Straight A's 

It's spring training time

THU 2/27

Considering the individual awards Oakland A's players took home in their record-setting 103-victory season in 2002, one would think that the green and gold carpet in Oakland's clubhouse would still be damp and reeking of cheap champagne and domestic beer. But despite having the American League's Most Valuable Player (Miguel Tejada), the Cy Young Award winner (Barry Zito), and the Executive of the Year (General Manager Billy Beane), the A's never got to douse each other with pressurized bottles of alcohol last fall. Despite taking home all that hardware and setting the league record for consecutive wins with 20, the A's season ended disappointingly. For the third straight season, Oakland was eliminated in the first round of post-season play.

Even though the wild-card Anaheim Angels and that accursed rally monkey took home the World Series crown, the A's are still the team to beat in the AL west. But it won't be easy. The A's -- notoriously poor starters the past couple of seasons -- will open their regular season against the Seattle Mariners in Toyko on March 25-26. They then travel back to the Bay Area to play a couple of exhibition games before reigniting the season April 1 in Oakland. The A's also will try to find a way to avoid the kind of slump that hit the club last season and almost took them out of the race, when they dropped 17 games in May before rebounding to win 78 of their last 109. New manager Ken Macha must keep the A's arms and bats primed despite the herky-jerky and potentially dizzying March-April travel schedule.

Most managers would love to have Macha's troubles. He has inherited baseball's best starting rotation, headed by Zito (23-5 W-L, 2.75 ERA), Tim Hudson (15-9, 2.98) and Mark Mulder (19-7, 3.47). Most of the A's major players -- sans closer Billy Koch (traded) and outfielder David Justice (retired) -- have returned. Shortstop Tejada (.308 BA, 34 home runs, 131 RBI ), third baseman Eric Chavez (.275, 34, 109) and outfielder Jermaine Dye (.252, 24, 84) fortify a lineup that will include a few new faces, including Martinez native Chris Singleton in center field and slugging designated hitter Erubiel Durazo. Former Giants prospect Keith Foulke will be the new closer.

Now that we've whetted your taste for A's action, you'll have to wait a month for the team to return to Oakland. Or maybe not. The A's Phoenix spring training home is just a quick flight away, and if you have a week to spare, jump in the car for the trip into the desert. Some games of note on the A's spring training schedule at their Phoenix training home: March 2-4 against the Giants, Arizona, and Kansas City; March 8-9 against the Angels and Chicago White Sox; and March 15-16 against the Mariners and Angels. For more info: athletics.mlb.com -- Tony Hayes

THU 2/27

Care, Bears

As the Cal men's basketball team heads into its final week of regular-season play, it is poised to go where no Cal team since 1993-94 has gone: into a post-season tournament as a true contender. The Bears, led by forwards Joe Shipp and Amit Tamir and guard Brian Wethers, are dominant at home in Haas Pavilion -- which is where Arizona (Thursday, 7:30 p.m.) and Arizona State (Sunday, 12:30 p.m.) will come to call. Can Cal capture the Pac-10? These two games, followed by a contest at Stanford, will tell the tale. Tickets: 800-GO-BEARS (462-3277) or www.calbears.com -- Kelly Vance

WED 2/26

The Hills Are Alive

Spectacular and beautiful as they might look on a movie screen, avalanches are deadly serious business for skiers and snowboarders. What do you do when the mountain decides to come down on you? Find out Wednesday evening, February 26, when Gary Bard, an avalanche safety instructor for Mountain Adventure Seminars and technical representative for Ortovox, brings several tons of snow down on the Any Mountain store in Berkeley -- figuratively speaking, with a transceiver demo to send for help. He'll give you the knowledge to stay alive with his informative slide show and lecture. The rest is up to you. The free class begins at 7 p.m. 2777 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley. 510-665-3939. -- Kelly Vance

SUN 3/2

Bird Is the Word

Bird-watching isn't strictly for nerds. Not anymore. Not since the Richmond Shoreline Bird Blitz. Alfred Hitchcock himself might even have had fun at this annual event, in which both expert and beginning birders (that's what they like to be called) gather at the El Cerrito Del Norte BART station, then fan out to various locations in Richmond, on the lookout for shorebirds, waterfowl, and things that go "Caw!" Bring binoculars, a pair of comfortable walking shoes, and a snack to Del Norte's west side parking lot at 10 a.m. Sunday. But if it rains, stay home. Phil Maynard and Steve Linsley are the organizers. To learn more, call 510-237-7520. -- Kelly Vance

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