Baseball the cool kids at the party for now

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Baseball the cool kids at the party for now

Its about mood and feel. Its always about mood and feel. In the Bay Area, it has always been about finding the coolest party, and right now, with all due respect to the opening of the NFL season, the coolest parties have baseball players running around on the dance floor.In one of those happy coincidences, the San Francisco Baseball Associates Limited Partnership and the Oakland Athletics Baseball Company are both neck-deep in pennant races for the first time in a decade, and even for outsiders whose allegiances arent already compromised by either other teams or chemical objections, they are as fun a diversion as there is in an area thick with them.And while this has been, is, and will always be a football-first area when all things are equal, all things right now are frankly not that equal.The 49ers are coming off their most rewarding season since 1981 rewarding because the best kind of championship is the surprise championship but its been a long time since they plied their trade in a real game, and excitement must be rebuilt slowly. The Raiders are so new that they may as well have moved to town from Jacksonville. The field is awfully crowded for Cal, Stanford and especially San Jose State, and has been for years. The Warriors are two months away, and the Sharks four, at the very least. The Earthquakes have the best record in MLS, but its MLS while the best European teams have begun their seasons so traction is a problem.In the meantime, there are the SFBALP and OABC. Their season has been compressed to one month, and even allowing for the more languid pace of baseball, nothing beats the adrenaline of daily results. The NFL is mostly buildup, but a pennant race is constant stimulation that the 21st century cannot help but embrace.You know, like every party that didnt involve a table and playing Cards Against Humanity with your sedentary and drunken friends.This may smack of a generation-past argument, but September baseball that matters is hard to beat. And to get it twice at the same time is the whole reason to have two teams close enough to argue about mythical territorial rights.Every game matters now in ways that 49ers-Cardinals could only hope to pretend to replicate. Every argument lasts only as long as the starting pitcher does, and every pitching move either exposes or extols the manager. No guess is not seconded, no move is too small to bitch about, and every inning comes with its own legal amphetamine supply.Counter that with one game, once a week. Two days, tops, of agonizing over the events of the game just done, three or four days of time-wasting (Hey, what do think would happen if Colin Kaepernick had Green Lanterns power ring?), then a day of discussion prep for the next game.This schedule shortens in November and December when the games become more important, but in September, football is mostly the opening act, when even the genuinely unwatchable teams havent been eliminated yet. Baseball in September is the headliner.And with any luck, we will go through September with four or five teams in each league in the race until the end. Front-running is dull, unimaginative, cheap and weasely. Daily uncertainty is better, and the chaos of multiple scenarios is best of all.So party down, kids. Football will always be there the NFL has seen to that. But for a month, baseball comes through us. Thats why two teams are better than one, thats why the As and Giants must coexist no matter what the Giants might want, and thats why every passing day makes us all cooler than the day before.Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

A's spring training Day 9: Alcantara trying to add new wrinkle

A's spring training Day 9: Alcantara trying to add new wrinkle

MESA, Ariz. — Right-hander Raul Alcantara, who could factor in as a starting or long relief option for the A’s, is experimenting with a split-finger fastball this spring.

Alcantara, who made five late-season starts last season in his first big league call-up, threw the pitch for the first time to hitters Tuesday, so he’s still in the infant stages with it. The A’s would like Alcantara to develop a solid third pitch to go with his fastball and changeup, though he does dabble with a curve and cutter too.

“In general, we’re looking for a ball that’s gonna dive, something where the bottom’s gonna fall out,” Oakland bullpen coach Scott Emerson said.

Alcantara, 24, faces crowded competition for the No. 5 starter spot with Jesse Hahn, Andrew Triggs and Paul Blackburn among those also going for it. Claiming the last spot in a seven-man bullpen is a possibility, though the A’s could surely utilize a second left-hander to go along with Sean Doolittle.

Making Alcantara’s case more interesting is that he’s out of minor league options, meaning he would need to make it through waivers unclaimed before the A’s could send him down.

Alcantara throws a hard changeup that clocked 86-87 miles per hour last season. Ideally, Emerson said his splitter would settle in the low 80’s.

Speaking through interpreter Juan Dorado, Alcantara said he’s gradually getting a feel for the new pitch.

“Obviously it’s a little more difficult on the hitters to know that there’s a different pitch,” he said. “They’re used to me throwing a fastball, a cutter and a change, and now implementing a split would just help me out to show them something different.”

CAMP BATTLE: Lefty Ross Detwiler, who re-signed with Oakland in the winter on a minor league deal, offers depth as a potential swing man who can start or relieve. Detwiler went 2-4 with a 6.14 ERA in nine games (seven starts) last season for the A’s. Those numbers look ugly in a short sample size, but Melvin values the veteran beyond what the stats show.

“I think he liked being here and we wanted him back.”

QUOTABLE: “I must be a little behind this year because the guys are hitting me a little harder than they normally do. Healy took me over the batter’s eye three times in a row.” — Melvin, who throws a couple rounds of batting practice every day.

NOTEWORTHY: The A’s will hold a pair of two-inning intrasquad games Thursday at the Lew Wolff Training Complex, with both set to start at 11:40 a.m.

Melvin happy that pace-of-play rules changes didn't go further

Melvin happy that pace-of-play rules changes didn't go further

MESA, Ariz. — A’s manager Bob Melvin can live with Major League Baseball’s altered intentional-walk rule. He’s just glad some more drastic changes weren’t implemented for 2017.

It was announced that pitchers no longer will have to toss four pitches outside the strike zone for an intentional walk. Managers will simply signal from the dugout when they want to put an opposing batter on first base.

That change is part of the effort to speed up the pace of play, although it’s debatable how much time will really be saved by eliminating traditional intentional walks. There was just one intentional walk allowed every 2.6 games in 2016.

“I was just worried about any number of new rules coming in,” Melvin said. “If this was just one they’re looking to speed up with, I’m OK with that.”

MLB management reportedly has pushed the idea of a 20-second pitch clock on pitchers — which has been used in the upper minor leagues — and limiting the number of trips managers and coaches can make to the mound, both in an effort to play games faster. Melvin is against the idea of limiting trips to the mound in particular.

“It sounds like there’s a school that thinks that’s not that important, and it really is,” he said. “Unless you’ve been out on the mound and know how quickly the game can go at times, especially in big situations … it’s our job to try to slow it down for the pitcher. For me that would have been a tough one.”

Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke critically of the players’ association for not being more receptive to some rules changes for 2017. Management can change rules without the union’s consent if it gives one-year’s notice, and Manfred reportedly intends to give that notice to the union with an idea of possibly implementing changes for 2018.

One of the more radical ideas tossed about was starting with a runner on second base in extra innings, hoping to avoid games dragging on late. Although that idea will be tried in the World Baseball Classic and possibly in some Single-A leagues, all indications are it’s unlikely to reach the majors.

“I was hoping that never got any traction,” Melvin said. “I mean, it’s just not baseball, for me. It’s like a simulated game — at the most important part of the game.”