Monday, May 10, 2010
The Pitch That Saved Oakland?
"[Dallas] Braden finally LOOKS like he belongs in bigs. Dude's always carried himself with a false swagger, but now said swagger appears sincere."
I wrote those words back in mid-March 2009 as part of my annual A's season preview. My doubts about his 2010 performance stemmed from the reported lingering effects of the bizarre foot injury that ended his 2009 season. And, as most of you know, it's barely been a week since my most recent Braden bashing.
This past Sunday afternoon, my six-year-old son, Jalen, and I watched the first three innings of the A's vs. Rays game. With the A's leading 2-0, I turned off the game and grabbed Jalen's bat bag. Since he was old enough to wear a glove, we've spent a few hours almost every Sunday under San Diego's chronically cloudless sky.
We were about 60 minutes into our simulated baseball experience (Jalen, as always, was the A's, while I was stuck being the Padres) when I checked Twitter from my phone during a Gatorade break. Once I learned what was happening in Oakland, I gathered up the few relatively expensive pieces of Jalen's equipment in my arms, left the rest behind and dragged my son back inside the house. We caught the last three outs of Dallas Braden's perfect game.
It cannot be understated: the Oakland A's franchise needed this performance. On the analogical scale, it ranks somewhere between a thirsty man receiving water and a death row inmate obtaining a governor's reprieve.
The former four-time world champions of baseball have become anonymous in their own community and irrelevant across the national sports landscape. Attendance figures for A's games continue to circle the proverbial drain – and if you've ever been to a game at the Oakland Coliseum, you'll see that I'm being kind with my choice of bathroom appliance comparison.
The dreaded c-word is being whispered in some circles, again.
By itself, Dallas Braden's historic start won't have any long-term positive effects for the franchise. But, the A's can still use it as a model to rebuild much of the goodwill with the fans that's been lost in recent seasons due to a steady stream of bad, boring teams and the organization's lame duck status in Oakland stemming from flirtations with Fremont and San Jose.
Here's my hastily conceived three-step plan to win back a few fans.
History - I'm not suggesting that the A's retire every number ever worn like the Yankees (Ron Guidry?) or market their martyrdom like the Cubs. But, Braden's feat is one of many memorable moments for the Oakland A's organization and it should be celebrated again and again. The Kansas City Royals – of all teams – got this one right. They have a Royals Hall of Fame onsite at their home ballpark (which I visited in 2007) and former Royals make frequent appearances at Kauffman Stadium and in the community.
Geography - Think of it as 21st century barnstorming. The A's have already built a marketing plan around Braden and his hometown of Stockton (about 90 minutes east of Oakland). Don't stop there. Offer similar "area code" discounts and perks for select weekend games, focusing on larger metropolitan areas such as greater Sacramento (90 minutes from Oakland) and San Jose (60 minutes).
Personality - Let's be clear: Braden's one-man war with Alex Rodriguez was/is downright embarrassing. But, most A's fans – and a nation of A-Rod/Yankee haters – ate it up with a spoon. This year's A's ad campaign featured too much scripted irreverence, but it's not too late to change course. A 30-second spot with fan favorite Brad Ziegler describing his fascinating road to the show? Instant appeal to the old-school fans. Another ad can spotlight 1B Daric Barton, who I assume is the life of the party. Let the kids be kids on the field and let 'em act like they enjoy the game.
Trust me…it's contagious.