Cramer Defies The Odds

OAKLAND - At the start of the 2010 season, Bobby Cramer's dream of a major league career seemed out of reach. Exiled to Mexico, Cramer appeared to be a forgotten man within the Oakland A's organization. However, he forced himself back into the picture with a standout 2010 season. Now Cramer is set to make his major league debut on Monday. We spoke to Cramer on Saturday.

In an Oakland A's organization filled with pitching talent from the major leagues on down, Bobby Cramer's name is hardly one that has stood out over the past four seasons. Starting his career in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays organization in 2002, Cramer had been out of baseball for more than two years and was working as a substitute high school teacher and coach when he was signed by the A's as a free agent in 2007.

Cramer pitched well for the High-A Stockton Ports and the Double-A Midland Rockhounds that season and started for the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats in the post-season, but was out of affiliated baseball once again in 2008 when the A's released him. After pitching well in the independent Golden Baseball League in 2008, he was brought back by Oakland in 2009. He pitched well again, appearing for Stockton, Midland and Sacramento and winning a Texas League title with the ‘Hounds. However, Cramer's path to the big leagues appeared blocked when he was loaned out by the A's to the Quintana Roo Tigres of the Mexican League at the start of this season.

He willed himself back on the path to the big leagues by starring in the Mexican League and then dominating for Sacramento when the A's brought him back to the US in August. Still, on Thursday night when Cramer got the news from Sacramento manager Tony DeFrancesco that he was being promoted to Oakland after the River Cats lost Game Two of their playoff series with Tacoma, Cramer could hardly believe it.

"I just thought he was going to give the rah-rah speech and he kind of did, but then he said, ‘you know, the main reason we are all here is to get you to the big leagues.' Then he said, ‘Bobby Cramer, you are going up.' It kind of got a little dark and I blanked out for a second [laughs]. It took me a second to realize what he had just said, but it was the best thing I've heard in a long time," Cramer said.

Early on in his stint with the Quintana Roos, Cramer got calls from teams in Asia about playing for them next season. Knowing that he would have a job in professional baseball in 2011 regardless of whether he fit into the A's plans helped him to relax and focus only on his season in the Mexican League and nothing else. After finishing atop the Mexican League leader boards in wins (13), complete games (5), shutouts (3), WHIP (1.12) and strike-outs (123 in 128 innings), Cramer was called on by the A's to return to Sacramento. He responded by posting a 1.94 ERA in 41.2 innings for the River Cats, aiding Sacramento's late-season surge into the playoffs.

"Having been brought back [to Sacramento], I was happy. That league down there [in Mexico], it's a good league as far as skill, but as far as the little things that we get used to here, like having clubhouses with air conditioning and whatnot [those aren't there]. So once I got back, I felt like I was already in the big leagues," Cramer said.

"I had never had much success [at Triple-A]. I had never really had a prolonged stint in Sacramento until this year. This is the most innings I've ever thrown in Sac., so to go there and be healthy and throw the way that I hoped I could throw if I was healthy there, I was happy. To get up here [to the big leagues], it's just been a magical season."

When Cramer reflects on the winding path his season and career has taken to get to the big leagues, he is clearly emotional.

"I don't know if I can put it into words. It's been a long season. This is the most [innings] I've ever thrown anyway," Cramer said on Saturday.

"I never felt further away from my dream then when I was down there [in Mexico]. I kind of felt like maybe I wasn't really fitting into the plans, that they were just sending me down there to get some players in return. I realized after a few months I was going to be there all season, so I just figured I'd settle down and continue to throw and whatever happened would happen."

Oakland A's Director of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi says that Cramer's promotion sends a positive message to the entire A's organization that any player within the organization can advance if he gets the results on the field.

"I really think that the best and fairest way to run an organization is as a meritocracy. It should be a situation where, if you do well, you get promoted," Zaidi said.

"No matter where we drafted you or how you were acquired, if you perform, you will get a chance to move up. He's a guy who has had a couple of stints with us and he has been terrific at every level.

"It's not the prototypical starting pitching prospect profile, but to get those kind of results, to have the ERA that he does, to get the groundball numbers that he has, and with the walk-and-strike-out ratio being so favorable, we think he's a guy who has a chance to come up here and have success."

Cramer has often been described by scouts as a "typical finesse lefty," in other words, a southpaw who relies on his command of his fastball and his secondary pitches rather than velocity. Despite not being a fire-baller, Cramer has struck-out 158 batters in 169.2 innings between Mexico and Sacramento this season. More importantly, he has only walked 38.

"It takes the control of all of your stuff that I am having right now to be able to have the kind of season that I am having," Cramer said.

"My curveball everyday has been there. Maybe some days it is sharper than others, but I am always able to throw it for strikes in any count. My fastball, I have been able to have a lot of movement on it. I'm not throwing any harder than I ever have. It's about the same as always, but I've had good movement and I've been keeping the ball down and throwing strikes."

Cramer is scheduled to make his major league debut on Monday at Kaufmann Stadium versus the Kansas City Royals. He hasn't begun reviewing video on the Royals yet, but he will enter the game with some familiarity with the KC line-up.

"I'm going to take the early bus to the stadium on Monday and I'm going to get changed out and watch some video," Cramer said.

"The nice thing is that I looked at their line-up that they put up the other day and something like six guys in that line-up I've faced before, whether it was in Omaha [Triple-A] this year or Wichita [Double-A] a couple of years ago. So I've faced a lot of those guys before and the ones I haven't, I'm sure they'll give me a good report on."

Although Cramer has never been even a non-roster invitee to the A's big league spring training camp, he felt comfortable the moment he entered the A's clubhouse on Friday.

"You always think, ‘what's it going to be like?' I was actually more nervous last year in spring training when I went to back up a big league game than I was coming here," Cramer said.

"I was able to come here [to the Coliseum] last year for the Bay series to end spring training and even though I didn't play, I still got a chance to come to the stadium and walk around and get to know the clubhouse and the guys.

"I've played with a lot of these guys the last couple of years. I knew about 70 percent of the team before I even got here. So that made it a very easy transition."

Although his focus is firmly on his upcoming major league debut, Cramer is keeping an eye on his teammates in Sacramento as they attempt to claw all of the way back from an 0-2 deficit in their best-of-five playoff series against Tacoma. Cramer was with the River Cats in 2007 when they dropped the first two games of the divisional series to the Salt Lake Bees before roaring back to win three straight for a series win. Sacramento would later go on to win the Pacific Coast League title.

Cramer says that DeFrancesco wouldn't let the team quit in 2007 so he isn't surprised that the River Cats have traveled to Washington and taken two straight from Tacoma to force a decisive Game 5 on Sunday.

"[In '07,] we dropped a couple of heart-breakers in Salt Lake to start the series. We were actually winning both games and we lost and I was like, ‘man, you can't come back from that.' We came back in the clubhouse in Salt Lake and everyone was down and Tony was pissed that we didn't have the radio up and everyone was hanging their heads," Cramer said.

"He was like, ‘it ain't over yet. Get your heads out of your you-know-whats. Turn the radio on. Have some fun. Relax. We are going to win this thing.' That is just the mentality that they have. We had been playing some pretty good ball there in Sacramento lately and hadn't lost two in a row in awhile so I didn't expect them to lose three in a row. Makes sense that they are coming back and I am happy for them."

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