As a sports fan, I was an especially spoiled child.
I told this story a few years ago, so here's the abbreviated version: the 1980 Oakland Raiders were the first sports team I ever followed…and they went on to win the Super Bowl in January 1981. For reasons that can best be described as overly simplistic and kinda-sorta geographic, I became an Oakland Athletics fan – even though I was born and raised in Southern California and have never lived in the Bay Area – starting with the 1981 team.
Those A's began the season with 11 straight wins. 30 years later, I vividly remember them leading off an episode of This Week in Baseball in mid-April and the Sports Illustrated cover story (which I was able to afford with some of my birthday money).
The first baseball team I ever followed would finish the strike-stained 1981 regular season with MLB's second best overall record. They defeated Kansas City in the first round of the playoffs before falling to the Yankees in the ALCS. By the end of the 1980s, the A's were baseball's best team -- winning the World Series in 1989, along with three American League pennants and four division titles from 1988-92.
As a sports fan, my seven-year-old son Jalen has had a more challenging childhood.
The 2008 Oakland Athletics were the first team he ever followed. His first ever favorite player was... Bobby Crosby. And, since IF-OF Eric Patterson wore #4, my then four-year-old son began his odd bonds with whichever player's jersey matched his age (the next year
I want my son to have a team that he vividly remembers 30 years from now.
The 2011 Oakland Athletics could be that team.
Will they win the World Series? Probably not, but a lot can happen to an active roster between now and the end of October, so let's not think that far ahead.
This A's team is improved on offense with the additions of OF David DeJesus and OF Josh Willingham. A full season from OF Coco Crisp in the leadoff spot would set the table for a solid, if unspectacular, middle of the order. It's not a stretch to think C Kurt Suzuki will bounce back after a season in which he was miscast as the number three hitter and 1B Daric Barton is already one of the better number two hitters in the AL.
Oakland's defense is the best in the division. 2B Mark Ellis and SS Cliff Pennington are a terrific keystone combination, while Barton and 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff handled the acres of foul territory at the Coliseum and vacuumed everything down the lines. Crisp is Gold Glove caliber in centerfield and should make up for some of Willingham's shortcomings in left field.
Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson and Gio Gonzalez are as good as any other top three starting pitchers in the American League. Dallas Braden isn't an ace -- and doesn't have to be here -- but, he's a perfectly cromulent back of the rotation arm. The bullpen will have to weather the short-term loss of closer Andrew Bailey, but it's deep and stocked with several malleable arms from both the left and right sides.
The Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers won't roll over, but it remains to be seen if the Halos can turn around their offense or if the Rangers -- defending American League champions -- can enjoy a repeat performance of last year's superlative starting pitching and production from injury-prone sluggers Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler.
For the Oakland Athletics to win the American League West, they'll need to hit, pitch and stay healthy.
For the first time in five years, the Oakland Athletics will do these things better than anyone else in their division.
I've already promised my son that we'll fly up to Oakland for a playoff game if the A's win the division.
OK, OK...my exact words to Jalen?
"...when the A's win the division."
Be that team, Oakland.
Prediction: 88-74, 1st place