Damien Semien recalls one time he saw a ripple in the calm normally exuded by his son, Marcus, the A’s new shortstop.
Marcus was playing for St. Mary’s High School of Berkeley in a playoff game at Cal. With Marcus on base, a teammate hit the ball off the right-field wall. And as Marcus crossed home plate he … pumped a fist.
“That’s the most emotion I’ve seen him give on the field,” Damien Semien said. “He’s always been the most humble guy I know, and I love him for it. He wants his actions to speak louder than his words.”
Semien, 24, made quite a statement in his first two Cactus League games with the A’s, who acquired him in the offseason trade that sent Jeff Samardzija to the White Sox. He reached base safely in his first six plate appearances, belting two home runs in his debut.
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Teammates jokingly wondered whether Semien would make an out all spring. Semien’s response: “I’m just getting pitches to hit right now.” He finally did make an out in his first at-bat against the Diamondbacks on Friday – then promptly singled to left field in his next.
“He’s going to stay calm, cool and collected,” said Mark Canha, who played with Semien in college at Cal. “But that’s not to say he doesn’t have that competitive fire. I definitely think he has that fire in the belly. It just doesn’t show.”
The A’s hope Semien will be their everyday shortstop this season, despite the fact he has played just 85 games in the majors. Semien batted .240 with eight homers and a .293 on-base percentage in 326 plate appearances for the White Sox and played mostly third and second base there with Alexei Ramirez entrenched at shortstop.
But Semien said shortstop is his natural position, and the A’s believe he will benefit from playing there every day. Offensively, the A’s see him as capable of hitting 20 homers in a season; defensively, they’re intrigued by his athleticism.
The thought of Marcus returning to the Bay Area to play for the A’s, his father said, is “surreal.” Damien Semien and Marcus’ mother, Tracy White, both went to Cal. Marcus was born in San Francisco and played Little League in El Cerrito before starring at St. Mary’s High and helping lead the Cal baseball team to the College World Series in 2011.
Damien Semien played wide receiver for the Bears’ football team in the early 1990s but said his first love was baseball. He was an outfielder and idolized Rickey Henderson. But starting in Little League, Marcus was drawn to shortstop. While he grew up a Giants fan, his favorite shortstop to watch was Derek Jeter.
“I liked his athleticism and the way he ran, the way he swung the bat and flipped the bat down when he got a hit,” Semien said. “I always tried to do that when I was little. … And I loved players who won. I loved (Michael) Jordan, I loved Jeter; I always paid attention to those guys.”
That made it extra special when Semien made his major-league debut on Sept. 4, 2013, with the White Sox at Yankee Stadium. He singled in his first at-bat but was stranded at first base, 90 feet from a conversation with his idol. In the eighth inning, he hit an RBI single to center field, and afterward Jeter sought him out.
“He runs by me and is like, ‘Oh, it’s just that easy, huh?’” Semien recalled. “He knew it was my debut or something, but just the way he interacted with me, he’s just a class act.”
Jeter was perhaps as well-respected for his conduct as his play, and Semien said he tries to maintain a similar composure.
“Coming into a new situation, you don’t know a lot of people, you want to prove yourself,” he said. “But if something doesn’t go right one day, you need to be even-keel enough to learn from your mistakes.”
And has he never swayed? Well, there was one time at Central Park in El Cerrito, Semien said, surprised his father hadn’t cited it. Semien’s Little League team lost a game, “And I threw a tantrum or something” – earning him a swift talking-to from his parents.
“I learned quickly (throwing a game-ending tantrum) is not how you react if you lose,” he recalled. “That’s not how they raised me.”