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As the grass gets greener and the sun starts to shine more often, the question for some players in the Oakland A’s system is - which team will they be starting the season with, the Oakland A’s or their Triple-A affiliate, the Sacramento River Cats?
Some players, like Jemile Weeks, suited up in the maroon and grey of the Cats for most of last year until getting the call to don the Kelly green and gold of the Athletics late in the season.
For Weeks, it’s a comfortable feeling knowing that a good portion of the River Cats players he spent most of the last couple of years with had a chance to make this year’s big club.
“It’s great, I love it,” Weeks said. “These are guys I played with in the Double-A level and Triple-A level here at Raley Field and I enjoyed that team. It’s just boosting everybody up to another notch here at the big league level. I’m gonna enjoy this season also.”
Weeks’ situation is not the norm this year in A’s training camp. There are several spots open for guys that spent either all or most of last year in the minor leagues.
Enter Eric Sogard.
Sogard only hit .200 in 27 games for the A’s after being called up in September, but hit an impressive .340, had 16 hits and scored 14 runs this spring for the big club.
After such a showing, Sogard has garnered one of the remaining utility infielder spots he had cherished so much.
“It’s been great,” started the soft-spoken Sogard. “It’s my third big league camp there and I got a lot of experience. I’m continuing to feel more comfortable out there. I had a good spring and did what I wanted to do and it’s been paying off… They’ve liked what they’ve seen and they’ve been talking high on me, so hopefully I’ll make that last cut. Either way, I’ll just keep working hard to do what I can to stay up there or get back up there.”
Sogard gets excited when he thinks that several of the guys he has spent so much of his minor league career with may also make the team.
“That’s exciting,” said the 26-year-old from Phoenix, Ariz., “just seeing those guys up there and guys that I have played with for a long time. You just feel comfortable around them; you kind of know how they play and you can work off of each other. I think that is one thing that will help me and not make me put too much pressure on myself knowing those guys are around me.”
For Anthony Recker, it’s a childhood dream to be able to start a year in a major league uniform.
“It would mean the world to me,” said the 28-year-old catching prospect. “Obviously, that was the goal coming into this year was to make the squad and be on the roster. It looks like there is a good possibility of that happening, but nothing is set yet. It’s been a long time - like seven or eight years I’ve been working for this - so it would be a dream come true to make an opening day roster.”
Recker, like everyone that was asked, feels great about the possibility of several River Cats making the A’s main roster around the same time.
“It’s great playing with those guys all the way up and getting a chance to play with them here,” Recker said. “It brings a lot of unity to the locker room. We’re a tight-knit group and we’re having a lot of fun. It makes it a lot easier to get out and perform and just feel comfortable. It’s been great so far.”
Josh Donaldson has been high on the A’s radar for several years, but it’s the here and now that has given him a chance to land a starting position.
With projected starting third baseman Scott Sizemore going down with a torn ACL, the opening day spot at the hot corner was up for grabs.
By playing solid defense at third base during spring training and honing up on his infield skills in the Dominican League during the offseason, Donaldson appears ready to start at third base for Oakland this season.
“It’s exciting times for me,” said an excited Donaldson. “It’s a great opportunity for me to show my talents and hopefully make these guys look like geniuses!”
As you can tell, Donaldson has quite the sense of humor and a great, honest personality. During his struggles last season, he was refreshingly candid about his plight and was always upfront when issues arose.
Again, the at-ease factor of playing with so many ex-teammates plays an important role in Donaldson settling into his new role.
“It’s awesome, just having these guys around,” said the new A’s third baseman. “The clubhouse so far has been awesome. We’ve got a good mixture right here.”
Then there’s my favorite River Cat of all. You can’t find a more honest and real person than Wes Timmons.
Timmons has toiled in the minors for ten years looking for a chance to kick down the door. This training camp with the A’s had him closer than he may have even been before in making an opening day major league roster.
Alas, even though he made only one error in 53 total chances and hit .278 during the spring, he seems destined to spend one more season with the Sacramento River Cats.
While his wife Randi and two children spend another season without their main man in Florida, Timmons will be a stalwart for the River Cats.
“It feels great, but the reality of the situation is that I’m probably not going to be on that (Oakland’s) roster,” said the 33-year-old utility player. “But being here (Sacramento) as long as I have, it’s been a great ride.”
Timmons is one of the best clubhouse guys a team could ever have. Coach Darren Bush would be the first to agree and Timmons can’t wait to get back here and be a positive influence on the younger guys.
“I’m excited. And the thing is that I signed a contract to come to Triple-A. The big leagues, that’s a bonus - icing on the cake so to speak, but I know the kind of manager Bushy is and I know that the will to win or that thrive to succeed and I can’t wait to get back to that.”
The Oakland A’s will make their final cuts on Wednesday and the River Cats won’t know until then who comes back and who doesn’t.
Whatever the news, several of last year’s Cats will be wearing a new green and gold uniform this season.