Coco Crisp leading by example

Coco Crisp leading by example
March 13, 2013, 10:00 am
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Coco Crisp's 88.2 stolen base percentage (120-for-136) is the best in A's history. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

I just try to go out there and have fun and just enjoy it. If it comes off in a positive way that's a great thing.
—Coco Crisp

Oakland Athletics outfielder Coco Crisp stepped into the batting cage and noticed several baseballs still littered about the ground. He looked toward the group of prospects that had just finished hitting and jokingly asked them if they were going to help clean up the cage.

As the group of young ballplayers shrugged their shoulders not quite sure how to respond to the veteran, Crisp picked up each left-behind baseball. He was clearly sending them a message in the most polite way possible.

He then put on a show, spraying baseballs all over the field. With his exuberant personality on display, he had a grin each time he stepped out of the cage. After the session, Crisp and the hitters in his group picked up their baseballs left in the cage.

It was a very minor and completely overlooked aspect of practice that day at Papago Park, but it was a demonstration of one of the many ways a guy like Crisp is leading the team.

"He leads by example," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "When you have guys like that working in the fashion that he does, especially with his stature, guys have to fall into place."

Crisp was one of the first position players to arrive to camp. On the day that pitchers and catchers reported, so did he. He didn't arrive empty handed. He broke out a red boom box and cranked up the music. Thanks to Crisp, at 12:46 p.m. on the first day of camp, the A's were already "moving like Bernie."

"He's doing a great job, he comes in here cranks up the tunes when nobody else would," Josh Reddick said. "He's always a good guy. He's always in a good mood. He seems to be picking up people left and right when they are quiet or whatnot."

Crisp's acts of leadership aren't all part of a calculated plan. The role is coming naturally to him.

"I don't really think about it," Crisp said. "I just try to go out there and have fun and just enjoy it. If it comes off in a positive way that's a great thing."

In the absence of some of last season's main clubhouse leaders like Brandon McCarthy, Jonny Gomes and Brandon Inge, Crisp seems to be filling the void left by Inge the most.

There wasn't a situation in the clubhouse last year the veteran third baseman couldn't find a way to make a joke about. He kept everyone loose. He routinely staged hockey games just outside the clubhouse prior to first pitch -- complete with all of the equipment and a goal. When he arrived he showed the team they could be serious about winning, but keep it light inside. It seemed to change the culture of the team last year, and it made an impression on Crisp.

"You see Inge as a guy that's been in the game for a long time, he's been through ups and downs and adversities but he still has the most youthful personality of everybody I've ever played with," Crisp said. "A guy that has been around the game for a little while, he's older than me, to see that was, 'wow.'

"It makes you enjoy the game a little bit more."

Throughout this spring, Crisp has been the guy that is looking like he is having the most fun.

Last season, he was in a different place earlier in the year. The career center fielder struggled as he was moved to left field, a position he hadn't played since 2005, and out of the leadoff spot. In his first 38 games he hit .172. When he was moved back to leadoff, he hit .296 over his final 82 games and made each of his 78 starts atop the order. Crisp tied for the American League lead with 23 stolen bases and five triples after the All-Star break.

Crisp has reached over 30 stolen bases in all three of his seasons with the A's. His 88.2 (120-for-136) stolen base percentage with the team is the best in A's history. He stole 39 bases in 2012 and was only caught stealing four times.

A happy Crisp is a productive Crisp. A productive Crisp is lightning fast.

He is on the second year of a two-year, $14 million deal with a club option for a third season worth $7.5 million. After he signed that contract, he sat down for the A's preview show, looked into the camera and said he came back because he believed the team was playoff contender. While most scoffed at that notion, he ended up being right.

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