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After being eliminated from AL West, how do the Oakland A’s find purpose in a losing season?

After being eliminated from AL West, how do the Oakland A’s find purpose in a losing season?

OAKLAND — The fan experience has been stripped to its bare bones at the Oakland Coliseum, but having a kid announce the home team for one inning over the PA system is one of a few traditions that remains. In the fifth inning of the Oakland A’s 12-1 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, the lucky kid at the microphone added a little flair to one of his announcements.

“Up next, my favorite player,” the kid said over the Coliseum’s sound system. “Tony Kemp.”

Kemp looked up toward the announcer’s booth on his way to the batter’s box, tipped his helmet and waved at the kid. Cameras caught the kid waving back, a huge grin on his face. During the dog days of a season destined to fail from its start, veterans such as Kemp can syphon purpose through interactions like that one.

“It’s about having perspective,” Kemp said. “Every time I put that jersey on, I look at the back and see my name and think about how many kids just for one day would love to put that jersey on and play one inning. You know about the hard working people out there that spent money on tickets to watch you play and watch your talents.”

A’s ownership has turned its cheek on those loyal Oakland fans, averting their eyes to a new future and ritzy ballpark in Las Vegas. That leaves the players and coaches on the field to reward the fans who show up despite it all. For the veterans — such as Kemp, Aledmys Diaz, Trevor May and Seth Brown — it means setting aside egos and taking on an unspoken responsibility to keep the vibes positive with gravity dragging them down.

“It’s been a long season. It’s been a tough season,” Kemp said. “But I think everybody in this locker room knows that going through stuff like this is going to make you stronger in the long run.”

Focus on the little wins — it’s all this A’s team can do when the big picture is so bleak.

With Sunday’s loss, the A’s were officially eliminated from American League West contention. On Aug. 20, it’s the earliest in the season in franchise history this team has been eliminated from the division, beating out last year’s Aug. 28 elimination. To put that in perspective, before last year the 1979 season was the only other time the A’s had been eliminated before Sept. 1.

It’s almost a funny footnote on an epically disastrous season; the A’s are losing so much that everyone involved appears numb to the burns of failure. Given the minuscule budget baseball operations had to work with this offseason, the playoffs were never even a pipe dream.

That numbness comes into play during games, too. Orioles’ starter Kyle Bradish hadn’t allowed a base runner until Zack Gelof’s fifth inning single to left field. By then, the Orioles were up by seven runs and it was clear by the fourth inning the A’s would be swept by the AL East’s best team. By the game’s end, the Orioles had 17 hits and 12 runs, the A’s had four hits and one run, courtesy of Brent Rooker’s solo homer in the seventh.

Kemp, one of the longest-tenured Athletics despite joining the team just five seasons ago, can find meaning to a meaningless season by giving loyal fans the show they want. That motivation gave him that extra oomph back in St. Louis when he made a sliding catch in shallow left field and doubled off the runner at third with a tough throw on the move.

Perhaps that motivation gave Brown — considered a veteran despite entering his first year of arbitration next year — a little oomph as he made an unassisted double play at first wrangling Jorge Mateo’s line drive and tagging first base all in one fall.

“Regardless of what the record shows, it’s one of those things for me where there’s only one way I know how to play the game,” Brown said. “You’ve got kids watching. I have a son now, too. I gotta be an example for them and him. That’s how I look at it.”

Brownie turns two by himself pic.twitter.com/hYqPZ7DtL1

— A’s on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) August 20, 2023

For the “New Oakland” call-ups, those veterans are guiding lights and this historically bad year is an opportunity to learn by fire. Kemp’s advice: Write down the good things that happen. Make note of the bad.

“It just takes experience,” Kemp said. “There’s a lot of talent in this room, there are a lot of guys in here that will have great careers. It might not look like it now, but it’s a learning curve that will take time.”

 

Even amid the relocation mud, it looks as if a new core is emerging. Gelof, the A’s 2021 second-round pick, had two of the A’s four hits on Sunday to plump up a special month of August in which he’s batting .385 with 12 extra-base hits and a 1.190 OPS in 17 games.

Esteury Ruiz has struggled since coming off the injured list on Aug. 5, but established himself as one of the most feared base stealing threats in MLB and his 43 stolen bases led the league at the time of his injury. Sunday’s starter JP Sears’ seven earned runs allowed on Sunday were the most he’s allowed all season, but he makes up a crop of promising players — including Jordan Diaz, Nick Allen, 2020 first-round pick Tyler Soderstrom and Shea Langeliers along with newest call-up Lawrence Butler — who are adjusting to MLB standards the hard way.

Everyone that suits up for the A’s can find reason to invest in this losing season. But you can imagine the mental toll it takes when players and coaches are investing more than the people signing their checks.