As the A's went through the paces of opening night batting practice, a solitary voice cried out from the stands."Hey," the male fan yelled out to the guys in green and gold, "who are you guys?"Some three hours later, Yoenis Cespedes gave not only the paying customer, but the entire sold-out crowd at the Oakland Coliseum an answer. A thundering, 462-foot, shake-Mt. Davis-to-its-bloody-core retort.Cespedes, the Cuban defector whose rights were surprisingly won by the notoriously thrifty A's, announced his presence with authority, to borrow a line from the seminal baseball classic "Bull Durham." His fourth-inning home run, a two-out, two-run blast on a 2-and-1, 84-mph fastball down the pipe that ricocheted off the facade of the second deck in left-center field, was a thing of monstrous wonderand beauty.It echoed Miguel Tejada at the height of his powers. Bo Jackson in the 1989 All-Star Game. Frank Thomas in his epic 2006 season with the A's."I've hit some farther in Cuba," a chagrined Cespedes said in Spanish.Indeed, it was the hardest-sounding hit ball by an A's batter since The Big Hurt made a run at the MVP award six years ago. Yes, "sounding."Because even when Cespedes took batting practice, you could tell when it was him in the cage. Simply by the sound of the ball coming off his bat. The same way you could tell it was Thomas taking his hacks."You don't see too many here at night that go that far," offered A's manager Bob Melvin. "He'll hit them farther than that."Granted, Thomas should be in Cooperstown in a few years while Cespedes was playing his third -- ever -- game in the major leagues. So the comparison is oh-so unfair. But this is what happens when a moribund franchise in desperate need of a marquee player that makes you stop what you're doing every time he comes to the plate lands such a hitter.The way Tejada did. And Jackson. And yes, Thomas.Even when the 5-foot-10, 210-pounder -- he looks much larger -- is striking out. As he did in the sixth inning. Swinging. And in the eighth. Looking.These A's, though, seem to get stage fright under the bright lights of opening night. In falling to Seattle, 7-3, the A's lost their eighth straight Coliseum opener.And you expected Cespedes to have butterfiies?Nerves are what Cespedes experienced as he planned his defection last summer to the Dominican Republic. When the five-tool player left behind everything and anything he has ever known. When he put pen to paper to sign that four-year, 36-million contract with the A's to realize a dream of playing in Las Grandes Ligas.In eight seasons playing for Granma in Cuba's Serie Nacional, Cespedes hit 177 home runs. And in his final season, he batted .333 with 30 homers and 99 RBI in 90 games.So yeah, he could rake. But the Mariners also showed respect for his arm, the speedy Chone Figgins not daring test him by tagging from third base on a medium-range fly ball in the third inning."He looks to be a true center fielder," Melvin said.But in getting full extension on his home run, the 26-year-old rookie pulled the most veteran of moves in admiring his shot at the plate before embarking on his fanciful trip around the bases.In Cuba, where the games have more showmanship than stateside, Cespedes would have watched the flight of his ball longer, and with more aplomb.Instead"What are you doing?" Cespedes asked himself, before sheepishly realizing where he was and exiting the box.Eight days earlier, on another continent, Cespedes homered off Seattle's Shawn Kelly in the Tokyo Dome. So when his 462-foot bomb off Jason Vargas cleared the fence, Cespedes become only the second A's batter since 1918 to homer twice in his first three games.The other? His Cuban countryman Bert Campaneris, who did it in 1964for the Kansas City Athletics.Cespedes raised his brow in wonderment."I'm very content to hear that," he said. "He was not only one of the best players with the A's, but one of the best to come from Cuba. So to be in his company, that makes me very happy."Who are these guys?Cespedes more than introduced himself.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura, whose electric arm and confident demeanor helped lead his long-suffering team to the 2015 World Series title, died in a car crash in his native Dominican Republic early Sunday. He was 25.
With the fitting nickname of "Ace," Ventura burst onto the baseball scene with a 100 mph fastball and an explosive attitude to match. He was a fierce competitor always willing to challenge hitters inside, then deal with the ramifications when they decided to charge the mound.
Not surprisingly, he quickly became a fan favorite as Kansas City embraced baseball once again.
"Our prayers right now are with Yordano's family as we mourn this young man's passing," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said in a statement. "He was so young and so talented, full of youthful exuberance and always brought a smile to everyone he interacted with. We will get through this as an organization, but right now is a time to mourn and celebrate the life of Yordano."
Highway patrol spokesman Jacobo Mateo said Ventura died on a highway leading to the town of Juan Adrian, about 40 miles northwest of Santo Domingo. Mateo did not say whether Ventura was driving.
Also Sunday, former major league infielder Andy Marte died in a separate car accident in the Dominican Republic. Metropolitan traffic authorities said he died about 95 miles north of the capital.
"We are deeply saddened to learn of the tragic passing of Andy Marte and Yordano Ventura," players union executive Tony Clark said. "It's never easy to lose a member of our fraternity, and there are no words to describe the feeling of losing two young men in the prime of their lives. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families, friends, teammates and fans throughout the United States and Latin America."
Ventura is the second young pitching star to die in past four months. Marlins ace Jose Fernandez was among three men killed in a boating accident in late September, when the 24-year-old pitcher's boat crashed into a jetty off Miami Beach in the early morning hours.
Ventura went 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA in 2014, his first full season in the big leagues, and helped the long-downtrodden Royals reach the World Series for the first time since 1985. He proceeded to dominate San Francisco in both of his starts, though the Royals would ultimately lose in seven games.
In an eerie coincidence, Ventura paid tribute to his friend and countryman, Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras, with a handwritten message on his cap during Game 6. Taveras also was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic, and his funeral occurred just hours before Ventura stepped on the mound.
The following year, now firmly entrenched in the rotation, Ventura helped lead Kansas City back to the World Series, pitching well in two starts against Toronto in the AL championship Series. The Royals went on to beat the New York Mets in five games to win their second championship.
Not surprisingly, the Royals moved quickly to sign their burgeoning young ace to a five-year contract through the 2019 season that included two more options that could have kept him in Kansas City.
He wound up pitching his entire career for the Royals, going 38-31 with a 3.89 ERA.
Born June 3, 1991, in Samana, Dominican Republic, Ventura represented a true rags-to-riches story. He quit school at 14 and was laboring on a construction crew to support his family when Ventura heard about a tryout, which led to a spot in the Royals' academy located on his picturesque island home.
Still, the odds were long that Ventura would ever make it to the big leagues. Very few players from the Dominican academies reached the pinnacle of the sport.
But over time, Ventura was able to harness one of the most electric fastballs that scouts had seen in years, and his headstrong and confident nature was essential in his rapid rise. He made his big league debut to great fanfare in 2013, allowing just one run again Cleveland in a sign of things to come.
He eventually became a cornerstone of a youth movement that included young stars such as first baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas, one that carried the Royals first to respectability, then to the top of the American League — rare heights the organization had not experienced in decades.
Hosmer took to Twitter upon hearing the news of Ventura's death, saying: "I love you my brother. I'm in disbelief and don't know what to say. I love you ACE."
Moustakas also expressed disbelief, tweeting: "I love you Ace. I don't know what to say other than I'm going to miss you a lot. RIP ACE."
Kurt Suzuki is headed back to the National League.
After three seasons in the American League with the Twins, the former A's backstop has reportedly agreed to a one-year deal with the Braves.
News of the agreement was first reported by SB Nation.
Suzuki will reportedly make $1.5 million, according to Fox Sports. He has a chance to make an addition $2.5 million in incentives.
The 33-year-old Suzuki was drafted by the A's in the second round of 2004 MLB Draft. He made his debut with Oakland in 2007 and was the starting catcher until a 2012 trade to Washington. A year later, the Nationals traded Suzuki back to the A's for the final five weeks of the season.
Prior to the 2014 season, Suzuki signed with Twins. In three seasons with Minnesota, Suzuki hit .263/.316/.364 with 75 doubles, 16 home runs and 160 RBI.
Suzuki will likely serve as a back-up to catcher Tyler Flowers.
Braves sign catcher Kurt Suzuki, source tells SB Nation.— Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) January 21, 2017
Source: Suzuki contract with #Braves will be one-year, major-league deal.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 21, 2017
Source: Suzuki deal with #Braves will be one year, $1.5M with $2.5M in incentives.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 21, 2017