COMMENTARY | The Oakland A's are closing in on a second consecutive American League West crown.
Despite all the noise about the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers in the offseason, it is Oakland that finds itself at the top of the scramble on Sept. 12, leading the Rangers by three games. Considering the payrolls of the three aforementioned teams, it seems almost a miracle at first glance that the A's are where they are.
Sure, dollars mean plenty in sports. The Los Angeles Dodgers are relevant again because Magic Johnson's group bought the team and made it rain. The New York Yankees have been a solid club at worst for 20 straight years, because they can eat bad contracts such as Carl Pavano, Kei Igawa and the albatross that is Alex Rodriguez.
But money doesn't guarantee success. Oakland and its braintrust led by general manager Billy Beane has proved there is no exchange rate from cash to logic. Innovative thinking and a keen eye for talent can make up any financial deficit.
Look at the A's roster and you will see a left fielder who many considered overpaid when he came over from Cuba in Yoenis Cespedes. Look at the infield, and you gaze upon a third baseman who toiled in the minor leagues for years as a catcher in the form of Josh Donaldson.
Then you have Brandon Moss, the first baseman/outfielder with a team-leading 26 homers. The same guy who was told he was nothing more than a Quad-A player by the Pittsburgh Pirates, Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies. All of this does not begin to cover the bullpen, which features Grant Balfour, a maniacal Australian, and first baseman-turned-fireballer Sean Doolittle.
Of course, the division title -- something that isn't entirely finished off -- is not the main objective of the season. The A's, as mentioned in the movie Moneyball, know that nobody gives a damn if you don't win the World Series. The fans might remember fondly a team that would not succumb to its disadvantages, but every memory will be punctuated with a thought of regret at not finishing it off.
Oakland hasn't won a Fall Classic since the famous matchup in 1989 against the San Francisco Giants, when its coronation was halted by a disastrous earthquake. Now, 24 years later, the A's are primed for another run at a ring, a piece of jewelry seemingly impossible to attain for small-market teams under baseball's current rules.
Yet, we find Oakland racing toward another finish line with the postseason well in sight. Tickets are already on sale for seats in the anything-but-venerable O.co Coliseum. It's a stadium with no frills, no fanfare and a rugged look, only getting attention when October descends upon it.
These A's are a fun group to watch, with perhaps the most underrated home-field advantage in the sport. In a day of corporate boxes and center-field restaurants dominating the landscape, the Coliseum and its patrons remind us all of days when fans can to the ballpark to root for their team, not conduct a meeting.
Should Oakland ever complete what feels like the impossible dream, there will be a raucous celebration of 25 nationally underappreciated men in the middle of an underwhelming stadium in front of unheralded fans.
Those are the A's, and that is Oakland.
Matt Verderame is a lifelong Oakland A's follower and has been published in the Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin and also at SB Nation among other papers and websites. His Twitter handle is @MattVerderame.
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