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A's ace Colon keeps playing it cool

By Alex Espinoza - Jul 27, 2013

OAKLAND -- Want to find out where Bartolo Colon is pitching on every fifth night? Just follow the trail of gum.

As he continues to defy baseball convention, emerging as a legit Cy Young candidate at 40, he does it while smacking away on gobs of gum. Two pieces per inning is his going rate, he says. Just watch him on the mound during a start -- he never stops chewing, not even in his windup. 

It’s an all-day thing. Following his 14th win of the year on Saturday night in a 6-4 win against the Angels, he addressed reporters from the cramped confines of the A’s locker room, chewing gum between answers. Tucked into a tiny bay of three lockers surrounded by white, ceiling-high concrete walls, he and translator Ariel Prieto took questions from the throng.

“Even I’m surprised at that,” Colon said of tying Matt Moore and Max Scherzer for the MLB lead in wins. “Those guys are doing really well.”

Colon might be completing his fourth decade on Earth, but he still acts like a kid.

On his off-days he’ll just float around the field during batting practice, catching fly balls when he pleases.

Like Thursday, when he and Prieto enjoyed the soft Oakland afternoon sun before a night game against the Angels. They stood out in the left-field gap, where Colon’s teammates slugged some hits his direction from the cage. If they required a too much of a sprint, Colon wouldn’t bother to move.

One to his right – nope. One to his left – too far. Then, suddenly, one comes within range. In a flash, he took a few quick steps forward and caught it proudly, his smile visible from near the A’s dugout.

“He just has fun, man,” said A’s teammate and second-year starter A.J. Griffin. “He just really enjoys playing baseball and it’s fun to be around a guy like that. He’s never panicking on the mound, he’s always calm and collected.”

Friday’s start was a prime example. Colon gave up a leadoff single to J.B. Shuck to start the game and then promptly served up a two-run homer to Mike Trout. Colon fazed, though? Hardly. He went on to shutout the Angels for six innings after that, doing the same old routine – throwing a lot of strikes and even more fastballs. 

Perhaps it was fitting that he retired fellow Dominican Albert Pujols to record the first out of the game, as they have something of a personal rivalry going. Just last week in Anaheim, Pujols quickly untucked Colon’s jersey after missing out on a home run by a few feet.

When Colon made his debut for Cleveland in 1997, Griffin was nine.  Now the long, blonde-haired San Diego native does his best to mimic Colon on the mound, using his fluent Spanish to pick the ageless one’s brain.

“I’m just trying to watch him and talk to him as much as possible,” Griffin said. “He’s got 16 years of experience.”

Since he’s been in Oakland, Colon has accomplished some incredible feats, like throwing 38 consecutive strikes during an outing in April 2012. He currently sports a 2.54 ERA, the No. 3 mark in the American League, all the more impressive considering he ranks sixth in innings pitched with 141.2 (that’s a lot of gum).

He’s touched 95 miles per hour on the gun a few times this year, and he tossed a season-high 116 pitches last week in a complete game-shutout against the Angels. Given his age and 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs in 2012, Colon has been an easy target for PED jokes this year, especially with the recent developments surrounding the Biogensis case.

But his teammates and coaches defend him, saying he’s already paid his dues. Colon’s not a big talker but he’s a key presence in the A’s clubhouse. 

One of his favorite pranks involves those long, hollow cylinders that players use to stretch out their bodies before games. When people least expect it (i.e. reporters), he’ll slap it on a table to unleash a startling sonic boom akin to a big balloon popping.

By now, his teammates don’t even bother to look up from their food when it happens, saying, “That Bartolo?”

You look up and of course it is -- Colon standing there with the cylinder in his hand, a big smile and a wad of gum.


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