Carson Working For His Opportunity

OAKLAND - After eight seasons of trying to break through to the big leagues with the New York Yankees, Matt Carson finally got his opportunity with the Oakland A's in 2009. Signed to a minor league deal, Carson parlayed a standout '09 campaign with the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats into a September call-up. This season, Carson has become one of the A's first options when they need an outfielder.

In Matt Carson's career, opportunities to advance have been few and far between, so the 2002 fifth-round pick of the New York Yankees has had to take advantage of what little chances he has gotten. It took six years for Carson to reach the Triple-A level, but once he finally got there, he didn't look back. He posted an 806 OPS for Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre in 2008 and has since posted OPSs of 841 and 910 for Triple-A Sacramento in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

In September of last season, Carson was given an opportunity to show what he can do in the major leagues, appearing in 10 games with the A's. He played well, batting .286 and hitting his first major league homerun. But nothing in Carson's career has come easily, and he found himself removed from the A's 40-man roster not long after the end of the 2009 season.

Carson became a free agent, but he re-signed with the A's to a minor league contract with a non-roster invite to major league spring training. He quickly played his way back onto the A's 40-man and 25-man roster, getting the call to the big leagues on April 22 when Travis Buck was placed on the disabled list. Since that time, Carson has gone back-and-forth from Oakland to Sacramento. In 51 games with the River Cats, Carson is batting .301 with nine homers and a 910 OPS. In 11 games with the A's, he has had 25 at-bats – mostly against left-handed pitchers – and has had four hits and one homerun.

In Carson's most recent call-up, he has appeared in only seven games over a three-week span, but he has played in each of the past four A's games. Carson is enjoying every minute of his time with the A's, who are 9-7 since he was recalled on July 5th.

"It's fun to play with a team that is playing well. We are playing good ball," Carson said on Saturday.

"So far I have accomplished almost everything that I wanted to up to this point. I'm just trying to help the team out as much as I can."

Carson isn't complacent, however. He is constantly working on his swing and has been putting extra work in to make sure he remains sharp despite not being in the line-up everyday.

"I don't know if [my swing] is ever going to be where I want it to be," Carson said.

"Not playing everyday, it's a little bit of an adjustment for me. Trying to keep my rhythm and everything. It feels like it is consistent work to keep it right."

Carson was recalled to Oakland this time just before the All-Star break along with fellow River Cats' outfielder Matt Watson. Since the two arrived, the right-handed Carson and the left-handed Watson have been platooning in the corner outfield spots, sometimes in the same game (Watson started two games against right-handed pitchers this past weekend and then was replaced by Carson mid-game when a left-handed reliever was inserted). Carson's career minor league 880 OPS versus southpaws is nearly 140 points higher than it is against right-handers, although Carson had an 817 OPS against righties with Sacramento last season and an 833 mark this season.

"I know being a right-handed guy, I've always done well of off lefties, but I don't think that I've struggled off of righties. It is a little bit of an adjustment just seeing the same angle all of the time and not switching it up, but it's just something that I have to adjust to," Carson said.

Sacramento Tony DeFrancesco has raved about Carson's defense, especially out in centerfield, where he has spent most of his time when with the River Cats. With Oakland, he has played mostly in the corners recently, but the BYU alum doesn't mind playing any of the outfield positions.

"I came up in college playing right field and my first few years in the minors were in right field and then I moved to centerfield. Playing the corners, it's not too hard," Carson said.

Last season Carson led the River Cats with 25 homeruns and he added a homerun with the A's during his September call-up. He has 10 homeruns in 215 at-bats with Sacramento and Oakland this season. Despite those good power numbers, Carson describes himself more as a line-drive hitter than as a homerun hitter. So it is somewhat ironic that he is the first position player to wear the number 25 during the regular season with Oakland since Mark McGwire left for St. Louis.

Carson said that having McGwire's number was first brought to his attention by a fan.

"When I was called up this [25] is the number that they gave me. In spring training, I think I was 23," Carson said. "I didn't ask for anything. It was just in my locker. I didn't really realize that until I was in the outfield and someone said that I had really big shoes to fill."

He wasn't with the A's when they traveled to St. Louis in June, but Carson doubts McGwire would have paid much attention to him or his number.

"[McGwire] probably wouldn't have said anything. He probably wouldn't have noticed," Carson said with a laugh.

One place where Carson wouldn't go unnoticed is the Dominican Republic. During the 2008-2009 Dominican Winter League season, Carson starred for the famous Aguilas Cibaenas, hitting six homeruns and five doubles and driving in 19 runs in 20 games. Carson returned to the team for the 2009-2010 season, as well. Although Carson has enjoyed his time in the DWL, he won't be returning there this winter.

"I would like to [play in the Dominican again], but I think my wife wouldn't appreciate it too much. She's five months pregnant. She's going to be due at the end of November and we already have a little one, so she is going to need all of the help she can get," Carson said.

Carson got some unexpected family time this July. The timing of his recall to Oakland was such that he was on the big league roster for the major league All-Star break. The major league break was a day longer than the Triple-A All-Star break, so Carson, who had planned to spend his Triple-A All-Star break in Sacramento, got to travel home for the week.

"That was the first time that I have been home in the summer since high school. It was pretty cool," Carson said.

The timing of Carson's July promotion was that he was with the A's during the team's most recent home series versus the Yankees. Playing against his old organization was special for Carson.

"It was nice. I got to see a couple of the guys who I came up with and got to see that they are doing well with the team and guys who it is nice to see that they are getting a chance," Carson said.

Carson enjoyed his time in the New York organization, but he has noticed a difference between the two organizations over the past two seasons.

"It's definitely different [than the Yankees organization]. It's a little bit more of a relaxed feel over here. They just let you go out and play baseball. Not that they don't over there, but it's a little less pressure [with Oakland]," Carson said.

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