Watson Ready For Long Stay In Majors

Last season, Matt Watson burned a trail on Interstate-80 between Oakland and Sacramento. The corner outfielder had four separate stints with the A's. In between those stints, he managed to win the River Cats' MVP award and hit a homerun at the AAA All-Star Game. We caught up with Watson at the A's-River Cats exhibition battle on Thursday to get his thoughts on his crazy 2005 season and his expectations for 2006.

Matt Watson, 2005 Statistics














































Watson came to the Oakland A's organization in October 2003, when the A's claimed him off of waivers from the New York Mets organization. He spent all of the 2004 campaign in AAA-Sacramento, and he was one of the River Cats' most productive offensive players, hitting .305 with 19 homers and 96 runs batted in. Despite those numbers, Watson did not receive a September call-up, and, after being sent down to minor league camp early in the spring of 2005, it was starting to look like Watson would never get a chance to break-through to the major leagues with Oakland.

Watson didn't let the disappointment of not getting a chance to compete for a spot with the A's bring him down at the start of 2005. He was hitting .345 for Sacramento on May 13 when the A's were in the midst of a terrible slump at the plate. Oakland made the call for Watson to join the team while they were in a home-stand versus the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. Watson scored a run during his A's debut versus Randy Johnson and the Yankees, a game the A's lost 15-6.

Things would go better in his next start, which came two days later versus the Boston Red Sox. Watson doubled early in the game and then came to the plate in the eighth inning with the game tied at four and two runners in scoring position. Watson singled both runners home and the A's went on to win the game, 6-4.

He would collect hits in each of his next two starts, but wouldn't get his next at-bat for three days after that. He would stay with the team until May 25, and then would return on June 9 for a five-game, seven-day stint, during which he received 12 at-bats. The Pennsylvania native came back in mid-August for a four-day stay while Nick Swisher was away on bereavement leave. Finally, Watson returned to Oakland for good on September 1 for a call-up that would last until the end of the season. Watson collected three hits in his final game of the year versus Seattle, a major league career-high. Despite the back and forth nature of his season, Watson felt good about the season.

"It was enjoyable. It had been a year since I had been up there [in the majors] with New York and it is always nice to get back. It really helps with your comfort level and to get the jitters out of your system. It lets you know that you can compete at that level," Watson said.

"Overall, it was probably the most fun year I've had. It was definitely the most traveled, going up and down, like a yoyo at times. But it helps to break it up. Sometimes when you are in the minors, everything gets to be the same, so it definitely broke up the monotony, even if I was only up there for four days."

While Watson was in Sacramento, he was busy leading the River Cats in a number of offensive categories, including batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS. He also finished second in homeruns, runs batted in and had the fewest strikeouts of any River Cat with more than 300 at-bats. In fact, Watson's strikeout total fell from 75 in 2004 to 57 in 2005. He also walked more times than he struck out for the first time in four seasons. Watson credits those improved numbers on an increased comfort level with the A's philosophy of being patient at the plate.

"Every year, you try to improve on little things. The A's are really big on on-base percentage so I learned to be a lot more selective at the plate last year," Watson said.

"I walked a little bit more, which is what they wanted to see. I think the year before I came over and I was trying to fit into their corner outfield mold where they want to have guys hit 20 to 30 homeruns and I went back to my game and adjusted to some of their philosophies."

Last year, Watson had to learn a different sort of patience – the patience that comes from sitting on the bench and waiting to have a chance to play. Watson had eight at-bats during the month of September and had to wait until the season's final day to get four at-bats in a game. He jumped on that opportunity to the tune of three hits and two runs batted in.

"It was a good way to end, especially when you don't have any expectations. Maybe that's why [that final game of the season] went so well. You always want to show them something when you are up there and you want to do really well," Watson said.

While with New York, Watson learned about the art of being a bench player from veteran first-baseman Tony Clark. Last year, it was A's back-up catcher Adam Melhuse who served as a model for Watson while both were waiting on the bench for a chance to play.

"I learned a lot from guys like Adam Melhuse. You see him go out there everyday, going about his business, preparing himself like he was going to play. I think you really have to approach each day like you are going to play, even if you aren't in the starting line-up. You never know when you are going to pinch-hit," Watson said.

"Unfortunately, when you are in a situation where you are called up and you aren't going to play everyday, those [pinch-hitting] appearances are the only times you have to show the team what you are capable of doing. I'm still trying to figure [pinch-hitting] out. I'm not sure that anyone does it well, and it takes everyone some time to get used to it. I think that it is something that I'm going to work on if I'm going to be a fourth-outfielder type."

After the season, Watson went home to be with his wife and growing family, which now totals four after his wife gave birth last year to the couple's second child.

"Sometimes I come back and I think that I've had an easier day then she has being home with the kids," Watson said, with a laugh.

Late in the off-season, Watson got a call from A's bench coach Bob Geren, who was managing the Escogido Leones in the Dominican Winter Leagues. Geren was short an outfielder after Freddie Bynum had to leave with shoulder tendonitis, and he asked Watson to join the Leones for the final three weeks of the year.

"I hadn't played in three months, so I wasn't really physically ready, but it was also nice to get out there and play a little bit. You never went to say no to an opportunity to play. I went down there and it helped me get ready for spring. I got my legs in shape, my arm in shape," Watson said.

The Xavier alum arrived this spring knowing that despite his outstanding 2005 efforts, it was going to be a tough go to win a spot on the A's crowded 25-man roster. Watson had to wait until the spring's third week to get his third at-bat, but he made up for lost time and finished the major league portion of camp with a .303 average and five runs batted in.

"I kind of knew the situation coming into camp. They had picked up Payton's option and picked up Milton Bradley, so I knew it would be a tough roster to crack. But I love the guys that are there. Me and my wife really feel comfortable here. I've been with a number of organizations now and this is definitely the most comfortable that we've been in any organization," Watson said.

"You never know what is going to happen each year. I'm going to go out there and immediately try to play to impress the Oakland A's and hopefully put them in a position that they have to make a decision about whether or not to keep me."

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