OAKLAND, Calif. -- The A's came out of spring training with a freshly choreographed home-run celebration, guaranteed to offend someone in pinstripes. They left for their first road trip Thursday afternoon with a potential catch phrase hanging in the air, too long for a T-shirt but irresistible nonetheless.
"It's my face, I'll do what I want with it."
An 0-for-10 start to the season triggered pleas on Twitter for extravagantly bearded rightfielder Josh Reddick to bring on the razor, followed by a resounding "NO'' from his feed. "Way too superstitious,'' he said in the clubhouse Thursday. "We're four games in. Let it go.'' His towering home run and double in an 8-2 win over the Mariners made the same point at higher volume.
The A's had two chances to perform their new ritual in the dugout, raising their arms to form a slugger's arch for Reddick and then Yoenis Cespedes. They should be repeating the routine often this year. These two combined for 55 home runs last season, Reddick's first of more than 100 games and Cespedes' first in the United States. More seems nearly certain for 2013.
But if baseball players always did what's expected of them in April, the 2012 A's wouldn't have reached the playoffs with a roster stripped of three All-Star pitchers from the year before. They wouldn't have won a division title with a staff that contained four rookie starters down the stretch. They wouldn't have become -- with all due respect to Baltimore -- the most exhilarating team in Major League Baseball.
To everybody telling me to shave or those who will tell me to shave. NO- josh Reddick (@joshreddick16) April 3, 2013
So let's skip the predictions here, except for one. The A's will have a blast, and so will anyone following them. They will play like the pups they are (their Opening Day roster was the youngest in the AL at 28.03 average years). They will be uniquely themselves --"It's my face, I can do what I want with it'' -- while their mischief steals attention from the class valedictorians across the Bay. They won't make Oakland forget that the owners desperately want to move the club to San Jose, but they will cushion the resentment.
Will the good times lead to another playoff appearance? Do we even want to get into the chicken-egg debate about team chemistry and winning? Not really. The fun will be its own reward, offsetting the bleakness of low attendance and memories of enormous talent traded away or chronically injured (see Rich Harden, Bobby Crosby and Dallas Braden).
Cespedes should find this season particularly lighthearted. Relatives, including his mother, tried to leave Cuba last year and ended up in detention for almost four months as illegal immigrants in the Turks and Caicos Islands. They were arrested on the last weekend of the 2012 regular season. They finally came to Miami, and Cespedes took a short break from spring training to go see them.
His homer on Thursday slammed a concrete embankment in left field and bounced away as if, left to its own devices, the ball had miles to go. The Mariners intentionally walked him in the eighth with a man on third and one out. They were losing 7-2 at the time. If you need a prediction on Cespedes' season, extrapolate from that.
The loyalists at the Coliseum were furious at the curtailment of another Cespedes show, and they gave rookie Nate Freiman an ovation when he drilled a deep fly that brought in the run. They'd already developed a little infatuation with Freiman, a quintessential Oakland Athletic. He is 26, a Duke alum, and a 6-foot-8 first baseman who saw his first major-league action this week. He had two hits in his debut Wednesday night, the first of which prompted him to clap as he ran down the first-base line. "That was kind of unprofessional,'' he said. "But that was the little kid in me.''
Freiman was far more poised when he answered the inevitable question about whether his height ever drew attention from his alma mater's famed basketball coach. He's had a lot of practice. "Coach K had his guys,'' he said, sounding rehearsed. This was not the first time he had rolled out a version of the line.
Indirectly, Freiman did go to Duke because of his height. All of the other big schools recruiting him looked saw him and immediately thought "pitcher,'' refusing to move off the idea when he said he wanted to hit. In some ways, that backstory makes him the perfect Billy Beane specimen, improperly assessed by physical appearance rather than performance.
Freiman spent four years in the minors, never rising above double-A. Then A's picked him up at the end of spring training from the Astros. Conventional wisdom suggests he won't stick with the team, but conventional wisdom rarely gains much traction when applied to the A's. Freiman fits in too well in one respect. He hit 24 homers but also struck out 95 times in 581 plate appearances last season; the A's led the majors in whiffs last season.
Freiman is one of the few major leaguers who has ever caddied in an LPGA Tournament and induced teammates in the minors to watch women's golf. His wife, Amanda Blumenherst, plays on the tour, and he has caddied for her eight times.
"Nobody said anything,'' he said. "They didn't mind watching the women play.''
Wednesday's starting pitcher, A.J. Griffin, began last season in double-A, eventually came up and went 7-1 in Oakland with a 3.06 ERA. The 25-year-old has a surfer personality in the clubhouse, and an assassin's on the mound. His blonde hair has been growing out for a year; "I figure might as well keep going, like Forrest Gump,'' he said.
A Tom Hanks theme is emerging, appropriately enough since the Oscar winner sold peanuts at the Coliseum in his youth. Reddick has begun to look like the lead in "Castaway.''
He has a bet with WWE star Daniel Bryan, to see who can sprout the longest beard by the end of the year. Reddick has told teammates not to let him give into temptation when August humidity gets trapped in the beard, turning his chin and neck into a sauna. But it looked remarkably neat before Thursday's game, as if he had trimmed some stray ends.
"No, I didn't cut it,'' he said. "I groomed it.'' In response to a puzzled look, he explained: "With detangler.''
Find another clubhouse where that conversation happens. Just try. It's the A's little world, and they can do what they want with it.