Athletics

Why red-hot A's still have work to do to captivate Oakland's home fans

Why red-hot A's still have work to do to captivate Oakland's home fans

OAKLAND -- Redoubtable and relentless, the A’s are four months away from being the only game in town, the most visible representative of a city that craves positive recognition.

They’re launching home runs at an astonishing pace, delivering the equivalent of baseball fireworks.

They’re winning, generally the first requirement of sports popularity, at a rate that keeps them in the thick of the race to the AL playoffs.

Despite these advantageous factors, fans are not flocking to the Coliseum. And, please, let’s not blame local indifference on the ballpark’s lack of freshness and charm. Too simple.

This is about emotional attachment. Listening to fans of baseball in general and the A’s in particular, some variation of that theme consistently surfaces. There are varying degrees of emotional scar tissue, and it has them in their feelings, making them reluctant out of fear of getting burned. Again.

It’s unfortunate, because what these A’s are producing is worth the time and money.

Here they are, surging into the postseason with the second-best record in baseball since the All-Star break and averaging 14,870 fans over three games this week. That included 16,714 witnesses Wednesday afternoon for a stressful 1-0 victory in 11 innings over the Kansas City Royals.

These A’s have something for everybody. Shortstop Marcus Semien, who is having an MVP caliber season, grew up in the East Bay, as did Stephen Piscotty. Mark Canha, who lashed the game-winning hit Wednesday, grew up in the South Bay. Third baseman Matt Chapman and first baseman Matt Olson mash with their bats and sing tender ballads with their gloves.

If homers are supposed to lure folks to the yard, how is it that this club, which now owns the single-season franchise record, remains in a relative vacuum?

Mostly because too many local fans have too often been captivated by A’s teams of the past 20 years, only to feel victimized by the franchise’s cycle of assembling and disassembling, usually in the name of payroll discipline. Each time around, a few more folks stop coming and decide to observe, if at all, from the distance of living rooms and bars.

“I know if, knock wood, we’re able to get into the postseason, they would show up,” manager Bob Melvin told NBC Sports Bay Area on Wednesday. “Our fans are into it. They might not be here every night. And I’m not telling people how to spend their money. But it is a terrific fan base. When they’re ignited, and they come out and full force, we feel them like a 10th man.”

This has been true in the past and likely will be again. There is a bandwagon, but it sits in a distant corner, idling, ready to get into should the A’s reach the postseason.

Postseason baseball in Oakland is so vibrant it makes the Coliseum feel spectacular. And some are waiting for a playoff game to light up the yard. Even then, though, there will be holdouts who can’t overcome the scar tissue reminding them of old heartbreak.

Too many fans remember those engaging teams of early 2000s, when pitchers Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito were rocking batters to sleep while Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Eric Chavez and Jermaine Dye were terrorizing pitchers. Those clubs averaged 98 wins per season and made four consecutive playoff appearances, each ending in painful AL Division Series defeats over the full five games.

The core of that roster -- which drew an average of 2.03 million fans per season from 2000 through 2003 -- broke up and scattered.

Most remember the 2006 team, led by Frank Thomas and Nick Swisher and Chavez, with Zito taking the mound every fifth day. That bunch, which came 23,375 short of drawing two million, swept the Twins in the Division Series before being by the Tigers in the AL Championship Series.

Thomas, the most commanding clubhouse presence the A’s have had this century, left as a free agent and landed in Toronto. Zito, priced out of Oakland -- with, to be fair, declining effectiveness -- headed across The Bay and signed with the Giants.

Lastly, all A’s fans remember the 2012 (94-68) and 2013 (96-66) teams, both of which made quick postseason exits but generated enough momentum for the 2014 A’s (88-74) to draw more than 2 million for the first time since 2005.

Ever since the leader of those teams, third baseman Josh Donaldson was traded exactly two months after the 2014 season despite expressing a commitment to Oakland, attendance has been in decline.

The roster has, once again, been revived by team architect Billy Beane and his lieutenants. The A’s won 97 games last season and have 92 wins with nine games to play this season.

[RELATED: Treinen out 4-6 weeks with back injury; Bassitt to A's 'pen]

An A’s home game offers the best value in Bay Area sports, maybe the highest entertainment-per-dollar ratio in baseball. It’s quality ball at budget-friendly prices in a town that has lost the Warriors and soon will lose the Raiders.

But the breakups of the past have left too many scars. Only if this team finds its way deep into the postseason would those scars be easier to ignore.

A's Marcus Semien, Liam Hendriks deserving of MLB All-Team honors

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AP

A's Marcus Semien, Liam Hendriks deserving of MLB All-Team honors

Major League Baseball has initiated the first-ever All-MLB Team. This was put forth for fans to vote on their favorite players from the 2019 season's entirety.

This is a bit like the All-Star selections only that, in this case, it's not in the middle of the season, and with these, there are both first and second teams. Also, this team will not be broken up by leagues and players were previously nominated -- pretty cool, right?

I voted for my 2019 All-MLB Team and here are my results:

New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso put on a show at the plate this season and during the Home Run Derby. Sure, we dig the long ball, but we also appreciate a guy who shows his emotions when he does something great on the field, like setting a rookie home-run record with 53 dingers this season.

The middle-infielders as of late have become these gems filled with power, which is a characteristic we didn't see in the earlier eras of the game. 

For second base, Houston Astros star José Altuve proved once again why he is a constant force to be reckoned with. The six-time All-Star finished his 2019 campaign slashing .298/.353/.550 with 31 home runs and 74 RBI in 124 games. 

Marcus Semien was the vote at the shortstop position. While there were plenty that deserved the honors (Jorge Polanco and Xander Bogaerts should not go unmentioned), Semien was such a fascinating player this season.

Sure, there's a slight bias over here, but imagine having someone only get better as the season went on. Semien started in all 162 games this season and showed no signs of tiring, finishing with 33 homers and doubling last season's total. He was also third in AL MVP voting behind Mike Trout and Alex Bregman. 

Semien didn't receive All-Star honors this season, which is a shame. He deserves something after the show he put on.

Speaking of Bregman ... I voted for him at third base, the position that was the toughest to select across the roster.

He, Matt Chapman and Nolan Arenado each put up a phenomenal season and reminded you just why it's called the hot corner.

For Bregman, he was sensational across the board in each hitting category, finishing 2019 with a .296 average, 41 homers and a 1.015 OPS. Arenado matched Bregman's long-ball numbers with 41, but ya know -- Coors. 

And that energy is contagious.

Outfielders were easy to vote for.

Trout, Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich. I really hope you guys won't argue with me on those.

The starting pitchers, for the most part, hosted arms from the final two teams still playing October baseball. Justin Verlander earned his second Cy Young Award, posting a 2.58 ERA with 300 strikeouts in 223 innings and an MLB-leading 0.80 WHIP.

Well-deserved. 

Verlander's former teammate Gerrit Cole was behind him in Cy Young voting, leading the AL with a 2.50 ERA and MLB with 326 strikeouts and 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings.

I also voted for Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, and once again, I hope there are no arguments there. If there is, I have plenty of photos of them drenched in champagne celebrating a World Series championship to back me up.

Former A and current Cincinnati Red Sonny Gray didn't reach his 2015 heights, but he dropped his ERA drastically from his 2018 campaign, boasting a 2.87 ERA with the Redlegs. His season deserved to be recognized.

From the bullpen, A's Liam Hendriks got a vote because he not only put up the numbers but switched to closer role responsibilities and did it smoothly and masterfully.

He finished his 2019 All-Star season with a 1.80 ERA and 124 strikeouts in 85 innings with a 0.97 WHIP.

[RELATED: Hendriks shift in energy factors in success with A's]

How'd I do? Let me know.

The winners for first and second-team honors will be announced at this year's Winter Meetings in San Diego. 

A's, free-agent reliever Jake Diekman agree to two-year contract

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USATSI

A's, free-agent reliever Jake Diekman agree to two-year contract

The A's are bringing back an important piece to their bullpen one day after non-tendering their former closer

The A's and left-handed reliever Jake Diekman have agreed to a two-year contract with a club option, the team announced on Tuesday. 

ESPN's Jeff Passan first reported the news. Diekman reportedly will earn a guaranteed $7.5 million. 

The A's acquired the 32-year-old from the Royals on July 27 for two minor leaguers. Diekman went 1-1 with a 4.43 ERA in 28 appearances out of the bullpen for Oakland.

[RELATED: Why A's could target these three non-tendered players]

Between the A's and Royals, he had a 4.65 ERA over in 76 games out of the bullpen. 

Diekman struck out 21 batters in 20 1/3 innings for the A's, but he also walked 16 batters.