Cramer looks to pick up where he left off

Cramer looks to pick up where he left off

PHOENIX -- Last week, A's pitcher Bobby Cramer proposed to his girlfriend while recreating their first date.

Fast forward to this week, and Cramer is hoping to recreate some of the magic he found on the big league mound as a September callup last year.

If he's successful in such a venture, he'll have to plan his upcoming wedding -- and a honeymoon in a motor home venturing the country -- accordingly.

"We were thinking October, but I'd like to wait until November," Cramer said. "I don't know at what point during the season I'll be here, but I'd like to think I will and stick 'til the end of the season. I think everybody knows the excitement about this team right now. If everything goes through the way we think it can, hopefully we're still playing around that time of year."

In the meantime, Cramer is undertaking his first big league camp at age 31 after turning heads with a 2-1 record and 3.04 ERA in his first four big league starts last season. He's considered a candidate for the A's fifth-starter spot, but so are Josh Outman, Tyson Ross, Rich Harden and Brandon McCarthy -- all names that are naturally placed before his own. That under-the-radar presence, though, is one with which he's all too familiar.

"You never want to run your mouth, but obviously everyone in this game has an internal confidence in them," he said. "Some people show it a little more than others, but I'm just as confident as everyone else. I believe in myself, and I know what I can do.

"I feel like, from a numbers standpoint, I'm at the short end of the stick because of my service time. But I feel if I stay healthy and pitch the way I've always pitched, I can make staying with this team more of a legitimate chance than most people realize."

Cramer's baseball resume is well known by now, mostly for its storybook ways that include chapters that tell tales from the independent Golden League, multiple winter ball leagues, the Mexican League and the Minors, not to mention injury setbacks and stints at odd jobs during two blank seasons.

A Long Beach State alum, the left-handed Cramer wasn't drafted out of college but, rather, signed as a free agent by Tampa Bay in 2001. Tommy John surgery followed in '02 and delayed his professional debut until the next year. But by '05, Cramer was working in maintenance and safety in Shell's pipeline division and, when that job was no more, he took to teaching high school math in Orange County.

Cramer never completely walked away from the game, though. He enjoyed his season-ticket-holder status at Angel Stadium, where fate ultimately returned him -- only after ensuing years all around the Minors, not to mention time with the Tigres de Quintana Roo in Mexico for much of last year -- on Sept. 29, 2010, when he received his final start as a September callup with the A's against his hometown team.

The rookie did his part with his parents and family watching on, tossing an impressive 6 2/3 innings, giving up just one run on three hits while walking two and striking out four. But lack of run support -- the A's left nine on base that day -- and a walk-off hit from Torii Hunter off Brad Ziegler in the bottom of the 11th left the A's with the loss.

"The job he did -- he did a heckuva job in Anaheim," manager Bob Geren said. "That was a heckuva battle. He threw a ton of pitches. Our bullpen, I remember, was almost nothing that day, and he just kept going. The way he's persevered, when you have a guy that has that kind of demeanor about his game, you love that competitiveness."

It's for that very reason Geren doesn't hesitate when questioned about Cramer's status as a fifth-starter option this spring.

"He's right in that mix," the A's skipper said. "He's scheduled to be a starter through the spring, and he'll be given every opportunity.

"He'll definitely enjoy this a lot more than the young kid who has everything handed to him quickly, and he should."

Cramer's camp arrival was preceded by an offseason that, for the first time in a long time, didn't include winter ball. Instead, it was filled with a calming sense of pride and a healthy dose of hunger.

"I've never been able to experience being able to sit back and relax and enjoy what I was able to do, so that was real nice," he said. "But you can't sit there and think about it all offseason. You have to start thinking about the next season, obviously. Now that I got up there, I know I can handle myself all right. I'd like to get the chance to get there again and stay. I don't want to so much be happy with what I did as much as work on what I can still do."

Cramer's a self-proclaimed tough critic, but "you have to be," he says. He wants to return to his ground-ball roots -- he gave up five home runs in 23 2/3 innings while with the A's after surrendering just 26 in 508 career Minor League frames -- and regain confidence in his changeup. At the same time, he wants to take in every second afforded in the A's clubhouse.

"Those feelings, like the ones when you first make it to the big leagues, they wear off after awhile," he said. "But this, being here in camp with these guys, is a first, so it's nice to enjoy that feeling again."

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.