OAKLAND The problem with the unwritten rules of baseball is that no one has a hard copy to reference.The unwritten rules are again receiving a preposterous amount of attention thanks to Al Alburquerque, who drew the ire of As players and fans by planting a kiss on a baseball before he threw to first for a rally-killing out in the Detroit Tigers Game 2 win Sunday.Yoenis Cespedes, who hit the ball that received the questionable affection, took offense to the move, as did many of his teammates. But Monday in Oakland, veteran Jonny Gomes took a more Zen approach.There are baseball gods that take care of that stuff, Gomes said. He obviously doesnt believe in them but I do.In Oaklands visitors clubhouse, Alburquerque drew a larger media scrum than Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera or Prince Fielder. Through a translator, Alburquerque explained what was going through his mind as he planted the controversial kiss.Just got caught in the emotions of the game, Alburquerque said. I respect Yoenis Cespedes; I was just excited to get that out.While Cespedes and Josh Reddick did not hold back their disgust with the perceived slight after Sundays loss, other As were more understanding Monday.I guess he got the out so he can do what he wants, infielder Cliff Pennington said.Closer Grant Balfour said he didnt see the kiss because of Detroits isolated bullpen and didnt make an effort to catch a replay, either.I didnt watch any baseball; I wanted a break from the game, Balfour said.Gerald Laird, who started the game at catcher but gave way to Alex Avila by the time Alburquerque was called in from the bullpen, tried to defend his teammate.Hes not out there trying to disrespect anyone, Laird said, adding that he understood why some As took offense. Asked for his reaction to the move, Laird said: I laughed and asked myself Did I just see what I saw?Tigers manager Jim Leyland, a self-proclaimed old-school baseball man, made no excuses for his 26-year-old reliever.I dont think it was the right thing to do, Leyland said. I will sit here today and I will not try to defend it. I will say that I can assure everybody, including the Oakland As, that Alburquerque did nothing intentionally to offend the Oakland As.We make no excuses; it happened. It shouldnt have happened. It did happen. But like I said, in no way was that meant to offend an opponent, no way. We have too much respect for the game. Too much respect for Bob Melvin and the Oakland As. If thats not acceptable, then people have to deal with it the way they want to deal with it.Melvin, when informed of Leylands respect, returned the compliment and offered his take on The Kiss Heard Round the Baseball World.I respect Jim Leyland as much as I respect anyone, Melvin said. I think there are varying degrees to all that stuff, showmanship, whatever. We were accused of something in New York that was going on in our dugout. I think everybody has different takes on that. I dont think theres one right or wrong way. Emotionally after a game when something like that happens, youre always going to hear something from somebody. But you move on. Its not a big deal for me.Melvin has at least one bigger concern than an offensive kiss. His As can kiss their Cinderella season goodbye with just one more loss.
ALAMEDA -- Marquel Lee’s NFL draft weekend wasn’t always fun, a byproduct of high hopes unrealized. The former Wake Forest linebacker slid into Saturday and waited well into the fifth round before his phone lifted spirits.
A 510 area code brought Lee out of an emotional rut, one so deep he started wondering whether he’d get drafted at all.
“When I got the call from the Raiders, everything changed,” Lee said in the latest episode of NBC Sports California’s Raiders Insider Podcast. “I was so excited to play for this organization.”
Marquel Lee wasn’t the only one. His father jumped over the moon.
“He might’ve been more excited than I was,” Marquel Lee said. “He started bawling. I’ve never seen my dad cry like that.”
Corey Lee’s tears don’t come easy. He’s a no-nonsense military man who served 11 years in the Navy before entering the private sector. He was a strict but fair father and football coach who instilled the discipline and work ethic required for his son to realize great potential.
Corey Lee is also a lifelong Raiders fan. Seeing his son get drafted by his favorite team created a perfect emotional storm.
“I’m as die-hard as they get,” Corey Lee said. “When they called his name in the fifth round, it was such a great, powerful moment. There was some relief, because he worked so hard and sacrificed to reach this point. When families were on vacation, we were in summer camps and working out hard.
“Everything we did was to prepare him for the next level. I was so proud to see him achieve a goal he had.”
Corey Lee didn’t break down completely when Marquel Lee officially became the Raiders’ fifth-round selection. This proud papa let emotion overcome for a beat, and then darted for his bedroom. He returned to the party with a brand new Raiders hat and a No. 89 Amari Cooper shirt from his vast Raiders collection.
Marquel Lee threw on dad’s gear to honor his new team and the golden opportunity to play for a linebacker-starved Raiders team.
That wasn’t Marquel Lee’s first time in silver and black. He rocked a full Raiders uniform at age 2, complete with a helmet, football pants and a Tim Brown jersey.
He donned one again when rookies reported to the Raiders offseason program earlier this month. The full-circle moment wasn’t lost on Marquel, a man proud of his past and excited about an NFL future.
“There’s a picture of me in a Raiders jersey, pants and a helmet on my second birthday,” he said. “I look at it now and think, ‘Wow. It really happened.’ I’m wearing a Raiders uniform for real. My dream is becoming a reality.”
Corey Lee grew up a Raiders fan in Southern California, going to games with his family at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Pardon Marquel for not following in those footsteps. He grew up on the East Coast when Donovan McNabb was a superstar and gravitated toward the Eagles. Ray Lewis performed in Lee’s Maryland backyard and became an athletic role model.
Marquel watched tons of NFL football with his dad, complete games where father and son would talk about strategy and scheme. Marquel would watch game tape with his father at an early age and when Corey Lee deployed with the Navy, his mother Katanya – she, too, understood football -- made sure that practice continued.
Marquel Lee was armed with natural athletic gifts and cultivated knowledge of the game, allowing him play quarterback and middle linebacker as a junior at Westlake High in Waldorf, Md. His dad was a guiding light as youth instructor, a JV head coach and a varsity linebackers coach, but took steps to separate family and football.
“As a father, I never would allow him to call me dad on a practice field or anywhere,” Corey Lee said. “I was always ‘Coach’ during the season, whether we were at home or at practice, because I wanted to keep him in that mindset.”
Football was the Lees’ primary focus back then, when the family often traded skills camps for summer vacations. Despite buzz around Marquel’s talents, Corey was against his son doing interviews with recruiting websites or ranking services. Father wanted his son’s head on straight.
Top schools were slow to come around, but gravitated after Marquel fully recovered from a torn patella and stood out early in his senior year. He chose Wake Forest, a commitment his father wanted upheld even with late interest from other programs.
His growth continued as a collegian, and took a real spike during the 2016 season. Wake Forest’s defensive leaders graduated, leaving him to assume a leadership role and put team over stats. Lee considered his junior season at Wake Forest subpar.
“I was pressing a lot, trying to rush my time and trying to get to the NFL,” Lee said. “I was on a road where I thought I wanted to leave (school) early. I was so hard on myself, especially if I didn’t produce. That’s why I said it was subpar. I don’t think I played like a team player that year.
“(The next season) I made a decision to finish what I started and be the leader I always knew I could be. I wanted to help my team get to a bowl game. I hadn’t played in one. That was a major part of me coming back in 2016. … I grew up a lot. I feel like I gained respect as a team leader, and really understood what it took to own that responsibility.”
Lee might have major responsibilities as an NFL rookie. The Raiders don’t have quality options at middle linebacker, and Lee will be allowed to compete for a starting spot. It’ll take an excellent spring and summer to earn it and give the Raiders confidence to hand an important starting spot to a rookie. The Silver and Black could add a veteran to that position group, though they have high hopes for their fifth-round pick.
“We definitely think he has the potential to start,” Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said in an interview with 95.7-The Game. “He’s a long ways away from that. We haven’t even begun to get the pads on, so a lot will be determined in training camp and the preseason. So far, he has looked very good.”
Lee considers himself well prepared for the challenges ahead, and believes he can compete at the professional level.
“I’ve been getting ready for this a long time,” Marquel Lee said. “My dad has been telling me that this experience will be different. It’s not like college anymore. It’s a job, and I have to be mentally prepared for everything I’m about to do. I’m here and I’m learning and I’m trying to do my best.”
On Thursday night, the Cavs beat the Celtics 135-102 to punch a ticket to their third straight NBA Finals.
LeBron James racked up 35 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and three steals in 35 minutes.
After the win, he was asked about the challenge of facing the Warriors.
"I'm gonna be honest -- I'm not in the right mind to even talk about Golden State," LeBron told reporters. "It's too stressful and I'm not stressed right now. I'm very happy about our accomplishment ... they've been the best team in our league the last three years and then they added an MVP.
"That's all I can get you right now because I'm happy and I don't want to be stressed."
On Christmas Day, the Cavs erased a 14-point fourth quarter deficit and Kyrie Irving hit the game-winner with 3.4 seconds remaining.
On MLK Day, Golden State jumped on the Cavs early -- leading 37-22 at the end of the first quarter and 78-49 at the half -- en route to a 126-91 victory.
For the first time in NBA history, the same two teams are facing off in the Finals for the third straight year.
Cleveland boasts a postsesaon record of 12-1.
Golden State is the only team ever to enter the Finals with a record of 12-0.
"They cause a lot of stress," LeBron added. "And I'll get to that point when we start to prepare for them."
Drew Shiller is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders and a Web Producer at NBC Sports Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter @DrewShiller