Sports

Oakland’s odd man out

Central Kitsap High School alum Todd Linden is the starting left fielder for the Oakland A’s AAA Sacramento River Cats team.  - Jesse Beals/staff photos
Central Kitsap High School alum Todd Linden is the starting left fielder for the Oakland A’s AAA Sacramento River Cats team.
— image credit: Jesse Beals/staff photos

Even after .577 spring, Linden sent back to AAA.

While Todd Linden always enjoys coming back to the Pacific Northwest, this wasn’t how he pictured his latest homecoming.

Linden, the starting left fielder for the Sacramento Rivercats, made his return to the area last week, finishing a season-opening road trip against the Tacoma Rainiers with rain falling off and on throughout the four-game series.

“I don’t know if this is the best place to open, but it’s always nice to be home,” Linden said of the weather.

But even had the skies been showering sunlight instead of rain, Linden’s thoughts might still ring true. After all, what more does Linden need to do to earn a spot on a Major League roster?

Linden, a 1998 Central Kitsap graduate who spent years stuck behind a crowded outfield in the San Francisco Giants organization, has little left to prove playing AAA ball. In 2005, playing for San Francisco affiliate Fresno, Linden belted 30 homers and 80 RBI to go along with a .321 average. Unable to break the Barry Bonds-headed outfield, Linden finally got a much-desired change of scenery last season, with the Florida Marlins claiming Linden off waivers. Linden responded with his strongest big-league showing to date, hitting .271 with a homer and eight RBI in 129 at-bats. Overall, Linden’s hit .231 with eight homers, 36 RBI and 64 runs in 270 games across the past five seasons.

“I was excited,” Linden said of the move to Florida. “I needed a change and I got that. That was all I could have asked for.”

After his strong showing, Linden seemed to have another favorable opportunity. The Oakland Athletics came knocking, signing Linden to a minor league deal. With an outfield comprised largely of youth, Linden saw the A’s as the opportunity he’d long dreamed of — starting in the bigs.

“I talked to them early and they expressed lots of interest,” Linden said. “It sounded like a great fit. I figured, ‘What place could be better?’”

Linden’s confidence built during the spring, as he batted a phenomenal .577 clip (15-of-26) with 13 runs in 16 games.

“I figured if I hit .300, I’d make it,” he said.

After all, the guys he was competing with didn’t exactly top those numbers.

Veteran outfielder Emil Brown hit well at .316, but with his experience, he was likely to be the only sure-thing outfielder for the A’s this season. Travis Buck hit just .257 (9-of-35), and fellow youngster Chris Denorfia hit .244 in 41 at-bats. Another young outfielder who made the Major League roster, Ryan Sweeney, hit just .205 in 39 at-bats.

Still, it apparently wasn’t enough, as Linden was not invited with the A’s for their season-opening trip to Japan against the Boston Red Sox March 31.

Oakland assistant general manager David Forst told the San Francisco Chronicle the A’s expect Linden will help them at some point.

“Todd’s had a great camp,” Forst told the Chronicle. “He’s swung the bat well, he’s played well in the outfield, but right now, we have a number of people out there. We feel good he can help us some time during the year.”

But if the spring training experience taught him anything, it’s that nothing’s final until it’s final.

“I just learned that I can’t have any expectations,” Linden said. “I kind of expected to make the team.

“I was shocked.”

When asked what it would take to crack the big league roster, Linden said only the organization could answer.

“The A’s being ready for me,” he said. “It’s pretty apparent after the spring I had, they have their plans.”

It became clear that Linden wasn’t going to be the guy in Oakland, at least right away. Linden said the toughest part was simply coming to terms with that realization and focusing on playing his best for Sacramento.

“It’s pretty obvious they’ve got their guys they want to go with,” he said. “It’s just a matter of worrying about what I can do here.”

While the Rivercats were scheduled for four games this weekend in Tacoma, one got rescheduled and another suspended. In the three games that did happen, Linden batted 2-for-10 with an RBI while drawing two walks and striking out five times. Linden said he’s going to continue to focus on his time with the Rivercats in hopes that yet another window of opportunity will open.

“I’m prepared to be here all year,” Linden said. “If I end up in Japan, with another club, in the big leagues, so be it. But I’m just going to focus on this.”

Rumored to be receiving interest from Japanese pro teams, Linden said nothing is currently in the works. He said he’d would strongly consider offers from the Land of the Rising Sun.

“If the opportunity arose, who knows?” Linden said. “From what I hear, it’s a pretty good situation. It’s definitely an option.”

While Linden said he’s hopeful he’ll get a call-up at some point, he’s not holding his breath.

“Hopefully that’s not the case, but you have to prepare yourself (otherwise),” he said.

And while no deals are in the works with teams that could use his services, Linden said even if their were, it’d still be on the A’s to get a deal done.

“Even if it were, it’s still on them,” Linden said. “It’s kind of difficult that way.”

With his future aside from a roster spot on the Rivercats uncertain, Linden said while just a couple short months in, this season has already taught him some valuable lessons about the game not only on the field, but as a business.

“I just realized it’s not fair,” Linden said. “Life’s not fair. Baseball especially. I’m not the first person this has ever happened to.”

Even through his current difficulties, Linden said he still isn’t taking a single moment for granted.

“It’s still baseball,” he said. “I’m still getting paid to do something I love. I still feel fortunate and blessed.”

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