Awkward A’s assemble for first day of school

OAKLAND — It was reminiscent of the first day of school, complete with feet shuffling, nervous glances to the floor, and awkward small talk over breakfast.

During an Oakland A’s media session, held before the annual Fan Fest Sunday, players strode in with an uncertain gait and half-hearted smiles.

It was the first opportunity for many players to meet not only each other, but the coaching staff as well. Left-handed pitcher Sean Doolittle joked about the new faces, saying:

“We have names on the back, but we kind of need them on the front too.”

Newbie right-handed pitcher Kendall Graveman was all but lacking an apple in his hand for his first introduction to manager Bob Melvin.

The 6-foot-2, 195-pound 24-year-old shyly approached Melvin between interviews, sneaking in a quick “Hey Coach” type of introduction.

The interaction summed up the early season’s reality for the A’s, that there are new faces aplenty and personalities to match. That holds true for the players, coaches, everybody.

Graveman said:

“I’m learning a lot of people and what they do. Coaches, players, PR guys, clubhouse guys. There’s a lot going on. A lot of new faces, a lot of new names.”

Graveman isn’t good with names, he admits, but has admiration for Melvin’s record as Oakland’s manager.

The homeroom teacher of the A’s, Melvin was promoted from substitute halfway through the 2011 season. Melvin’s managerial record of 237-186 (.560) is one of the best in baseball.

Melvin’s first full season with Oakland in 2012, and the team was in a similar state, Melvin said:

“This is pretty similar to what it was like in ‘12, we do have some turnover here, but we bring back some guys who we feel like we need to have back here.”

This last round was more significant, though, with 13 players acquired through trade this offseason who stand a legitimate shot at making the 25-man roster. Even more longshot non-roster invitees can add to it all.

After the 2011 season, a number of talented players were sent packing in favor of cheaper, younger talent. Catcher Derek Norris and pitcher Tommy Milone were acquired from the Nationals for top-flight starter Gio Gonzalez.

General manager Billy Beane has made other moves that have shaken up the club, like moving outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to Boston last summer. The move drew stark responses from a crazed fanbase and national media alike.

For almost any player who signs with the A’s, it’s become a foregone conclusion that success could mean a guaranteed departure rather than a new contract. Budding stars are replaced with young talent, and the roster ends up like the one Oakland will open 2015 with.

Despite being young, the new players have upperclassmen like Josh Reddick, Ike Davis, and Coco Crisp to serve as mentors. Crisp, Oakland’s oldest player at 35 years old, said:

“With our club, we’re going to be okay. It’s just how we all gel together and come together chemistry wise and how quick that happens. I have faith in us.”

Melvin, touching on chemistry, added:

“It all happens during spring training. We have plenty of time for that.”

The Athletics will report to their first team workout in Arizona for the 47th time in history on Friday, February 20, with the full squad workout date set for Wednesday, February 25.

And Melvin will get a good look at his team on March 3, when the A’s play their first game against the San Francisco Giants.

The A’s may be awkward now, unfamiliar fellows with varying backgrounds. They may need name tags for the next 45 days. They’re going to eat together, play together, and learn together over that time as well.

And by April, the team hopes to have graduated into a unit, familiar with their personal intricacies. Perhaps by then they’ll be ready to move their tassels from the left side to the right.