“I was joking around saying it’s a metaphor for the team: ‘The healthier the tree, the healthier the A’s.’ … I take it out every morning and I bring it in before games.”
Whatever symbols are put into use, the primary goal is to clear out the negative mindset that can set in for a player who’s navigating his way through the “D.L. jungle,” as Doolittle put it.
“Believe it or not, there’s a lot of guys that actually do use meditation a lot,” Bassitt said. “They’ll never say it, but there’s a lot of guys that do. You get positive thoughts and kind of re-set yourself.”