The Invincible M.A.E. (harleymae) wrote,
The Invincible M.A.E.

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My strange obsession is going to be the AL starter!

I feel wrong/dirty for being excited about this, but Dan Haren is going to be the AL starting pitcher for the All-Star Game!!!

AL starter Haren no longer under radar
Coming out party for A's right-hander to take place on Tuesday
By Mychael Urban /

SAN FRANCISCO -- A's right-hander Dan Haren has long insisted that he's used to being somewhat under the radar. Kinda likes it, even.

So while somewhat amused by the irony of it all, he was fine with going in the second round of the 2001 First-Year Player Draft after his University of Pepperdine (Malibu, Calif.) teammate Noah Lowry, who was the Waves' No.2 starter behind Haren that year, went in the first round.

Haren was similarly at ease with being one of the fairly unheralded players Oakland acquired in a December 2004, 3-for-1 trade with the Cardinals that, to this day, still is commonly referred to as "The [Mark] Mulder Deal."

And Haren simply laughed when his wife, Jessica, saw a billboard featuring then-A's ace Barry Zito in 2006 and asked Haren when he was going to get a billboard.

On Monday morning, however, Haren lost whatever anonymity he might have had left in the wake of a dominant first half when he was introduced as the American League's starting pitcher for Tuesday's All-Star Game at AT&T Park.

"It was a tough choice," AL All-Star skipper Jim Leyland said while seated next to Haren at a downtown press conference. "But I hope that makes everybody understand how good this guy really is."

Haren, a first-time All-Star in his third full season in the big leagues, entered the All-Star break at 10-3 with a 2.30 ERA and declared himself prepared for the extra attention starting to come his way.

"I'm ready to deal with it," said the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Southern California native. "I'm 26, so I'm not necessarily young, and I grew up with a strong background. Now that I'm in the limelight, for the next couple days at least, I'm just going to try to have as much fun as I can."

The 78th Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and televised around the world by Major League Baseball International, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 8 p.m. ET. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage, while will provide extensive online coverage. XM will provide satellite radio play-by-play coverage of the XM All-Star Futures Game.

Haren will be the second Oakland pitcher to start in the Midsummer Classic in the past four years. Mulder got the nod in 2004, about six months before being sent to the Cardinals in a trade that St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan would have preferred to have not included Haren.

"I've known Dunc a long time, and that's the closest we've ever been to having a disruptive relationship," said Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa, Leyland's All-Star counterpart this week. "He was very adamant Dan be a part of St. Louis' future. ... We really liked him, and Dave loved him, so we're happy to see him having this kind of success.

Don't expect the success to change much about Haren, though. His personality -- honest, humble, introspective and fairly sensitive without seeming soft -- is as consistent as has been his work while making the many scouts who predicted this to be his breakthrough-to-brilliance season.

"Once I heard I was starting [the All-Star Game], I was thinking about how it'll feel my next start [for the A's]," Haren admitted. "But I like to pitch a certain way. I don't like to pitch with too much confidence, or challenge [hitters] too much."

That said, he conceded that the kind of doubts that crept into his head while he struggled through his first two months of his first season with Oakland aren't as likely to consume him as they once did.

"It's really the culmination of a lot of hard work," he said. "I've had my ups and downs. I was 1-7 to start [2005], and I really didn't believe in myself then. But I've come a long way, and I've gotten a lot of help -- from people like Zito, and even back in St. Louis, with Woody Williams and Matt Morris.

"This definitely does something for your confidence, gives you a little extra."

What pitching the first couple of innings Tuesday might not give him is the AL-style security of knowing he won't have to face the opposing pitcher. AT&T is a National League Park, so there's no designated hitter, and unless NL starter Jake Peavy of the Padres buzzes through the top of the stacked AL lineup, Haren might have to swing the bat.

"Obviously this is an honor, and I'm really excited, but my first thought was hoping I don't have to hit," said Haren, who often DH'd when he wasn't pitching at Pepperdine. "That wouldn't be very fun."

Either way, it'll certainly be fun to make his All-Star debut in a ballpark that's less than an hour's drive from Haren's home, and Leyland said Haren's Bay Area connection was a factor in his decision.

"I'd be lying if I didn't say him pitching across the bay here adds a nice little touch," Leyland offered. "If [the game] were in Cleveland, I'd have gone with C.C. [Sabathia]."

Haren insisted that would have been fine by him.

"Just being selected is enough," he said. "I'll be in awe, that's for sure, of the team behind me."

Good grief, he's 6'5"??? WTF, that's like taller than Joe Thornton. Totally doesn't seem like it. And of course the obligatory Zito mention. :P

Since I write about baseball so much now (wrong/dirty), I thought it's about time to have a dedicated A's icon. I went to the A's web site and looked in their style sheet to get the exact green colour for the icon border. Yeah. :(

[Edit: One more article!

Haren takes low-key road to becoming All-Star starter
By Jorge L. Ortiz, USA TODAY

OAKLAND — His big hair, scruffy beard and understated manner conspire to conceal his identity, and his team's low profile and West Coast location further contribute to his relative anonymity.

Until Oakland Athletics right-hander Dan Haren was named as the American League starting pitcher Monday in his first All-Star Game, casual fans nationwide probably couldn't tell him apart from talented but oft-injured teammate Rich Harden.

Some broadcasters still refer to him as Dan Harden, and others aren't sure whether Dan or Danny is the correct name. (He prefers the former professionally, although relatives and teammates often use the latter.)

Hitters throughout baseball have known about his ability for a while, though, and they didn't relish the time when he put it all together.

That time has arrived. After two solid but unspectacular seasons, Haren (10-3) has emerged as the ace of a staff that leads the American League in earned-run average. He has replaced former mentor Barry Zito to help keep the A's afloat in the West despite a rash of injuries.

Haren reeled off 10 consecutive victories until losing against the Seattle Mariners on Friday, and his 2.30 ERA remains the AL's best. He's also tops in opponents' batting average in the AL at .205 and ranks second in walks plus hits allowed per innings pitched at 1.00.

"He's been dirty (tough) for two years, and this year he's come into his own," says Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter Frank Thomas, a teammate last season. "I faced Danny two years ago, my last year in Chicago, and I was like, 'Who is that who has that stuff?' Everything's cutting and breaking, and nothing straightens out for you and he throws the ball mid-90s."

Haren, 26, complements a devastating split-finger fastball with an improved curveball, two- and a four-seam fastballs and a cutter he worked on last offseason.

"His split is the best in the league," Mariners left fielder Raul Ibanez says.

With free agent Zito departing for a $126 million contract with the San Francisco Giants, the A's were seeking a new No. 1 starter. Haren seized the opportunity, earning his first opening day start.

"I watched him through the spring, how well he pitched with that new little cut fastball he was adding to his repertoire," manager Bob Geren says. "He deserved a shot. We gave it to him and he hasn't looked back."

Always sharp with his command — his 3.91 strikeout-to-walk ratio last season set a franchise record — Haren has improved the location of his fastball and reduced the home runs he yields (31 in 2006, 11 so far). That's due in part to his offseason work, long a staple.

From Dec. 1 until the beginning of spring training, Haren and bullpen catcher Brandon Buckley got together an average of six days a week for throwing sessions and stretching. Haren, 6-5, 220, also lifted weights on his own.

His wife, Jessica, got a reminder of his dedication during their honeymoon in Mexico in November, when he insisted on getting his workouts in. Eventually, she relented and joined him in the gym.

"He wasn't throwing yet, but he was already hitting the gym and I'm like, 'Hello, we're on our honeymoon,' " says his wife, nearly four months pregnant with their first child. "Whatever we have to do, whether we had to go to a wedding, the Christmas holidays, he works that in every single time. He'll throw at my sister's fiancé. He'll throw with one of his friends. He'll go to (the University of Southern California) and throw there if we're in L.A."

During the All-Star break two years ago, Zito overslept and was late for a throwing session at USC with Haren, who was coming in from an hour away.

"I called him and the first thing he says is, 'I hate you. I can't believe you made me drive all the way out there,' " Zito recalls with a chuckle. "He laid the biggest guilt trip on me ever."

Father teaches him game

Haren will have only a 25-mile drive from his East Bay home to San Francisco's AT&T Park, site of Tuesday's All-Star Game, where he might summon the courage to gather a few autographs from fellow players. That's not a certainty, though.

Upon encountering new situations, Haren initially prefers to remain in the background and observe. He didn't feel at home with the A's until two to three months after joining the club following a trade from the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2004-05 offseason.

"My personality, it takes me a while to be comfortable," Haren says. "At the All-Star Game, I'm sure all the players will come away thinking I was just a really quiet, shy guy. I am. But if I get in a comfortable situation, I can be more myself and be funny, sarcastic."

Buckley says Haren constantly injects subtle humor into everyday situations, fitting for a huge fan of Seinfeld who knows much of its dialogue by heart.

The New York Yankees, a recurring theme in the show, were Haren's father's favorite team growing up in upper Manhattan. Dan Haren Sr., retired executive director of a Southern California Boys and Girls Club, was an accomplished shortstop until he took a hard grounder to the throat as a high school freshman and quit baseball.

He passed along his love of the game to his son. Every weekend they would go to the field across the street from their home in West Covina, Calif., even if Haren would just as soon have been with friends.

"He told me, 'You'll thank me someday,' " Haren recalls. "The ironic part about it is we would go over there and hit the whole time, not pitch, but I think the work ethic was really instilled on me."

Haren, who didn't pitch much in high school, received a 75% scholarship to Pepperdine mostly because of his hitting prowess as a corner infielder. But early in his freshman season the Waves put him on the mound. As a pitcher and designated hitter, Haren was named West Coast Conference player of the year his junior season and was drafted by the Cardinals in the second round in 2001.

Still an unproven talent, Haren arrived in Oakland as part of the swap that sent left-hander Mark Mulder to St. Louis on Dec. 18, 2004, two days after the A's dealt another member of their vaunted Big Three, Tim Hudson, to the Atlanta Braves. The trades were not popular in the Bay Area, and Haren didn't do much at first to mollify the fans.

Haren was down and moping after starting 1-7 in 2005 until Zito — 1-6 at the time — had a talk with him before a May 31 start against Tampa Bay.

"I told him just to keep going, that he had already proved he was good enough," says Zito, trying to maintain that same mind-set during his struggles this year. "I wasn't going to be tolerant of any pessimism. He used to be kind of a Debbie downer."

Steadies the rotation

Haren earned the victory that day, beginning a nine-game winning streak, and finished his first full season in the majors at 14-12. He won 14 games again last year when Oakland earned the division crown.

Teammates say they saw several indications Haren had the makings of a No. 1 starter but perhaps none as strong as his start Sept. 13 at Minneapolis Metrodome. A's pitchers were being battered, allowing an average of more than seven runs in the previous eight games. Oakland's lead had shrunk from 7 1/2 to 4 1/2 games on the Los Angeles Angels.

Up stepped Haren, throwing three-hit ball in eight innings against the Minnesota Twins for a 1-0 victory that started a string of nine wins.

"I knew it was a must game for us and almost a playoff kind of atmosphere because we needed that game so bad," Haren says. "That was some of the best stuff I've ever had."

That's quite a statement, considering the testimonials to the movement of his pitches.

"Guys get on base and they'll say, 'This guy is not fun to face. He just has great stuff,' " second baseman Mark Ellis says. "When hitters come up and say that, to me that shows a lot of respect for a pitcher."

For all his exploits this season, Haren might be more celebrated in Merida, in the Mexican state of Yucatan, than anywhere in his home country outside the Bay Area. Haren's mother, the former Gladys Manzanilla, was born and raised in Merida, and newspapers there follow her son's performances closely.

"He's a folk hero there," says his father, who has visited the town with his wife.

The folk hero manages to stay humble, crediting his success to catcher Jason Kendall and pitching coach Curt Young, who do extensive pregame preparation.

Kendall and Ellis say Haren wants to achieve greatness. Making it to the All-Star Game is a significant step in that direction, as is embracing the role of staff ace.

Geren "told me a No. 1 starter is a guy who (makes it so) you're not afraid to use the bullpen the day before, and the bullpen is usually fresh the day after he pitches," Haren says.

"That made so much sense to me, I even went back and told my wife."

And didn't have to interrupt their honeymoon for it.

Ayup, Zito mentioned again. I love that he used "Debbie Downer" to describe Haren, haha. I like the A's blanket on his couch and his framed jersey. It looks like the house of some obsessed fan. Except that it's his house...]

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