GAME 5: OAKLAND A'S
Today is a brilliant stunning day here in struggletown. Through a series of events we have been given tickets by Mike Crowley, President of the Oakland A’s. There is a saying here that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, so unfortunately I will not be able to explain the circle of events a month ago, that transpired in us getting tickets. Needless to say though, that it was “interesting and entertaining.” So anyway, we are looking forward to getting to the Coliseum and locating our seats.
By using the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transport) system we are very easily able to commute to the stadium by train. There is a station right at the Coliseum with a walkway over to the park itself. Apparently prior to 1996 this was a very pleasant ballpark with great views of trees and mountains. However the renovations were done at the wishes of the Oakland Raiders football team and took away the views to make the park something of a monster. Al Davis who is the owner of the Raiders demanded the tall stands in outfield that have been dubbed Mount Davis and this dominates the park. The top levels of the stands are actually canvased over and not used during ball games – though they may be opened during high demand post season performances.
Mike definitely gave us top notch seats, VIP it said on the tickets. We were just five rows back and behind the Oakland dugout. Outstanding. The A’s were playing the third game of a series with the Cleveland Indians and were down two nil. On our way into the stadium we were confronted by a small number of protestors. Their gripe was the use of the term Indians in the Cleveland name. One placard read “Indians are a race, not a mascot.” Now, I am not going to get into a big race debate here, but I definitely see their point. The Indians logo is a cartoon caricature of a stereo typical Indian. I believe there would be a huge outcry in the Southern Hemisphere if there were a team who called themselves something like the Otago Maoris or Sydney Abo’s and used a cartoon as their monogram. Think it through.
Cleveland Indians……….100 000 000 – 1
Oakland Athletics..........001 210 01x – 5
On his 25th birthday, pitcher Tyson Ross of the A’s gave up only one run and four hits in six and two thirds innings for his first win of the year. The Indians scored first in the first after Shin-soo Choo doubled to centre and designated hitter Travis Hagner then doubled to right field to bring Choo in for Clevelands only run of the day. In the third innings the A’s responded when some really explosive base running bought Jemille Weeks home on a Cliff Pennington double, after Weeks had initially been walked with two men out. Designated hitter Kila Ka’aihue was walked in the fourth innings and was bought home by a big dinger by Seth Smith. In the very next innings with two out Ka’aihue singled to right field, Smith walked and centrefielder Kurt Suzuki singled to right field to bring in Ka’aihue. Then in the eighth, and final, at bat for the A’s Eric Sogard singled to centre field. With two outs he then stole second base and on the back of a Cliff Pennington infield single scored the A’s final run to put the icing on the final victory.
The effort of Sogard to steal a base in the eighth was not in isolation, and in fact the A’s stole four on the day and lead the league in stolen bases. While this can be considered to be a relatively minor statistic, I believe that stolen bases can actually be a huge advantage to the teams that consistently try it. In the Official Baseball Rules,section 2.00 deals with definitions of terms, including these two:
A BATTER is an offensive player who takes his position in the batter’s box.
BATTER – RUNNER is a term that identifies the offensive player who has just finished his time at bat until he is put out or until the play on which he becomes a runner ends.
A good batter spends a lot of time as a batter-runner. While base running is a very important art, so too is base stealing. On June 19, 1846 Alexander Cartwright joined some friends for a game of ball in a meadow beside a pond in Manhattan. In his hand he had a chart, but the size of the meadow may also have dictated the size of the diamond, or indeed Cartwright may have just randomly stepped out 30 paces. In any case he said that it seemed the right distance. So it transpired that the distance between bases was ninety feet. It is said to represent man’s closest approach to absolute truth. The fastest man in the world cannot run to first base ahead of a well hit baseball that is cleanly fielded and thrown by an infielder – but he will be only a half a step late. If the fielder does not stop the ball cleanly, or is tardy with his throw, the runner will be safe. Ninety feet demands perfection. It accurately measures the cunning, speed and finesse of a base stealer against the velocity of a thrown ball. It dictates the precise placement of infielders. This is the basis of the ninety foot game, the aim of the batters is to become batter- runners and advance around the four bases placed ninety feet apart. By whatever means necessary.
Which brings me to the stolen base. The runner on first base is thinking about the 90 feet that he has to run to get to second base. The catcher however is considering the distance of 127 feet 3 inches that he has to throw from his position behind home base to second base to get him out. The catcher needs the ball to him in a hurry. This does not necessarily mean just throwing fast balls and forgetting about curves when there is a runner at first, but it is more about getting the ball quickly to the plate with a quick release time. The release time is the time elapsed from when the pitcher is in his stretch ready to pitch until the ball stops in the pitchers mitt. If the runner on first is contemplating stealing, he needs to know how long that time is. A time of 1.2 seconds is good, 1.3 is average and anything over that is an invitation to steal. Some pitchers though have two release times; say 1.35 if they think the runner is a threat to steal or 1.5 if not. Others may have a 1.35 with a runner at first, but relax and go back to 1.5 if the runner is on second base. An observant manager who is on his toes will pick up on this and realise that although runners cannot steal second, they can probably steal third. The runner also of course has to take into consideration the time it will take for the catcher to release the ball. They refer to this as the “pop to pop” – that is, from the time it hits the catcher’s glove to the time that it hits the fielder at second bases glove (either the shortstop or second baseman). This should be two seconds flat or less.
This is the type of thing that is practiced and times at spring training. It is a measurement not only of the power of the catchers arm (power being a combination of strength and acceleration) but also the speed of release. Three factors go into this release speed. First is just grabbing the ball with his throwing hand from the glove. The second factor is how fast he rises and gets into position for the throw. The third is the biomechanics of the arm action in the throw. A general rule of thumb is 1.85 seconds – good, 1.94 seconds – not bad, 2.12 seconds – poor. The difference between “not bad” and “good” is nine one-hundredths of a second.
The runner on first base can also use body language to help him make his decision on whether to steal or not. Legendary Yankee Yogi Berra said “If a pitchers uniform fits too good, the base runner can see his buttocks tighten up just before a pickoff attempt.” Which all brings me back to the importance of Sogard’s stolen base and the fact that the A’s are leading league in that statistic. In ain’t a coincidence.
By the way, we again got free tee shirts and I bought a cap for five dollars. Beer was the cheapest yet at $8.75 for a souvenir cup full. No hassles going home on the BART so a good day out for all and sundry.