As we continue to traverse the long, lonely road that is the off-season; we find ourselves in a state of change. We adjust from the day to day activity of following our favorite team, and are given a reprieve from the act of living and dying with each pitch of a ballgame. In exchange, we settle for counting the days until spring training and following the transactions that bring additions and subtractions to the organizations of our choice. We also pay attention to the awards races that pertain to our team, if for nothing else than bragging rights and good feelings. We laugh and criticize moves made by other teams, such as the tragic pillaging of the Miami Marlins by the Toronto Blue Jays earlier this week. With all this to keep us occupied it’s easy to overlook some of the minor, procedural moves that are done to create room on the 40-man roster. Once such move was the recent outright of Dallas Braden off the 40-man roster. While most expected Oakland to non-tender Braden, it still came as somewhat of a surprise that the A’s would cut ties with their longest tenured player so soon. Of course cutting Braden loose after two lost years of surgery, failed comebacks, and his troubles with the Stockton PD was inevitable. Fact remains, that the development of a young and potent rotation had made him completely disposable. Yet, despite this I thought it was only fair to pay respect to the prodigal son of Stockton, here at The Swingin’ A’s.
By now, most everyone knows the tale of Dallas Braden. A man who overcame a terribly rough upbringing as a youth, suffering the loss of his mother as a teenager and finding solace in throwing a ball. His loving relationship with his Grandmother, who urged him to follow his dreams, while keeping him on the straight and narrow. Through baseball, Braden in time was able to channel his life’s frustrations, anger, and determination into the end result of an effective major league pitcher. With his Bugs Bunny change-up and virtual absence of fear, Braden developed a solid consistency as a starter as he settled in to a starting role in Oakland. In a team that lacked leaders during the directionless Bob Geren era, Braden embraced the role as a young vet and was invaluable in the emotional development of Gio Gonzalez. Acting as a de facto assistant pitching coach, it was common to witness Braden sitting close to Gonzalez and motivating him with words of encouragement during games he pitched.
For most A’s fans, Braden if forever etched in our memories for his memorable 2010 season. On April 22nd of that year, facing the New York Yankees he acted strongly to Alex Rodriguez crossing over his mound on route to retreating to first base following a foul ball. At the conclusion of the inning, Braden screamed at the former MVP to “get off my mound” much to the amusement of A-Rod who dismissed the southpaw with a wave of the hand. After the game, Braden proclaimed that A-Rod has broken an unwritten rule and disrespected him and his team by the careless act. In defense, A-Rod cited Braden’s mediocre win-loss record and claimed no knowledge to the unwritten rule. While the media may or may not have blown the incident up to more than what it was, I felt like it was a refreshing act for an organization that desperately needed someone to stand up for them. It was a way of saying, you may take our players and kill our championship hopes, but you will not come into our home and disrespect us. Whatever it was, it made for an entertaining story and sold a few t-shirts.
The Perfect Game. During all my years of devoted fandom, I had always yearned to watch an A’s no-hitter. Too young to fully appreciated the masterpiece thrown by Dave Stewart in 1990, I watched helplessly as Bobby Witt lost his perfect game to a bad call on a play at first in 1994 and suffered through several near no-no’s in the years following, always to be left disappointed. On Mother’s Day, May 9th, 2010 my mind was elsewhere. I was preparing to leave for a dinner to celebrate my mother, all the while keeping half an eye on the game as I prepared my gifts. As the game approached it’s midway point, it became certain that something special was happening in Oakland on that faithful day. Dallas Braden, was operating with surgical precision, toying with a potent Rays lineup and recording out after out at a furious pace. As I departed, around the 7th inning and headed for a drive out of the city of San Francisco and to the Marin Headlands I knew I had to make a decision. What followed was a series of phone calls, one to my family to alert them of my inevitable tardiness. One to a good friend, whom lived in a neighborhood just south of the Golden Gate Bridge. Arranging a pit stop to watch the remaining ninth inning, I flew into my buddies house and celebrated each of the final outs with a self-proclaimed Giants fanatic. Hanging on the edge of my seat, I screamed as Gabe Kapler, reached for a ball outside the zone with a 3-1 count and chopped it to Cliff Pennington. The ensuing 6-3 putout and celebration on the mound, was something I’ll never forget. In a five-year era of Athletics baseball where there was very little to celebrate, Dallas Braden had given us a reason to smile. As he hugged his grandmother, and pointed to the Section 209 it felt like Oakland was back on the map for at least one day. Thank you, Dallas Braden who everything you are, and everything you did for this organization.