Mike Fiers

Meet the A's fan who trolled Astros with trash can cardboard cutout

Meet the A's fan who trolled Astros with trash can cardboard cutout

July 19 for the A’s originally was going to be a day where the world would see just how passionate the bleachers at the Oakland Coliseum are.

The A’s were scheduled to do a bleacher tribute giveaway while the Houston Astros were in town. But one fan wanted to make sure that wasn’t forgotten. 

If you don’t know much about the bleacher crew, they are extremely dedicated, never miss home games, and in the process make ornate banners … and some even bang on drums.

The drums would have been an easy way to troll the visiting team as part of the Astros’ cheating scandal during their 2017 World Series run which had the team allegedly banging on trash cans to signal to the hitter which pitch was coming.

Bryan Johansen, of San Jose, is one of the fans who proudly creates detailed banners to support his favorite team, but when A’s president Dave Kaval invited the crew to hang some of these creations in their respective homes, Johansen noticed something.

In one of the seats, sandwiched between two variations of Ramón Laureano, Johansen’s favorite A’s player, was Astros’ mascot Orbit … in a trash can. That was compliments of Johansen himself, who told NBC Sports California he didn’t think the A’s would actually print it out and display it:

The photos of his cutouts created a viral sensation. 

“A small group of us were there last Saturday hanging up banners and saw it,” Johansen said.

“I had several banners printed up and we coined the series the ‘Battle of the Bang,’” Johansen said. “So, the cutout was done because we were going to have the opportunity to swap the banners out this year.”

Here are some of the other creations he wanted to use for the weekend:

(Photos courtesy of Bryan Johansen)

Johansen, and two others, Paul Bailey and Carl Moren, do the brainstorming behind these banners, but it’s not all to troll. They have also raised over $6,000 to date toward the A’s Community Fund in association with these banners. 

A’s pitcher Mike Fiers was the whistleblower in exposing the Astros of their cheating ways saying they would steal signs electronically in 2017 during his time with the team. This turned a majority of the baseball world against Houston.

[RELATED: How Matt Olson, Chapman prepared for new extra-inning rule]

Despite many months going by and no fans in the crowd, Fiers wasn’t sure if that would make a difference with how fans perceived him, or the situation.

As Johansen proved, they certainly didn’t forget. 

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]
 

A's walk-off celebration shows maintaining social distance proves tough

A's walk-off celebration shows maintaining social distance proves tough

It was a historic and weird night in baseball. In front of a crowd of zero, A’s first baseman Matt Olson hit a grand slam in walk-off fashion in the 7-3 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Friday night.

Per usual, it’s a time where teammates run onto the field and celebrate in an up-close and personal way, but not during a pandemic. At least, that’s not what’s supposed to happen. 

There wasn’t any social distancing once Olson crossed the plate, and unfortunately, it’s going to be difficult to adhere to that.

“It’s going to be like that,” pitcher Mike Fiers told reporters on Saturday. “No matter if it’s in your mind, you’re going to celebrate -- we’re so happy for Olson at that point, but to really grind out those at-bats late in the game against their closer and [Hansel] Robles." 

"Those are tough at-bats. You’re just so excited to really get out of there with a W, especially with the way we played. Everyone will tell you, we didn’t play our cleanest game, so at that moment it was just about winning the game.”

Fiers said what Olson did was huge, and to comply so strictly to the MLB safety protocols is going to be tough.

“I don’t think everyone’s going to stay away from each other,” Fiers said.

Fiers also said he believes those around him made comments about social distancing, but at the moment that’s not what’s on their minds.

“That’s sports, man,” Fiers added. “If you love this game, it’s going to be hard, it’s going to be really tough to stay away from each other especially moments like that.”

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]
 

It lacks a sense of intimacy. A particular component of the game that these guys crave. Ask any retired athlete, one of the main reasons they did not want to walk away from their sport is the fact that they would no longer be around teammates and have that special bond you can’t duplicate. It’s a sentiment A’s reliever T.J. McFarland spoke about.

“It’s interesting when we had the walk-off last night, everyone came together and we even wanted to do it more in the clubhouse, but you can’t really do it,” McFarland said on Saturday. “So it kind of takes the intimacy out of it when we win a game like that, but we still enjoyed it.”

“You can quickly forget when you’re in a situation like that,” McFarland added. “When you’re excited, you’re reminded quickly, ‘Hey, we are in the middle of a pandemic here, let’s back away and be safe and follow the safety protocols, which we do, and I think just throughout this year we’re going to have to be cognizant of that and follow the rules.”

[RELATED: How Olson, Matt Chapman were prepared for extra-inning rule]

Adhering to social distancing was part of MLB’s safety protocols that included another routine that players are used to: Spitting. A lot of natural ways the players exist are continuously being forgotten about, but for good reason. 

Let’s just hope living in the moment doesn’t result in something much worse. 

Chris Bassitt's exhibition work a good sign for A's patchwork rotation

Chris Bassitt's exhibition work a good sign for A's patchwork rotation

The A’s rotation has gone through some upheaval over the last week. A starting five that looked as talented and deep as any in baseball lost two young flamethrowers in a flash: A.J. Puk on the injured list with shoulder inflammation and Jesus Luzardo relegated to relief work after two weeks in quarantine following a positive coronavirus test.

Anxious types might also fret over Sean Manaea failing to crack 90 mph in Monday’s exhibition or Mike Fiers uncharacteristic lack of command in Tuesday’s preseason finale.

While there’s no point in stressing over two established veterans who will show up when the lights come on, fans on A’s Twitter did so anyway.

Chris Bassitt, however, might have calmed some nerves.

The right-hander was in complete command during his four innings against the San Francisco Giants, allowing a run on two hits with five strikeouts.

We all know the results don’t matter in these games, but the work certainly does. Bassitt was in complete control of his pitch arsenal, locked in and clearly ready to start the regular season. His work will begin Monday against the L.A. Angels with a turn in the rotation assumed only after Luzardo wasn’t ready for the assignment.

Bassitt essentially is a luxury starter, providing established depth most teams would love to own. He was supposed to be a bullpen guy last year as well, but an injury plague pushed him into the rotation. He was awesome in that role, going 10-5 with a 3.81 ERA over 144 innings.

He'll be ready to start as long as needed, taking a series of solid performances into the regular season. Tuesday’s late-inning effort is the only one you saw, but he has been equally effective in recent intrasquad games.

“He was throwing everything well,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He had good command of his fastball. He was effective with the big, slow curveball. We really didn’t even get to his pitch count, which means he’s efficient and commanding the baseball with all of his pitches.”

These are all positives for a player who didn’t get as much work in as others during baseball’s shutdown period. He didn’t have a baseball facility or fellow players to work with near his home in Ohio, so he mostly worked on his own and felt a bit behind some others who were throwing bullpens and live batting practice throughout the months-long down period.

[RELATED: Projecting A's 30-man roster as MLB Opening Day nears]

That’s why his recent performances, with pitch counts in the 50s, have been encouraging.

“They are a good sign because he didn’t throw as much as the other guys before camp,” Melvin said. “His last two times out, he has been terrific. I know he feels good about that going into the season.”