I’ve just returned from a quick weekend in Las Vegas where I watched the A’s drop a pair of exhibition games to the Cubs. They were both Spring Training split-squad affairs in which Oakland fielded squads consisting mostly of younger or non-roster players. This especially showed in Saturday’s game, as the A’s were retired in order for the first seven innings. But I got to see a few kids play for the big club and the experience should be beneficial for them. Joey Wendle, the Low-A second baseman acquired from Cleveland for Brandon Moss got a start, as did High-A third baseman Renato Nunez at the hot corner. Jesse Hahn, stolen from San Diego for Derek Norris, got the start on the bump and was excellent outside of facing Kris Bryant. Bryant, the Cubs (and MLB’s) top prospect, showed off the power in his 6’5” frame by blasting two huge home runs, the first off of Hahn. But Hahn was otherwise excellent, especially by ending an inning by getting phenom Jorge Soler looking on a knee-buckling curveball. And my man-crush Matt Olson, filling out his jersey wearing number 77, had the first A’s knock in the 8th with a ringing double off the left field wall.
Cashman Field is no stranger to the A’s fan base, having served briefly as their home while Mt. Davis was being built some 20 years ago. The Big League Weekend, as the AAA-Las Vegas 51’s were billing it, is an annual happening which features the Cubs as the home team and rotates opponents every year. The stadium is part of an event center, sitting in a run-down area, not unlike many stadia in America. Just make sure you have a ride – you wouldn’t want to venture away from the field on foot very far. But inside it’s more than adequate for a game of baseball, and with a high wall throughout the outfield and a 433-foot center field, there are no cheapies hit there.
Manager Bob Melvin always meets with the press before every game in the dugout, and Saturday was no different, except for the number of media persons present. It was mlb.com’s Jane Lee and I. That was it. When Bob came down to the dugout, I jokingly asked him if he was ready “to get grilled” by the throng of reporters. Instead he said to me, “the real question is, what are YOU doing here?” I explained simply that Vegas + A’s = be there.
He then went on to answer several of my questions sincerely and at length. One of them was about Marcus Semien’s defense, and the thought that it wasn’t up to the par of an everyday shortstop. Melvin stressed that for a young player like Semien, playing out of position and being moved around the infield is counterproductive to consistency. He was referring to the fact that the White Sox used him in a utility role last season, and the results were not fantastic. I also suggested that with Reddick’s injury and shifting outfielders around that perhaps Coco Crisp might see time in center again, and Melvin said that they’re committed to getting him acclimated to left and having him receive his reps out there.
As for the crowd, it was mostly Cubs Nation, but with a definite A’s representation here and there. The tiny 51’s “souvenir store” was jammed with a long line of fans stretching out the door, myself included. The press box was nice with free food, which was very gracious of the 51’s, but I sat in seats out toward right field, and got lobster red. I’m not a big gambler and I’m too old to go clubbing, so baseball was my main purpose for this visit to southern Nevada, and it was well worth it. I even threw in a look at the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon (long drive for the latter). And what trip to Sin City is complete without firing an M-4 and SAW on full-auto at Machine Gun Vegas? All in all, a pretty fun weekend, despite the A’s losses. I mean, they don’t count, right?