The great BBQ giveaway

Jonny Gomes has made a career out of abusing pitches from southpaws but for one afternoon he’s going to judge tri-tip at a BBQ contest at the Coliseum. Don’t miss it. (April 18, 2012 – Source: Harry How/Getty Images North America)

DIPPING INTO THE MAILBAG

I’ve been beating the drum for a while trying to round up some mailbag items and spur a little reader interaction for the fun of it. I started sounding the call while I was at Swingin’ A’s and I’ve kept it up since transitioning back to my own blog. I meant to do a little writeup on every little tidbit I got from readers even though there wasn’t all that much to work with but my schedule has continued to get in my way every time I set my sights on sitting down and writing.

But enough with dragging my heels and on to the biggest, best thing that landed in my inbox: The 2nd Annual Bay Area BBQ Championship.

Melinda recently gave me a heads up about the event sponsored by the A’s on July 7 at the Oakland Coliseum (no, I will not call it O.co Coliseum) when the team plays the Mariners. All proceeds from the event benefit Northern California foster children, youth, and families served by Alternative Family Services.

It sounds like fun and the first reader to e-mail me at junkball99@gmail.com wins the following package:

Go for the BBQ, stay for some baseball when you head to the ballpark on July 7.

* Two BBQ VIP access passes

* 10 tasting tickets

* One Coliseum parking pass

* Two tickets to the A’s vs Mariners game

* Two raffle tickets

* Two VIP party tickets for Friday, July 6, from 2 to 4 p.m.

Some of the highlights include a BBQ and beer pairing tent, live entertainment, live food demos, admission to the game, and a family boardwalk that includes all-day baseball clinics and carnival attractions.

Jonny Gomes, mohawked A’s slugger and the Pride of Petaluma, will be a tri-tip judge and former Athletic Claudelle Washington will also be in attendance.

I’d love to check out the BBQ but I’ll be at a family event that afternoon. But if you e-mail me fast enough you have a golden opportunity to go to the BBQ for free. I’m sure the grub will be hotter than a Ryan Cook fastball and a lot more likely to cross a plate.

Enjoy the BBQ, give Melinda a hearty thanks for the giveaway and make sure to tell’em Junkball sent you.

ETC.

In case you’re curious here’s what just missed getting a more extensive writeup in this mailbag:

Some dude gave me a heads-up about some A’s-themed T-shirts he makes, another dude tipped me off to his podcast about sports anthems with ESPN’s Tony Ross, another dude sent me a link to a post about the physics of the knuckleball, one guy pointed me toward a book about former Major League players fighting for their pensions, and another guy would love to see more grass roots efforts to keep the A’s from ditching Oakland for San Jose (I know he’s not alone).

Sorry dudes and guys.  My sincere apologies for letting a busy schedule collide with a bout of laziness and procrastination.  If I had a little more free time and a little more motivation over the past few weeks I would have done a lot more with each item sent my way.

So there it is, the first mailbag here at Junkball. Keep the e-mails and comments coming my way and as time permits we’ll continue the conversation in posts like this. If this is the one and only mailbag post I do, which is a distinct possibility, thanks for touching base.

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Celebrating the legend of Sean Doolittle

Sean Doolittle’s rapid rise from minor league first baseman to hard-throwing Major League reliever has been one of the few highlights in a tough season for the A’s.

As of today, and for at least the next 12 months, Junkball is the proud, shameless sponsor of first-base-prospect-turned-nasty-relief-pitcher Sean Doolittle’s Baseball Reference player page. Doolittle’s page is that special place where dorky, impulsive self promotion intersects with genuine enthusiasm for one of the best sports stories of the season for this die-hard A’s fan.

I’ve kicked around the idea of sponsoring a page at Baseball Reference for a long time but was too lazy to dig very deep into the site to find a sentimental favorite to put my name and money behind. But Doolittle’s sudden emergence and my recent move from Swingin’ A’s back to Junkball seemed like the perfect time to promote my little corner of the blogosphere while showing some love for Doolittle’s amazing ascent to the big leagues.

It also feels good to support one of the most indispensible Web sites for any self-respecting baseball junkie. I was a little too cheap to also pony up a few bucks to put my stamp on Doolittle’s page at The Baseball Cube but that’s also a site that’s certainly worth your time if you can’t get enough baseball stats. The nice thing about the Cube is that it provides you with a player’s college stats which can be fun to check out, especially in Doolittle’s case.

Don’t ask me why, but for some odd reason I briefly entertained the idea of sponsoring former A’s reliever Joe Klink’s Baseball Reference page. I think Doolittle was a far wiser choice.

Even though Doolittle was drafted as a first baseman by the A’s his track record as a college pitcher was impressive (22-7, 2.23 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 243 strikeouts vs 58 walks in 222 innings for Virginia) and probably worthy of a draft pick if that’s where he initially wanted to go with his pro career. The fact that he didn’t competitively throw a pitch from the end of his college career in 2007 until 2011 in the Arizona Fall League but still managed to earn a spot in the Major Leagues after working just 24 innings is simply amazing. Between the AFL and his time in the minors this season Doolittle struck out 50 batters in 26 innings which is ridiculous in the best possible way.

If Doolittle was wearing orange and black instead of green and gold he could be generating a lot more buzz in the Bay Area and if he wore pinstripes with a big NY across the front of his cap he might be a minor celebrity or cult hero by now. For the moment, he’s just one hell of a story for A’s fans and baseball junkies.

With Jordan Norberto nearing a return from the disabled list Oakland’s bullpen is going to be crowded with left handers and there’s certainly a chance that Doolittle could be sent back to Sacramento while Norberto, Jerry Blevins, and Brian Fuentes enjoy life in the bigs. Then again, Doolittle hasn’t done anything to warrant a return trip to Sacramento so far. He’s struck out 10 while walking just one batter in five innings and appears to be quickly earning manager Bob Melvin’s confidence.

Maybe Doolittle’s wild ride lasts for several years as a dominant setup man for the A’s.  Maybe hitters catch up to him and he fades back into the minor leagues.  Or maybe his arm blows up he spends the next few seasons bouncing between the disabled list, rehab assignments, and Oakland. I hate to even mention that last scenario but baseball can be downright brutal on pitchers and it’s naïve to ignore the possibility considering the bad luck the A’s have had with the injury bug over the past several years.

Even in a season that’s quickly fading into oblivion for the A’s, I dare to dream that Doolittle’s legend will continue to grow and he’ll be part of a vicious 1-2 punch with Ryan Cook at the back of Oakland’s bullpen for several years. I even entertain the crazy idea that sometime in the next several years the A’s will buck the odds and return to the playoffs.

Sometimes the team you root for drafts a first baseman and ends up with a power-armed reliever which is as highly unlikely as it is awesomely entertaining. When something that special happens you just sit back and enjoy the show.

So here’s to you Sean Doolittle. Thanks for making this season a lot more memorable as you keep racking up strikeouts with your min-90s fastball and wipeout slider. Keep on filling your Baseball Reference page with impressive stats, I look forward to being along for the ride in my own incredibly obscure way for at least the next 12 months of my sponsorship.

Follow me on Twitter at @JunkballBlogger or get in touch via e-mail at junkball99@gmail.com and we’ll kick some stuff around for the sake of amusement.

Less Fosse? Say it ain’t so

It looks like Ray Fosse is going to get a 20-game break from TV broadcasts that he didn’t ask for.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle former A’s first baseman Scott Hatteberg will  replace Ray Fosse on TV for 20 games this season beginning June 15 which kind of seems like an odd, sudden move by the A’s. Does this mean Fosse is going to gradually get pushed out of the broadcast booth in the near future? I hope not.

I won’t pretend that he’s a Hall of Fame broadcaster (which doesn’t really have any value anyway since Tim McCarver is a HOF broadcaster) but he’s been a part of every summer of A’s baseball that I’ve ever followed and it’d be a shame to see him go. Hearing Foss get a little too excited about ultra slow motion replays, Dibs, HDTV, groundskeeper Clay Wood, and anything involving catchers adds a welcome bit of entertainment value to the game.

Personally, I don’t want to miss that for 20 games. It was hard enough starting the season without Ken Korach’s velvety smooth voice on the radio and it’s still hard to go an entire summer without the late, great, beloved Bill King.

Note to the A’s: Don’t take my Foss away from me. In fact, feel free to give me more Fosse. Let the man sing the National Anthem and God Bless America at every home game or let him throw Dibs into the crowd between innings. You can never have too much Fosse.

Scott Hatteberg helped the A’s win 20 games in a row and now he’s going to broadcast 20 games starting later this month. Is it a coincidence that on the anniversary of the 20-game streak Hatteberg will work 20 games as a broadcaster?

None of this is a knock on Hatteberg who’s always come across as a sharp, entertaining guy in the interviews I’ve heard and I bet he’s going to be great in his new gig for however long it lasts. A little fresh blood isn’t the worst thing in the world for A’s telecasts but I’d prefer to see Glen Kuiper get a 20 game break rather than Fosse.

Of course, that’s not meant as a knock on Kuiper either even though it totally comes across as a knock on Kuiper. He’s affable, perfectly harmless and it’s not like he ruins A’s game with his personality because he’s inoffensively bland. But those are basically his strong points which is kind of a sad statement. Maybe one of the reasons I’ve never warmed to Kuiper as an A’s broadcaster is that he makes me think of Giants broadcaster Duane Kuiper. Duane Kuiper makes me think of Mike Krukow which makes me think of the mute button which gets a workout anytime I channel surf over to a Giants game.

Have I mentioned that I’m not a fan of Kruk and Kuip? I guess Glen Kuiper suffers from guilt by distant association which isn’t particularly fair on my part.  Sorry about that Glen.

Baby Kuip also suffers from the fact that I wish the A’s shelled out the money to keep Greg Papa on the air several years ago. The fact that every time I listen to Glen Kuiper call an A’s game I 1.) Get a little bored and 2.) Miss Papa and get annoyed at the thought of Kruk, Kuip, and the Giants.  That just isn’t a recipe for success when I tune in to the A’s on TV.

Do the A’s really need to shove Fosse completely out of the way for 20 games to break Hatteberg in as a TV broadcaster? Would it kill them to work a three-man booth for some games to ease him into the gig? Why not start out with Hatteberg sitting in for a few innings for a few games, advance to a whole game about a half dozen times with everyone in the booth, and if he’s doing well and likes the work then see where it goes from there? At that point you can show some respect for Fosse’s decades of commitment to the franchise and let him have some say in making the call for what games he’ll take off.

Just an idea.

If this is the start of something special with Hatteberg I’m all for it, but if it’s also the beginning of the end for Fosse then I have some minor reservations about where this 20-game run on TV with Hatteberg will lead.

Follow me on Twitter at @JunkballBlogger or get in touch via e-mail at junkball99@gmail.com and we’ll kick some stuff around for the sake of amusement.

Dreaming about A’s draft picks, Michael Ynoa, and beer girls

Like far too many players to wear green and gold the past several years, Michael Ynoa has been chewed up and spit out by the injury bug. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

RANDOM RAMBLINGS FOR JUNE

All the odds and ends that were too odd to end up in the monthly Rewind and Fast Forwarding posts.

* With the amateur draft right around the corner ESPN’s SweetSpot took a nice look at all-time draft teams for the AL West  and Oakland stands out as one of the best in the league. They’ve done a helluva job drafting over the years and hopefully they can strike some gold with this year’s batch of selections to keep the rebuilding effort moving toward a successful end result.

The A’s have the No. 11 overall pick in the first round, five of the first 74 overall picks, and selections 62 and 74 in the second round.

* Considering the success the A’s are having with first baseman-turned-relief pitcher Sean Doolittle in the minor leagues this season maybe it’s time to throw in the towel on the idea of Michael Ynoa ever delivering more than a dozen pitches in a row without getting hurt and convert the kid to a position player. Of course, the only minor problem with that totally absurd idea is that Doolittle actually pitched in college and Ynoa barely had any experience pitching in organized baseball when the A’s signed him as a teen out of the Dominican Republic.

I know I should have let go of the idea of Ynoa being part of Oakland’s future a long time ago but for some reason the longer the odds become on him ever putting it together the more determined I get to see him amount to something as a baseball player. Clearly, in my more desperate moments of boredom I even briefly envision Ynoa as a position player just to see the A’s get something out of their investment.

At this rate smart money says the kid will probably vanish from professional baseball but there’s a part of me that thinks he could resurface in several years with another team as a live-armed shutdown relief pitcher who still has a long career ahead of him.

Michael Taylor is hitting well in his fourth trip through Triple A but his path to Oakland isn’t clear. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

* If I’m Michael Taylor I grab a first baseman’s glove and start taking grounders in Sacramento just to find a clearer path to the major leagues with the A’s. I’m sure it’d be a waste of Taylor’s outfield defense and he probably doesn’t hit for enough power to pull it off, but shifting to first base would give him an open shot at playing time in Oakland assuming that the organization is done with Chris Carter and Daric Barton and Kila Ka’aihue aren’t long-term solutions.

With a batting average well over .300 and an OPS in the neighborhood of .900 in his fourth run through Triple A I don’t think Taylor has a whole lot more to gain from playing at that level. His inability to handle center field and Oakland’s glut out of outfielders has him trapped in the state’s capitol and a move to first base, which appears to be a black hole in the organization, may be just what the doctor ordered to jump start his career and provide me with a little entertainment if it pans out.

* I’m too cheap to pay for ESPN insider access to read the rest of this article by former MLB general manager Jim Bowden, but I certainly agree with the premise that the A’s would be better off if they had a couple of truly horrible seasons during this rebuild so they can land some premium draft picks.

* Blast homers off a battleship? This minor league home run derby is all kinds of awesome.

* Always nice to see someone from outside the Bay Area weigh in on the A’s stadium issue and apply some pressure on commissioner Bud Selig to finally make a decision.

And I’m sure the people behind the full-page ad in the Oakland Tribune were overjoyed to see that their PR move got them some coverage in the Los Angeles Times.

Meanwhile, John Fisher and Lew Wolff probably couldn’t care less about the open letter in the Trib and have no interest in selling the team or breaking ground on a new ballpark in Oakland.

As usual, there’s nothing but hot air being weakly blown around and none of it is getting the A’s any closer to a new home anytime soon.

* If we want to look way ahead, we can set our sights on August when the owners meet again and we might get some more noise about the A’s stadium issue.

* Pet peeve of the month: Hearing someone called a professional hitter by a broadcaster during a game. I just hate that one. No one’s out there playing ball for free.

The mad, hacking fool who gets himself out swinging at a ball in the dirt? The patient guy who works the count and goes with the pitch to the opposite field? They’re all getting a paycheck most of us would die for so they’re all professional hitters.

* The more I watch Daric Barton “hit” the more I believe that he actually wants to be a home plate umpire. Seeing him get demoted to Sacramento is one of the early highlights of the year. It’d be nice if Kila Ka’aihue actually represented a notable upgrade over Barton in the lineup.

One more thing about Barton: He’s a professional hitter which is one more example that the cliche is basically worthless.

Edwin Encarnacion hits the ball with authority which is more than you can say about most of the guys in Oakland's lineup. (Reuters)

Edwin Encarnacion hits the ball with authority which is more than you can say about most of the guys in Oakland’s lineup. (Reuters)

* When I look at a Blue Jays box score Edwin Encarnacion’s name and stats always catch my eye. The A’s claimed him off waivers from Toronto in 2010 but quickly let him go and he’s arguably been more productive than just about anyone the A’s have had in the lineup since then.

What was the point in shelling out the money for the waiver claim in the first place? I’d take Encarnacion’s bat at third, first, or DH over anyone the A’s have run out there over the past couple of years.

The front office was smart enough to grab him but they weren’t smart enough to hold onto him.

* If the A’s want to find some creative ways to try and improve the ballpark experience for fans and boost attendance they can look to the country where they opened the 2012 season. Japanese baseball has cheerleaders in miniskirts and beer girls with kegs of ice-cold suds strapped to their backs. Brilliant. I wholeheartedly approve.

Note to owner Lew Wolff: Less tarp, more beer girls.

FILL THE MAILBAG

In an effort to make things a little more interactive here at Junkball please feel free to send me some questions or comments about the A’s, Major League Baseball or … well … whatever and I’ll try and get around to answering them once a month.

I know I promised to dig into the mailbox in this post but time didn’t exactly cooperate with me this weekend so I’ll get to it in a few days.

Fire away on Twitter at @JunkballBlogger or via e-mail at junkball99@gmail.com and we’ll kick some stuff around for the sake of amusement.

Fast Forwarding Through June

A’s second baseman Jemile Weeks managed to post a moderate improvement from April to May, nudging his OPS from .568 to .610. A hot June would be a welcome relief for Oakland’s dormant offense.

Sizing up what’s on the horizon for the guys in white shoes as the calendar turns to June.

* One nice thing about turning the page on the calendar is it creates the illusion of a fresh start with the opportunity to put some negative things behind you. With that in mind, you have to figure that the A’s snap their losing streak soon and that the offense picks up the pace because … well … they have to start winning and hitting at some point, right? Right? Deep down I know that’s true but I just can’t feel it right now.

* I’ve been wearing my A’s watch for the past two days because there’s a small, crazy part of me that thinks that’ll help break Oakland’s losing streak and spark a 12-run outburst.  I know that’s nuts and it makes absolutely no sense but I’m sure superstitious manager Bob Melvin can appreciate the fact that if the A’s win tonight I’m going to keep on wearing the watch.

* With 12 games against the Royals, Rockies, Padres, and Mariners coming up in June you have to hope the A’s can at least go .500 against relatively weak competition which leaves them with 16 games against stiffer competition, most notably the AL West-leading Rangers. That batch of 16 games also includes matchups against the Diamondbacks, Dodgers, and Giants.

I’m going to be a pessimist and pencil in the A’s for around five wins against those clubs which will bring Oakland’s win total for the month to around 11 games. I’m pretty sure I’m going to end up conservatively sizing up the A’s for around 10 to 12 wins a month through the rest of the season while crossing my fingers that they’ll surprise me.

At some point every team goes on a hot streak and you have to hope the A’s will click and reel off about 20 wins in a month at some point during the 2012 campaign. I just don’t see it happening in June.

* Maybe this month can jump start underperforming second baseman Jemile Weeks and he can recapture some of the magic he had a year ago when he hit .309/.349/.469 in June. It’d be nice to see the top of the batting order start setting the table for Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes.  Reddick is hitting way too many solo homers and a few more baserunners would put that power to far better use.

* It’ll be interesting to see if and when there’s a Manny Ramirez sighting in Oakland.  I’m not expecting anything out of the guy but it should be fascinating to see what kind of media attention he brings to town and whether there’s any life left in his bat. Everything coming out of Sacramento indicates that Ramirez isn’t exactly punishing Triple A pitching as he tries to shake off the rust which makes me second guess the A’s starting him off at the level considering the fact that he barely played last year.

The Blue Jays are also taking a flier on an over-the-hill slugger but they started Vladimir Guerrero off in A ball where he tore it up before making the jump to Triple A. I’m willing to bet that Vlad does more damage in the big leagues this year than Manny.  Of course, both men are just as likely to stink it up and be out of work by the All-Star Game.

* I know this is a terrible thing to throw out there, but when I look ahead to June a fleeting thought I have is, “Who’s going to get hurt next?” At this point it seems to be a given that someone always gets hurt for the A’s, so why not brace for it and try to see the silver lining with every trip to the disabled list?

When one player goes down another one always comes up and there’s an opportunity for someone to get playing time and run with it. If Coco Crisp pulls up lame again it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to see Michael Taylor or Grant Green play every day in Oakland for a few weeks. Same goes for a couple of injuries at first base opening the door for Chris Carter to get another shot at the big leagues. And if Kurt Suzuki ever went down in a heap it might give fans an early look at Derek Norris who could evolve into a poor man’s Mike Napoli one of these days.

* Maybe it’s just because the A’s ended May on such a terrible note, but right now the potential highlight of June appears to be the A’s Chia Pet Coco Crisp giveaway on June 17 and MUG Root Beer Float Day on June 20. If you go to Root Beer Float Day, tip one back in honor of Mark Ellis who was traded last year while scooping up ice cream for the fans. I’m no Dodgers fan but I’d love to see them make the playoffs just to stick it to the Giants and give Ellis a shot a winning a ring. I’m also crossing my fingers that Ellis returns to the A’s organization in some capacity when his playing days are over. It just feels so odd seeing the man in anything other than green in gold.

FILL THE MAILBAG

In an effort to make things a little more interactive here at Junkball please feel free to send me some questions or comments about the A’s, Major League Baseball or … well … whatever and I’ll try and get around to answering them in my monthly Random Ramblings post.

Fire away on Twitter at @JunkballBlogger or via e-mail at junkball99@gmail.com and we’ll kick some stuff around for the sake of amusement.