For the A’s, summer camp at the Coliseum comes loud

© Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

OAKLAND — So the plumbing is bad, but one thing about the Oakland Coliseum, the sound system is world-class. And can be played loudly. Very loudly.

Which was as perfect for those kids from the Oakland A’s on Wednesday as for the guys in the ground crew watching them.

The late, great Bill King, our Bay Area announcer of many sports, never quite adjusted to rock or rap during ball games. But times change — and besides, this wasn’t a ball game, just a practice.

Spring training at summer camp, and the questions that are not about competition, or really lack of competition, continue to be about COVID-19 — unfortunate but legitimate. What does it matter how skilled a man may be if he tests positive?

As A’s manager Bob Melvin is aware in this brave new world, where one moment he’s asked if Chris Bassitt can handle any pitching situation, starter or reliever, and then asked how long a player may be out if he tests positive (“I can’t answer that,” Melvin responded).

Such a simple game, baseball. Such a complex game, baseball. At the moment, with rumors and doubts everywhere, such a needed game. Just to watch the A’s at play — or work, if you will — was a reassuring sign of normalcy.

When and if this condensed season takes place, the A’s finally may take their place. Oakland is loaded. So affirmed Ron Darling on the MLB Network. The A’s have been so close the last two years. And so distant.

Consecutive seasons three wins short of 100. Yet one wildcard win short of the division playoffs. They just need to take that next step, if there is another step.

“They don’t want to be the Pirates,” said Darling.

Who were in the wild card in 2013, 2014 and 2015, winning in ’13 but still ending up with three straight seasons of wondering what might have been. The story in every sport is the same: Now or never.

“They want to win their division,” said Darling, meaning they need to win their division, not just show up as the other team. “There’s so much talent. They have to get past Houston, but the A’s are a much better team this year than last year.”

In those TV briefs, every observation is positive. A man working for a network that exists on the glory of the game is not going to belittle the sport, even a man who went to Yale and pitched in a World Series as did Darling.

But Darling knows his stuff. He points out the A’s have few weaknesses, and if Khris Davis returns to being the player he was before 2019 (ah, the mysteries of baseball) they will have one more big bat.

Pitching? “They have a lot of options,” was the observation.

Melvin holds his media interviews before the daily drills, which is fine because other than a player getting hurt one should not place too much importance on exhibition results.

At least the sort that can appear in a box score.

Then again, in 2020, with the season reduced to 60 games from the usual 162, who knows what to think. Except that fundamentals, picking up grounders, hauling in fly balls, will be even more critical than ever.

The A’s built themselves into an outstanding defensive team. Yet, as Melvin said, defense is no less permanent than hitting and pitching. Three and a half months away, other than playing catch, can be an issue.

“I noticed the last couple of days,” Melvin said, “that on defense, while their eyes were seeing the ball, their bodies didn’t seem to be It’s one thing to get your legs in shape running, but it’s different bending over to field a grounder.”

Especially with the big beat sound on the Coliseum PA system keeping accompaniment. Very loud. Very cool.

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