Cespedes eager for big playoff run with Athletics
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AP Baseball Writer
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) - The family of Yoenis Cespedes is finally safe after a months-long ordeal that took them from Cuba to the Dominican Republic, Turks and Caicos, Miami and, at last, to the Bay Area to join him. Their arrival in itself is a major burden lifted for the Oakland left fielder.
He is far from satisfied with his performance on the field this season for the AL West champion Athletics, who are counting on Cespedes' big bat to help carry them as they make another October run - in another first-round series with the Detroit Tigers, just like last year's best-of-five AL division series that went the distance.
Cespedes is quick to acknowledge this year has been largely disappointing, aside from the thrill of capturing the Home Run Derby title during this summer's All-Star game festivities in New York.
"I'm very happy to have my family here with me,'' Cespedes said during a recent interview. "Having my family here, I'm more relaxed, and that helps. Although my family is here with me, the thing is the season hasn't gone the way everybody had hoped.''
He missed the last two games of a season-ending series in Seattle because of a lingering right shoulder injury. The A's are confident Cespedes will be ready for the playoffs, and they have until Friday to get him healthy before Game 1 of their division series rematch at home.
Cespedes made strides in September, just as he had hoped, and would like nothing more than to put his 2013 frustrations behind him with a successful postseason. He was furious at losing in the first round last fall as a rookie.
"I feel more comfortable playing this level of baseball,'' Cespedes said of his second year. "I feel better here in the major leagues, but I haven't had the season I would have liked to have. Baseball is that way.''
There is plenty of peace of mind now that his mother and other family members are close by. He knows their resolve and determination throughout their plight to get here was remarkable.
There's still one thing that weighs heavily on the mind of Cespedes. He doesn't know when he will see his young son, Yoenis Jr., again. It has been more than two years since he defected from Cuba to the Dominican Republic in the summer of 2011.
For now, his focus is on baseball and taking the A's further than last year's finish that stung so much in his first season, which ended with a second-place showing in AL Rookie of the Year voting to the Angels' Mike Trout.
"Everybody was mad last year when we lost,'' he said. "This year, things have not gone the way I would have expected. I liked the way things were last year. I would have loved to have better stats than last year, or at least equal because it was the second year, but it just didn't happen.''
This summer, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on the harrowing trip by Cespedes' family. The group went without food and water while baking in the sun on a tiny Caribbean island and all but lost hope before help arrived, and they endured yet another boat ride in a turbulent trip to join Cespedes.
Cespedes had parted ways with them when he signed a $36 million, four-year contract with the A's in February 2012.
"It's great that his family is safe,'' A's manager Bob Melvin said.
While Cespedes' batting average dropped to .240 in 2013 after he hit .292 with 23 homers and 82 RBIs last year, he still hit 26 homers and drove in 80 runs in 2013 - and became an unlikely Home Run Derby champion in July.
"That was very important for me to win the Home Run Derby and I'm very happy,'' he said. "I was looking forward to doing this competition but the season hasn't gone the way I would like. I still can do a lot better to help my team.''
Now is his chance, and hitting coach Chili Davis has no doubt Cespedes will do just that despite any perceived distractions.
Cespedes noted that his legal dispute with a former agent who helped get his family from Cuba to the Dominican Republic has yet to be resolved. He has learned through all of his experiences how to block things out once he steps onto the baseball diamond.
"I think he's been swinging the bat a lot better and it's that time of the year where you've got little aches and pains and stuff going on,'' Davis said. "He's the kind of person who's not going to tell you, he doesn't want to tell you. It's been one of those years for him but he's got power numbers, he's driven in some runs. His average is a little down from last year, but overall when you really think about it it's his second year in the big leagues. They've adjusted to him. I'm not worried about him. I think he'll be fine.''
Cespedes certainly has gained confidence playing his new position in left field after making the move from center last season. It didn't hurt he had Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson around to help guide him through the transition - and even work on baserunning with the slugger this season.
"He's not satisfied with where he is right now but he also knows that if he picks it up right now, everybody's going to forget about the first four months or five months,'' Melvin said. "He has the ability to be that type of game-changer that we haven't seen to this point like we did last year. We've seen it in spurts. I always hold out the expectation and the confidence in him that he's going to come around and do some big things here down the stretch. He likes the spotlight, he seems to have a flair for the dramatic at times.''
As he begins his second playoff appearance in as many seasons, Cespedes knows he will get a fresh start on the big October stage.
"Of course I keep working very hard because hope is the last thing you should lose,'' Cespedes said.