The cab driver who drove Josh Donaldson from the Toronto Blue Jays’ team hotel in San Francisco to O.co Coliseum on Tuesday afternoon apparently did not recognize the former A’s third baseman.
“This guy said he knew a shortcut,” Donaldson said. “I was like, ‘Hey man, I’ve been driving from San Fran to Oakland for a couple years now. I don’t know any shortcuts.’
“He was like, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ Two hours later, I get here.”
So the route was unfamiliar, but when Donaldson finally did get to the stadium he called home for most of the past three seasons, he said: “My heart started fluttering a little bit.”
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Perhaps no other transaction during the A’s roster overhaul last winter generated as much reaction from their fans as the trade that sent Donaldson to the Blue Jays, who sent back four players, including third baseman Brett Lawrie and right-hander Kendall Graveman, who started for the A’s on Tuesday night as Donaldson made his return to Oakland.
Donaldson was a key to the A’s three consecutive postseason appearances from 2012 to 2014, a minor-league catcher who converted to third base in 2012 and became one of the American League’s top players at the position. He finished fourth in A.L. MVP voting in 2013 and made his first All-Star team in 2014, when he slugged 29 home runs with 98 RBIs.
Donaldson won the hearts of fans with his all-out defensive play, epitomized by a 2013 play at the Coliseum in which he dived over the tarp near the third-base seats to catch a foul ball. The A’s later made a bobblehead of Donaldson making the play.
“No matter what was going on, you knew he was going to play hard,” said A’s reliever Sean Doolittle, who played with Donaldson in the minors. “I think the biggest thing was the stability that he brought to the middle of the lineup. He played banged up, he played hurt. He played through a lot of stuff. And every day, you knew that he was going to be hitting 2, 3 or 4, and he was going to be ready to dive into the stands or tackle the bullpen mound.”
Despite that reputation, Donaldson said he wasn’t sure what kind of reception he’d get from the Coliseum crowd.
“I think it’ll be good,” he said, “because we had a lot of fond memories here, a lot of success in my tenure here. I’m interested to see what happens.”
Donaldson said he has “zero animosity about anything” toward the A’s, though it did take him “probably two or three weeks” to process being traded last November. Shortly before the trade, the A’s signed free-agent designated hitter Billy Butler, and Donaldson said he took that as an indication the A’s – who lost last year’s A.L. wild-card game to the Kansas City Royals – were gearing up for another run in 2015.
“We knew we were probably going to lose (shortstop Jed) Lowrie to free agency, and when they added Billy Butler, you thought they were going, ‘Hey, we’re going to keep going for this,’” Donaldson said. “We felt like, ‘Hey, you get a comparable shortstop, we were going to be right in the thick of things.’”
Instead, the A’s dealt Donaldson, igniting a series of moves in which they also shipped out Brandon Moss, Jeff Samardzija and catchers Derek Norris and John Jaso.
“It was definitely hard,” Donaldson said. “It was definitely some emotions going on because a lot of the guys that were here, we’d been through so much together. We’d kind of built what we thought was a core.
“When you get traded or whatever you want to say, you’re definitely going to be hurt a little bit. But you’ve got to understand that this game’s a business and the players aren’t always making the decision to go or leave. Right now, I’m very happy to be a part of the Toronto Blue Jays.”
The Blue Jays, in return, are glad to have Donaldson. He entered Tuesday’s game hitting .288 with 22 home runs and 62 RBIs, and he started the All-Star Game after receiving the most fan votes ever (more than 14 million).
A’s All-Star catcher Stephen Vogt said he caught up with Donaldson in Cincinnati.
“He’s the same guy, just plays hard and plays baseball the right way,” Vogt said. “I’m sure it’ll be good for the Oakland fans to get to see him and give him the welcome back that he deserves. He’s having a great year. Hopefully, he takes a little three-day break. But it’ll be good to see him.”