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One Man, Three Big A's, and a Book

A Tri-Valley scribe juggles family and big trades to write what might be the next big baseball read


Sportswriter Mychael Urban, 36, has covered the Oakland A’s since 2001 for Major League Baseball’s official Web site, so he’s had plenty of up-close-and-personal access to the players. His new book, Aces: The Last Season on the Mound With the Oakland A’s Big Three, chronicles the 2004 season through the eyes of star pitchers Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito. We chatted with the Livermore resident about the guys and life on the beat.

DIABLO: What inspired you to write Aces?

URBAN: [During] the time that I spent covering the A’s, the Big Three were the face of the franchise, and they were thought about, talked about, and judged as one. But as I got to know them, I realized how remarkably different they were. I wanted to bring them together, not as the Big Three, but individually, to show how they’re different.

DIABLO: Wild and crazy different, or what?

URBAN: You’ve got Hudson, basically a hick. He’ll admit to being kind of a redneck. Mulder’s the opposite. Everything has come easy to him. And Barry’s in the middle. His family’s very eclectic. His
dad used to compose for Nat King Cole, and his mom has been a minister and an opera singer.

DIABLO: Did you know that 2004 was going to be the Big Three’s final season?

URBAN: [My publisher] insisted the book have the season as a story arc, and it ended up being a great call, because it was their last season together. [A’s General Manager] Billy Beane wrote the book’s foreword, and he called me early in the off-season and said "Is it going to kill your book if I trade one of these guys?" I said, "If I say ‘Yes,’ does that mean you’re not going to trade them?" And he says, "Well, no, I’m just being a nice guy."

DIABLO: What’s Zito going to do without his sidekicks?

URBAN:I’m going to be fascinated by the evolution of Barry Zito as a leader. He’s only 26 years old. But it looks like the other four [starting pitchers] are going to be 24 or younger.

DIABLO: Do you think the A’s will lose fans because of the trades?

URBAN: I don’t think so. There aren’t that many fans to lose. I don’t say that as a slam on A’s fans. There’s a very devout, small group of fans who will be at every game.

DIABLO: What do you do to get away from baseball?

URBAN: I spend time with my family. We have two daughters, five months and 21 months. We’ll go into Pleasanton and walk around the shops on Main Street. There are a lot of nice parks and wineries in Livermore that we go to.

DIABLO: Beat writer seems like a dream job for a baseball fan. Is this a dream come true?

URBAN:I love it. But I do miss my family. And at this stage in their lives, if you don’t see the kids—even for a few days—you miss these significant changes. And the travel. When you’re rolling into Arlington, Texas, for the fourth time, and it’s 108 degrees with 100 percent humidity—that gets old.

DIABLO: Sounds awful. What’s the "dream" part?

URBAN: The best part of my day is [watching] batting practice. Sometimes being a baseball writer will sap the love of the game out of you because you see the game’s ugly side. Batting practice is when I remind myself how cool it is that I can spend 20 minutes a day standing on the field, 10 feet away from the best baseball players in the world.

DIABLO: Got any other books up your sleeve?

URBAN:I love the humor of baseball, and a lot of it is crude, so you can only write about it in a book. Baseball players are not only some of the funniest people you’ll ever meet, they’re also some of the sickest. So I’d like to write a book about baseball’s best practical jokes and pranks.

DIABLO: Would you make any last-minute changes to Aces if you could?

URBAN:I should have mentioned the Livermore Public Library in my acknowledgements. I wrote most of the book there—it was like having a free office for the entire off-season. I mean, I wrote the acknowledgements in the library and forgot to thank the library. n

Aces (John Wiley & Sons, $24.95) is available at bookstores and at www.amazon.com. Keep up with Urban’s beat at www.mlb.com.

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