Leading the All-Star parade for the A's is the one Oakland player elected to the starting AL team, third baseman Josh Donaldson. Donaldson, 28, could fairly be considered a bit of late bloomer. He was originally a first-round Draft choice of the Cubs, and at that point, he also was a catcher.
Based on Wins Above Replacement rankings, he should have been an All-Star last season, which was a better season for him statistically than this season. The point is that the baseball public has caught up to the notion that this is a very good all-around baseball player. In much the same way, after two straight AL West Division titles and the best record in baseball in the first half of 2014, people are being forced to acknowledge how good this entire Oakland club is.
Donaldson is a lively conversationalist with a quick wit. He displayed those traits repeatedly Monday at the All-Star sessions with the media. But he is much more comfortable talking about his team than he is about himself. Asked about receiving personal recognition, Donaldson smiles and responds:
"That comes and goes. We really focus on the team first, and we feel that all the other goals are going to be taken care of at the end of the year."
Donaldson is more enthusiastic about the fact that the A's have more All-Stars this year than any other team in the Majors.
"I think it's very deserving," he says. "The number of games we've won over the last three years, we feel like we've definitely been underappreciated over the past couple of years. This year, it's pretty nice to see that recognition set in.
"It's pretty awesome. To be part of the Oakland Athletics organization, this is the most guys we've had in the All-Star Game since 1975. I was the first guy to be elected to start in the All-Star Game since 2000. So there's some barriers coming down. I think it's a direct reflection of what we've been able to do over the past three years. With all the guys here, it makes it a lot of fun."
With the game determining home-field advantage for the World Series, the All-Star A's can see the tangible benefits of winning. But this is also the first All-Star experience for all but one of these A's, pitcher Scott Kazmir.
"We definitely want to win, because our goals are set for October," Donaldson said. "But at the same time, I think Kaz is the only repeat offender in the All-Star Game. So we're all trying to just soak this in and enjoy it."
Donaldson is having a double dose of stardom, participating in the Gillette Home Run Derby on Monday night and then starting for the AL is the All-Star Game on Tuesday. He'll be batting eighth in the All-Star Game, which is all the evidence you need regarding how tough the AL lineup is.
"Hopefully, there will be a couple of guys on base when I get up," Donaldson said with a smile. "To be part of this lineup is going to be pretty amazing. Just the quality of the players that are here, the talent that is in the room, to be in the starting lineup is amazing."
As well as this season was going for the Athletics, their situation became even better when general manager Billy Beane strengthened the pitching, trading prized prospects to the Cubs for Samardzija and Jason Hammel. It was a coup. Samardzija was considered the best available starting pitcher on the trade market, and Hammel was having his best season.
"I was surprised, man," Donaldson said. "I didn't think Billy was conjuring up something this early. For one reason, our pitching staff is pretty good. It's up in the top three in the American League, as far as starting pitching. But then to add guys like Samardzija and Hammel, we definitely feel like that was a postseason move for us. And not only that, the Angels have one of the best lineups in baseball. Adding a couple guys like that, I feel like we're sending a message that, 'Hey, we're wanting to win the division, too.' "
It has been 25 years since the A's won a World Series and 40 years since the mighty A's of the early '70s won three World Series in a row. Can this team rise to the level of that kind of company?
"They remind us [of the earlier championships] every day when we're at home, because they play a video that's kind of a remembrance of it," Donaldson said. "But we definitely feel that we have the kind of a team to take it to that level. We don't feel intimidated, or anything, in order to do that. We feel that's our goal, and it's very reachable."
One team with seven All-Stars can aim as high as it wants.