The Oakland A's 2007 FanFest was on Saturday, January 27. The event drew more than 21,000 fans. Events included Q&A sessions with players, coaches and former players, games, baseball and reading clinics, clubhouse tours, a beer garden, autograph and photo sessions and a memorabilia sale. Proceeds from the event went to Camp Okizu and the Oakland A's Community Fund. The A's sold more than 40,000 individual game tickets at the event for the upcoming season.
One of the Q&A sessions featured A's pitchers past and present. Starters Dan Haren and Rich Harden and reliever Chad Gaudin joined former A's pitcher and current pitching coach Curt Young and A's Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley in a discussion about pitching. When asked whether he was excited to face Barry Zito when Zito is a hitter, Haren replied "Yes, because Zito hits like a women and runs like a girl." Harden reported that he is pain free and that he has begun throwing at the A's complex in Phoenix. He missed most of last season with elbow and back ailments.
Dennis Eckersley received arguably the warmest reception from the fans at FanFest. The recent Hall of Fame inductee was asked what his most memorable game was as a player and he replied "Game Four against a certain team from across the Bay," referring to the A's World Series clinching win in 1989. Eckersley said that he still has the ball from the final out of the A's last world championship.
The A's newest acquisition, Mike Piazza, was on-hand for the first Q&A session of the day. The future Hall of Fame catcher expressed his excitement to be joining the A's franchise and his goal to win a World Series this year. Piazza appeared in one World Series, with the Mets, in 2000. The Mets were defeated by the Yankees that season. Piazza was asked if he would be willing to play some first base for the A's. He said that he would be willing to do whatever the team asked of him, but he compared his range at first to that of a turtle.
Two of the A's were sporting different looks at FanFest. Normally clean-shaven Bobby Crosby surprised everyone with a beard and a full head of hair. Nick Swisher's hair was a good four inches longer than it was last season. Mark Kotsay called Swisher's hair "ridiculous." Crosby's troublesome back, which caused him to miss most of the second half of last season and all of the playoffs, has begun to regain strength, according to manager Bob Geren. Crosby is expected to be limited in spring training, but Geren expects him to be ready by Opening Day. Crosby has been doing baseball-related activities, but has yet to swing a bat.
Joe Blanton and Mark Ellis were also on-hand at FanFest. Ellis is completely recovered from the broken finger that caused him to miss the ALCS. Blanton, despite being at the center of a number of trade rumors this winter, is still with the team and is expected to be the A's fourth starter this season. He won 16 games in 2006, but saw his ERA jump nearly a run and a half from his rookie season.
Other A's Notes:
--OF Shannon Stewart remains a free agent and the A's have disclosed publicly they wouldn't mind adding another outfielder before spring training, but A's officials believe Stewart isn't the right fit and they are content going to spring training with the current roster.
--According to his agent, A's Rule 5 pick Ryan Goleski is fully recovered from his wrist injury and should be ready to compete for a roster spot at the start of spring training. Goleski had surgery on his right wrist at the beginning of the off-season. If healthy, he will battle Hiram Bocachica and Charles Thomas for the A's fifth outfield spot.
Building On A Strength
During the 2004 season, the bullpen was the A's biggest weakness and the primary reason the team missed out on the playoffs by one game. General manager Billy Beane, who often said he didn't care how hard his relievers threw, only that they got outs, changed the way he constructed teams.
His decision to load up on power arms or pitchers with great "out" pitches was evident when he acquired Juan Cruz and Kiko Calero as part of the Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder trades, respectively, during the off-season that followed that disappointing 2004 campaign.
The A's drafted college closer Huston Street in the 2004 draft, which is something they'd have never done in past years. They thought Jairo Garcia (nee Santiago Casilla) would provide a power arm, but Casilla's development has been stunted by inconsistency and injuries.
Chad Gaudin was acquired in a trade after the 2005 season and provided a boost to the bullpen. Now the A's believe they have four power arms knocking on the door to the majors, including the pitcher acquired this week in a trade for Kirk Saarloos.
Minor league closer David Shafer can dial it up to 92 mph, along with a power slider, and has struck out more than a batter per inning in the minors (269 in 246 innings). Shafer, 24, was 1-2 with a 2.36 ERA and 26 saves last year for Double-A Chattanooga.
Evaluating relievers from year to year is tricky. The innings are about one-third of a season for a starter, ERA can be deceptive because of inherited runners, and sometimes a minor league reliever is forced to take one for the team when the pitching staff is depleted.
The A's know that, based on the percentages, all four won't be impact pitchers in the majors. But one or two are bound to reach "the show" this season, based on an injury, and having four options creates some quality depth.
TheSportsXChange contributed to this report.