It can be said with the utmost of certainty that every little league baseball player dreams of someday making it to the major leagues. It is far less common that a big leaguer admires something that a group of talented 12-year-olds is achieving on the field. As the Petaluma National Little League team enters play in the 66th Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania -- the tables of fandom have turned. And rightfully so. Oakland Athletics outfielder Jonny Gomes is closely following the run of his hometown little league team. He is so into it, in fact, that he has to find a way to sneak in score updates while he is competing in games of his own at the highest level of professional baseball. The major league outfielder is happy to report the developments of the Petaluma kids to anyone in the dugout that will listen. "I mean it is pretty special," Gomes said. "Growing up in that town, it's not like Petaluma area, or near Petaluma. It IS Petaluma." Of the over 4,000 teams vying for a spot in the coveted Little League World Series, the kids from Petaluma represent one of 16 teams that have made it to the tournament. They are thrilled to have a major league-caliber supporter. "They know that Jonny has been paying attention and is asking about them," Petaluma National Little League coach Eric Smith said. "He's called me a couple of times and mentioned what he was doing when he was watching the games and stuff, so the kids are pretty excited just that he's even paying attention." Gomes is using his star status to help raise money to send the families of the Petaluma team to the Little League World Series. Comcast Sportsnet, the A's and the Giants also helped raise 15,000 to offset their travel costs. Little League International foots the bill for the players and coaches travel, but not their family members. Each trip costs an estimated 2,500.On Wednesday they announced they reached their fundraising goal. While Jonny Gomes helps in any way he can, the work his older brother Joey has done for the Petaluma kids has been one of the keys to their success. Joey runs the Redwood Baseball Institute in Santa Rosa. It is the largest indoor batting facility in the North Bay. Many of the kids on Petaluma's Little League World Series team have been training under his instruction for years."He's a lot more hands-on than I am," Jonny said of his brother. "He's getting all the youth from all over the area in there. He's like a proud father watching his work show in between the lines."Joey was an accomplished baseball player in his own right, as an All-American in High School and College. But his real knack is teaching the game. "Joey has been huge, not just for the kids but for me," PNLL coach Smith said. "A lot of these kids have been going to Joey for batting tips for many years or more. Joey has been a big part of our success."Coach Smith's son Hance also goes to Joey for instruction. Joey isn't just teaching Hance however, he is also indirectly teaching the coach who implements some of Joey's teachings on his own team. "Mentoring, coaching, all aspects of the game. It has been an absolute pleasure to be a part of that," Joey said. "How could you not rally around a group of 12-year-old kids that are essentially one of the top teams in the U.S.A.? It's phenomenal.""It takes a big talent to teach the game," Jonny said. "Even up here in the big leagues I've worked with Hall of Famers who have no idea how to teach it, they just know how to do it. He's got a pretty good tool to give back to these kids."Joey uses his younger brother Jonny as a template for his teaching. Being able to give instruction, then point to the examples of the hard work and hustle exemplified by his big league brother is a perfect recipe. "Jonny Gomes is my favorite baseball player too," Joey said. "He is the epitome of the way you should play the game." Joey says that he and his brother Jonny were taught to play the game as hard as they can. When players of all levels come to him for instruction they always ask him about things Jonny is doing on the field. As they say, the proof is in the pudding. "I guess we are just seeing a bunch of kids playing the game the right way," Joey said. "And boom! World Series." Jonny Gomes is often referred to as the "Pride of Petaluma." He says his brother Joey might rightfully own that title. "Maybe we can share that or something," Joey said. "He is just as much a part of Petaluma as anyone else is. Both Jonny and I are proud of where we came from. Just the fact baseball has taken over in Petaluma is really exciting for both of us, really."He isn't kidding. With the successful run of the Petaluma National Little League team, the interest level has expanded well beyond the confines of the small city of less than 60,000 residents. Their team proudly represents the entire state of California now. The only other West Coast team to make it to Williamsport is from Gresham, Oregon. "We've gotten letters of support from all over the Bay Area," coach Smith said. "The way these kids carry themselves they've helped build support at these tournaments by just being good stewards of the game."A's manager Bob Melvin even took the time to give the players a pep talk via speaker phone on Wednesday. "They're representing themselves, little league baseball, their families, it's really quite an honor," Joey said. "Obviously this is something that these kids are going to remember forever."Petaluma's team went 4-0 to win the West Regional Championship. They are the first Sonoma County team to make it to the Little League World Series, and the first Northern California team to advance to the World Series since the Aptos Little League did it in 2002. "World Series has a ring to it," coach Smith said. "It is hard to believe every time I hear it."Petaluma takes the field at 12 p.m. on Thursday. They will be taking on the Fairfield American Little League team from Connecticut."Watch the way those guys play, they just get it," Joey said. "Yes, they are 12 by age, but they are well beyond their years with the composure, and the confidence and the little swagger that they have."
MESA, Ariz. — Gaudy run totals in spring training usually don’t mean a whole lot once the regular season hits.
For A’s manager Bob Melvin, it’s the manner in which the A’s are going about things offensively that’s encouraging to him.
Oakland jumped on another opponent early, scoring five runs in the first Friday and rolling to an 8-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox. Granted, Chicago scratched starter Carlos Rodon in the morning and had to piece the game together with its bullpen.
But that only takes so much luster off the way the A’s are going about their business right now. They’ve won four in a row, and over their past five games they’ve racked up 71 hits and are averaging more than eight runs per contest in that span.
“The good thing is it’s contagious throughout the lineup,” Melvin said. “In the first inning alone we had four situational at-bats and four situational plusses. That’s something Bushy (hitting coach Darren Bush) really has been stressing all spring. We’ve had a lot of games where we just pass it on to the next guy, and if we’re gonna be successful this year, that’s what we’re gonna have to do is get contributions throughout the lineup.”
It’s interesting to watch how Melvin utilizes Matt Joyce. Early on he said he prefers the right fielder batting third when he’s in the lineup. But Joyce also is drawing starts at leadoff, as he did Friday, and the No. 2 spot. Increasing on-base percentage is a big need for the A’s, and Joyce entered Friday tied for the Cactus league lead with 10 walks.
He singled to spark a five-run first that included RBI singles from Trevor Plouffe, Yonder Alonso, Mark Canha and Chris Parmelee.
ELITE COMPANY: Melvin threw out some big-time names when asked who young third baseman Matt Chapman reminds him of.
One was Melvin’s former Giants teammate, Matt Williams, a five-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glover.
“The defense, Matty was as good as anybody I've seen over at third base,” Melvin said. “The power, there are a lot of similarities. That’s probably the best comp I could think of.”
Melvin also mentioned current Rockies star third baseman Nolan Arenado, who has won four consecutive Gold Gloves and posted back-to-back 40-homer seasons.
Not a bad couple of guys to be compared to.
“That’s exciting,” Chapman said. “It’s always nice to have people speak well of you. Those are two guys that I’m aware of how good they are.”
NOTEWORTHY: It was another start Friday where Kendall Graveman seemed to be on auto pilot, retiring hitters with ease and holding the White Sox to one run over seven innings. All the more impressive was that A’s hitters put together some very long half-innings, where Graveman had to make sure he stayed loose.
He simply took it as a good challenge to prepare for all those cold night games at the Coliseum. Named the A’s Opening Night starter just a day earlier, Graveman also used this start to focus on his cutter, being that his sinker has been locked in.
“It was good to have some innings where you have to sit for a while and go back out there,” Graveman said.
His ERA is 2.29 through five starts. He has one more tune-up before the April 3 opener against the Los Angeles Angels.
HEALTH UPDATES: Outfielder Jaff Decker continues to progress from his oblique injury. Now the key is whether he can return to games in time to make a final push for the 25-man roster. Alejandro De Aza appears to be his biggest competition to be the fifth outfielder, if the A’s end up carrying five.
“It just depends on when he gets in a game,” Melvin said of Decker. “I mean, he’s done enough obviously to make a big impression on us. But whether or not he’s even healthy enough at the end, we’ll see.”
ODDS AND ENDS: Ryon Healy swatted his fifth homer of the spring, a two-run shot, in the second inning. Entering Friday evening, Healy was tied for the major league lead in RBI (16) with Boston’s Pablo Sandoval. … Plouffe is on a recent tear and has lifted his average to .395. … Parmelee, a non-roster outfielder, is impressing in under-the-radar fashion. The left-handed hitter is batting .367. … Melvin is having a heck of a time getting switch hitter Jed Lowrie at-bats from the right side. He purposely switched things up to have Lowrie face the lefty Rodon on Friday, only to have Rodon get scratched. The A’s face lefties each of the next two days, and Melvin also mentioned sending Lowrie over to face minor league lefties if need be.
CHICAGO -- Corey Seager helped the Los Angeles Dodgers make it all the way to the NL Championship Series last year. Michael Fulmer developed into a reliable part of Detroit's rotation, winning 11 games for the Tigers with a 3.06 ERA.
Here is a closer look at a group of rookies hoping to have a similar impact this season:
-OF Andrew Benintendi, Boston Red Sox: There is a lot to love about the 22-year-old Benintendi, who rocketed through Boston's minor league system after the Red Sox grabbed him with the seventh overall pick in the 2015 draft. He made it to the majors last August and hit .295 with two homers and 14 RBIs in 34 games. He also went deep in the AL Division Series against Cleveland.
-2B Yoan Moncada, Chicago White Sox: The Cuban slugger was acquired by Chicago in the blockbuster deal that sent lefty ace Chris Sale to Boston. The rebuilding White Sox plan to go slow with Moncada, who just turned 21 in September. But he could bring his powerful swing and athleticism to Chicago's starting lineup at some point this summer.
-RHP Jose De Leon, Tampa Bay Rays: The chance to bring in De Leon was just too tempting for the Rays, who got the right-hander in a January trade with the Dodgers for second baseman Logan Forsythe. De Leon, who likely will begin the year with Triple-A Durham, made his major league debut in September and was 2-0 with a 6.35 ERA in four starts. He went 7-1 with a 2.61 ERA in 16 starts last year at Triple-A Oklahoma City, where he was sidelined for stretches by ankle and shoulder injuries.
-SS Gleyber Torres, New York Yankees: The speedy Torres was the youngest MVP in the history of the Arizona Fall League last year at age 19. He carried that success into spring training, drawing praise for his impressive skills and maturity. The Yankees appear set at shortstop for now, but Torres could make it to New York soon.
-RHP Jharel Cotton, Oakland Athletics: Cotton dazzled in his first stint in the majors last year, going 2-0 with a 2.15 ERA in five starts. He was acquired by the Athletics in the August trade that sent Rich Hill and Josh Reddick to the Dodgers.
-OF Bradley Zimmer, Cleveland Indians: The 6-foot-5 Zimmer drew praise from Indians manager Terry Francona this spring for his bat and improvement in the outfield. Zimmer, a first-round pick in2014 from the University of San Francisco, batted .250 with 15 homers and 62 RBIs in two minor league stops last season.
-RHP Tyler Glasnow, Pittsburgh Pirates: The 23-year-old Glasnow struggled a bit in his first stint in the majors last year, but the 6-8 right-hander looked great this spring. He went 8-3 with a 1.87 ERA in 20 starts at Triple-A Indianapolis in 2016.
-SS Dansby Swanson, Atlanta Braves: The Kennesaw, Georgia, native played college ball at Vanderbilt before he was selected by Arizona with the first pick of the 2015 draft. The Diamondbacks traded him to Atlanta six months later, and he hit .302 with three homers and 17 RBIs in 38 games with the Braves last year. He was slowed by back stiffness this spring, but he has the look of a budding star.
-OF Dylan Cozens, Philadelphia Phillies: The 2012 second-round pick had 40 homers, 125 RBIs and 21 steals in 134 games for Double-A Reading last season. He is expected to begin this year with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, but his major league debut could be soon.
-OF Lewis Brinson, Milwaukee Brewers: The future of Milwaukee's outfield looks pretty good, with Brinson, Brett Phillips and Ryan Cordell slated to begin the year at Triple-A Colorado Springs. Brinson, who arrived last August in the Jonathan Lucroy trade with Texas, hit .268 with 15 homers and 61 RBIs over three minor league stops in 2016.
-OF Hunter Renfroe, San Diego Padres: The 25-year-old Renfroe has big-time power. He was promoted late last year and connected against San Francisco ace Madison Bumgarner for his first major league homer on Sept. 24. He also hit the first-ever home run onto the top of the Western Metal Supply Co. brick warehouse in left at cavernous Petco Park.
-1B Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers: The son of former Yankees outfielder Clay Bellinger hit 23 homers for Double-A Tulsa last year. With Adrian Gonzalez entrenched at first, Cody Bellinger, 21, also could play in the outfield to speed his ascension to the majors.