Oakland fans will embrace Tejada


August 22, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

When Jason Giambi left the Oakland Athletics as a free agent and signed with the New York Yankees after the 2001 season, the fans at Network Associates Coliseum never forgave him.

Giambi won the Most Valuable Player Award for Oakland in 2000, but when he returned with the Yankees the following season, the A's fans booed him and mocked him, holding up derisive signs and fake, paper money.

Tomorrow night will be different, A's third baseman Eric Chavez said.

Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada, the 2002 AL MVP, will return for the first time since he left Oakland as a free agent, and Chavez expects a standing ovation.

"He deserves it," Chavez said.

By now, the Orioles know what kind of person they acquired when they signed Tejada to his six-year, $72 million contract in December, but this Oakland trip only figures to reinforce their feelings.

Tejada left an indelible mark on the A's franchise, and the appreciation they still hold for him - even though he left for greener pastures - is pretty remarkable.

"I don't think words can explain it," Chavez said.

Tejada and Chavez grew up together on the left side of the Oakland infield. They always seemed paired together in the lineup, batting 8-9, 7-8 and eventually 3-4. And they helped lead Oakland to four straight postseason appearances.

Together, they helped weather the departures of Giambi, Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen, as the tight-fisted A's kept letting their top players leave.

Then, in the spring of 2003, Oakland owner Steve Schott announced that the club wouldn't be able to sign Tejada at season's end. He essentially turned the reigning MVP into a lame duck.

"It was kind of out of the blue," Chavez said. "It was kind of a shock to everybody in spring training. We were preparing for a long negotiation throughout the year, and for whatever reason, they took their stand.

"I'm sure [Tejada] was hurting a little bit, but he handled it so well. He could have turned it into a media war. He could have been cursing about it every day, but he never did."

The A's told their fans not to fret. After Tejada left, they would turn to another fine, young shortstop. Bobby Crosby, one of their top prospects, was flourishing at Triple-A.

Last September, Crosby got promoted to the big leagues, and he found himself taking grounders every day right next to the man he was going to replace.

Awkward? Please.

"[Tejada] could have not said a word to me and treated me badly," Crosby said. "I think there's some guys out there who would, but he treated me with so much respect.

"And opposed to breaking down my confidence, he said, `Hey, you're going to be able to handle this. You're a great player, and all you have to do is play your game.' "

Sure enough, Crosby has emerged as the favorite for Rookie of the Year honors. Chavez got a six-year, $66 million contract this spring, and again, Tejada never once complained. He set his focus on his new team, trying to turn the Orioles into a winner.

So tomorrow, he'll get one more chance to hear Oakland's cheers. The thought alone made him smile the other night.

"I appreciate that," he said. "The fans know that I didn't want to leave. I always say I'm going to take less money with Oakland than with another team. I think they understand that."

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