OAKLAND – Pitching for the A’s on Monday night against the Angels will be like nothing Kendall Graveman has ever experienced.
It’s opening night, after all. Or Opening Night, depending on how into it you are.
Graveman is into it. But he disputes the face that he’s never been in a similar situation. He was the top starter for Mississippi State in 2013 when he started the first game of the College World Series against third-ranked Oregon State.
It wasn’t just the Bulldogs’ first game. It was the tournament’s first game, so the then-almost new TD Ameritrade Park was packed – about 30,000 were in the stadium, which is a feat since the place only holds about 24,000 unless you want to stand and watch.
There won’t be much standing to watch for the Monday opener, but the same level of excitement is to be expected.
“I know that Monday will be like nothing else, and I couldn’t be more excited to start the opener,” Graveman said. “But that opening night in Omaha, that seemed like the biggest game in the world at the time.
“There were 30,000 there, there was a lot of ceremony, it was what we’d prepared the whole season for. So I want to take a little of what I learned that night into Monday.”
It’s a big deal for a Bulldog like Graveman, capital “B” optional.
“Mississippi State has never won a national title in anything,” he said. “Now the women have a chance to win the basketball team on Monday. I’ll be wearing some crimson for them.”
If you are looking for omens, Graveman became the first Mississippi State pitcher to pitch more than four innings in 10 post-season starts that year, and while he didn’t get the win, he left with the lead and Mississippi State beat the third-ranked Beavers.
Graveman isn’t thinking about that as much as he’s thinking about what worked for him on June 15, 2013.
“It’s all about the little things I was able to do that night,” Graveman said. “I was able to go out and breathe. And I was able to slow the game down. That meant I could throw the pitches I wanted to.
“I’ve pitched in games before this spring, last year, and the year before that. So I think it’ll be exciting, but I don’t think it will be time for nerves. I just have to go out and do what I do.”
Ricky Nolasco, who emerged as a capable starter for the Angels after a 2016 mid-season trade moved him from the Twins, will pitch for the Anaheim crew. He’s 3-2 with a 3.38 ERA and 0.958 WHIP in seven career starts against Oakland. He’d been undefeated against the A’s before going 1-2 with a 367 ERA and 0.889 WHIP last season.
It is perhaps more important this season than ever for the A’s to get off to a quick start if Oakland is going to be competitive in the American League West. Of the A’s first 26 games, 23 are against AL West competition, so a fast start would be a boon. Conversely, a slow start could bury Oakland in the division.
In April the A’s play the Angels seven times, the Rangers six times, the Astros six times and the Mariners four times. It’s do-or-die early for Oakland.
“We’re in it right away with the division,” Melvin said. “We play everybody, it seems like. I don’t know what the number is. Other than Kansas City, it’s basically the division. You’d like to get off to a good start in the division.
“And the Angels present many challenges. They have very high profile guys, they like to move around, they like to hit and run, and create some action. So we have to be ready for that kind of thing. They always have the potential to be a very good team, especially with guys like Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. They’ve added to their roster, and there is more speed and athleticism. So it’s going to be a very good team we’ve got to deal with.
“And it’s a four-game series, too. You’ll get to know them very quickly, not that these teams don’t know each other very well.”
The A’s have pumped $4 million into upgrades for the Coliseum, which is being used as the A’s home for the 50th consecutive season. The West Side Club is no more, rebuild into what the club is calling the Shibe Park Tavern, an homage to the original club’s home in Philadelphia. The plaza area between the Coliseum and the Arena has been transformed into a giant food court with a variety of food trucks in for each game.
–Although the A’s-Angels opener starts at 7:05, the pre-game begins at 6:20 with lead radio announcer Ken Korach handling a presentation honoring the late Bill King, who is going into the broadcasting wing of baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown later this season.
–The playing field is being named after Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson, and the longtime A’s outfielder and leadoff hitter will be honored after the team introductions with the help of James Guinn, the first A’s scout to track him out of Oakland Tech High, and longtime buddy, teammate and fellow Oakland native Dave Stewart. Henderson will throw the game’s ceremonial first pitch to Stewart.
–The Coliseum has been updated with Wi-Fi throughout the lower bowl of the ballpark, and handrails are being added throughout the park, although not all of them will be in by Monday.