PHOENIX - "Jason decides where we'll go," says Oakland's ace righthander Tim Hudson of the A's Phoenix night life schedule. "We just follow."
Hudson is, of course, talking about Jason Giambi, reigning Amewrican League MVP, self- described "connected" Italian-American ("My uncle lives in Las Vegas, you know), and all-around bon vivante and man about town.
Observers of the baseball scene have noted in recent years that these new young professionals like to read the Wall Street Journal and talk business on cell phones with their agents. Where is the fun of baseball? The camaraderie and friendship?
In Oakland, it is alive and well, thank you. The A's model themselves after Giambi, a guy who trains as hard as his good friend and ex-teammate, Mark McGwire. Like George Brett in a previous generation, he likes to have fun but is always ready to play when the bell rings.
So are his teammates. They are young, good-looking guys, though, and like to enjoy life.
"We go to Maloney's, maybe Sanctuary," says Hudson of the hopping Phoenix/Scottsdale night life.
(I personally researched the subject, and can assure you that attractive women can be found at either of these places.)
"In Oakland," Hudson continues, "we stay more low-key. Guys usually live in the Pleasanton, San Ramon area, and we'll occasionally hang out and have a few bveers at some clubs in Walnut Creek. Phoenix is a good place to spend a month, but I think it's about time to get out of here while we're still standing."
Hudson was standing on Wednesday afternoon (March 26) at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, when he reached his pitch count of 80 after four impressive innings against Milwaukee. He struck out the first two Brewers as if they did not have bats in their hands, and had four altogether. The only damage done against him came off the bat of Milwaukee's superb left-fielder, Goeff Jenkins. The former All-American from Southern Cal (who
is a native of Sacramento) went deep over the right-field fence with a man on in the third.
"Jenkins got ahold of a change-up," said Hudson. "He's a terrific hitter. I've not faced him much, just in Spring Training.
"I had a good feel for all my pitches and I'm ready to start the season."
20-game winner in 2000, Hudson will be honored with the opening day start Monday at Safeco Field against Seattle.
"I don't really feel like we need to make a statement" against Oakland's top division rival of a year ago, Hudson said in response to a question. "The season's so long, we'll just be happy to hold our own, hopefully win a couple games."
Oakland had the best Spring record in the Cactus League last year, although they got off to a so-so start before pouring it on at the end to win the West
by a game over the Mariners.
They break camp with the best Spring record in baseball, head to Sacramento for an exhibition against the AAA River Cats, then come home to take on McGwire's Cardinals and a two-game Bay Bridge stint vs. San Francisco at Pacific Bell Park.
"I don't think Spring ball means much," says Hudson. "We're playing good, but we don't wanna play our best ball here."
Hudson does not think pitchers are ahead of the hitters in March and April.
"Last year was great," he said of the 2000 campaign. "Everybody enjoyed it, it was something special. I don't really feel pressure. I don't
even think it means that much that we play in Oakland, where there's not as much media as in New York. We're a bunch of fun-loving, outgoing guys who seem to get along with the press. In that respect, we're a New York-style team. It certainly didn't bother us in the Play-off <last year against the Yankees>. Our style is just to play and have fun. The pressure's on the
Yankees to win it again."
Apparently, that pressure is piling on. With his club at the bottom of the Grapefruit league standings, Yankee owner George Steinbrenner is threatening to fire Manager Joe Torre. (April Fool's)
"The media is neither an advantage or a disadvantage," Hudson continued. "We don't shy from the attention. I think we have a lot of big-time players."
Hudson was asked about the mild year-round Bay Area weather, which former Manager Tony LaRussa used to say was an advantage.
"Yeah, it's mild," he said, "and I think if you play in Texas, it can wear you out. You definitely might not come out early for batting practice in
the hot sun, but most guys get used to it, so I don't think weather can be an excuse or a reason for your performance."
Hudson is also a baseball fan, and while he may not be a historian with the Elias Sports Bureau, he does have a sense for the A's history.
The A's staff, led by Hudson and also including left-handers Barry Zito and Mark Mulder, along with veteran Gil Heredia, is being compared to the
early '70s combination that included Jim "Catfish" Hunter, Ken Holtzman, Vida Blue and John "Blue Moon" Odom.
"Obviously, I'm too young to have seen those guys," he says, "but just to be compared or talked about next to guys like that is exciting. I know
they were greats with the A's."
One can make some real comparisons between the development of the A's then and the A's now. After going 82-80 in 1968, the team won 88 and 89 games, respectively, but finished second behind Minnesota in 1969 and '70. In 1971, they broke out with 101 wins, capturing the West before losing to a talented, veteran Baltimore team in 1971. Finally, in 1972, they had the
requisite talent and experience to go all the way, winning the first of three straight World Series'.
The pitchers can be compared, too. Holtzman came by trade, but Hunter, Blue and Rollie Fingers were, like Hudson, Zito and Mulder, young, home-grown pheenoms who skyrocketed to the big leagues. Hudson,
Mulder and Zito are college boys with a little more experience than Hunter, Blue and Fingers, but their ascent to the Major Leagues has been sudden and
As for the rest of the comparison, the A's 1999 run for a wild-card berth can be compared to their 1969 and '70 second-place finshes, and their impressive 2000 Play-Off team looked a lot like the 1971 club that was almost, but not quite good enough.
2001? As former broadcaster Monte Moore might say, It is "look-out, Yankees" time! "Experience means a lot," says Hudson. "We have that now, but it's not everything. I think chemistry is just as important, and that's what we really have. You can't find a clubhouse in baseball with guys who get along and have as fun as us."
The players are not the only ones having fun. Watching the team play this year and, hopefully, for succeeding seasons, promises to be pure enjoyment.
NOTES: Ran into Milwaukee Brewers' announcer Bob Eucker, one of my favorite all-time baseball people, which is what I told him, at Phoenix Muni on
"Hey, thanks buddy," was Euck's response. Because the Euckster was in between innings broadcasting the game back to Wisconsin, he did not have time to do a sit-down interview, but we did talk about Lou Brock's first year in St. Louis, when he was Eucker's teammate on the 1964 Cardinals. That season has been immortalized by David Halberstam's classic "October 1964", which uses baseball at a metaphor for American society. The Cardinals were the Democrats, the New Breed, a team that employed numerous black and Latin ball players and played aggressively. The Yanks were the old Republican Party, country club patricians who eschewed radical thinking in any form. Like The Democrats of 1964, St. Louis won it all. The Yankees had to adjust their thinking (like the GOP), and using Halbertsam's historical comparison, the Bronx Bombers eventually came back in the sports version of the Reagan Revolutiuon. Eucker enjoyed our short discussion of other colorful characters from his era, including Bo Belinsky, Tim McCarver and Phil Niekro.
You know how Eucker described catching Niekro's knuckle ball? "Just run to the backstop and pick it up." You gotta love this guy.
APRIL FOOLS: Apparently, the pressure is piling on in New York. With his club finishing at the bottom of the Grapefruit league standings, Yankee owner George Steinbrenner is threatening to fire Manager Joe Torre.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism