David Freitas grew up with the A's.
He cherished the team colors of green and yellow, even wore them to bed. He soaked up innings and happily breathed in postgame fireworks at Raley Field, home of the River Cats, the A's Triple-A team.
Now he's here again, as the River Cats' catcher, but he doesn't want to stay very long.
Such is the nature of the minor leagues, where players come and go, hoping to move up but not down. And the A's might be the best major-league team at maximizing the minors as a green-light expressway of opportunity. The River Cats made 173 roster moves last year, yet finished 86-58, best in the Pacific Coast League.
Freitas, 24, an Elk Grove High School and Cosumnes River College graduate, was acquired by the A's from Washington for catcher Kurt Suzuki in August. Freitas shares the drive and desire of the five first-round draft picks who dot the River Cats' roster and pitcher Brian Gordon, 34, who's in his 16th professional season, including last season in Korea.
"We want to get to Oakland," Freitas said Monday during team media day. "It takes time. It's great to be here. I'm excited.
"I used to watch the 'Bash Brothers' in Oakland. Bought the $5 tickets and ran to the front row, and I went to a lot of River Cats games. I just know this organization has a lot of pride, and it's a great chance to prove what we can do."
The River Cats open the season Thursday against Las Vegas at Raley Field, and new manager Steve Scarsone said the anchors are in place for another title run, including the A's top picks from 2007 to 2011 (right-handed pitcher James Simmons, infielders Jemile Weeks and Grant Green, outfielder Michael Choice and right-handed pitcher Sonny Gray).
Weeks had an encouraging rookie season with the A's in 2011 and started last season as their second baseman. He was big-league-ready on defense and on the bases, but his .221 average in 118 games led to his demotion to the River Cats in August, though he was recalled for a stretch in September. Weeks called last season "a learning year" and vows a strong start this spring, eager for another shot with the A's.
Green played five positions last season and was the River Cats' MVP. Choice, who had 30 home runs for Class-A Stockton in 2011 and 10 for Double-A Midland last season, had 15 hits and nine RBIs for the A's in spring training before being sent down.
Outfielder Shane Peterson, who hit .389 in 39 games with the River Cats last season, also impressed A's manager Bob Melvin this spring, batting .408 in the Cactus League. And pitchers Pedro Figueroa, Mike Ekstrom and Hideki Okajima logged spring training innings with the A's.
Any one of them could be called up at any time.
"It's pretty special here," said Choice, the 10th overall pick in 2010 after an All-America career at Texas-Arlington. "We have a lot of guys who could be in the big leagues right now or have played a little in the big leagues. We'll all work hard. We all want to show what we can do. The main objective is to play in the big leagues.
"We're not here to play minor-league ball for the rest of our lives. We know we've got to get it done."
Scarsone, 46, replaced Darren Bush, who won two PCL South Division titles and was hired as the A's bullpen coach. In 13 seasons, the River Cats have won 11 division titles, including the last six. They also have won four PCL championships and were Triple-A champions in 2007 and 2008.
"We joke about pressure to succeed here," Choice said. "Some of the guys tell the new guys, 'No pressure.' "
Players say they have a leader in Scarsone who understands their situation, because he played parts of seven major-league seasons, including four with the Giants. Last season, Scarsone coached several current River Cats, including Choice, Gray and Green. Scarsone spent 2009 at Class-A Kane County and 2010 at High-A Stockton before managing Midland in 2011 and 2012, compiling a 277-281 overall record.
"It's awesome to have Scar here," Choice said. "He's a manager who is very well liked."
Said Scarsone: "I understand what these guys are going through. This isn't the level you want to finish. We have some guys who have been to the majors. They know what the end of the rainbow is like. It's a great group here. We're looking forward to the season. It could be special."