Sports

SK grad Aaron Cunningham one step below bigs in Triple-A Sacramento

SK grad Aaron Cunningham has already been traded twice in his career — but it hasn’t affected his play on the field. - Jesse Beals/Staff Photo
SK grad Aaron Cunningham has already been traded twice in his career — but it hasn’t affected his play on the field.
— image credit: Jesse Beals/Staff Photo

As a junior and senior at South Kitsap High School, Aaron Cunningham remembers turning on the TV and seeing Willie Bloomquist on the field with the Seattle Mariners.

But he wasn’t just watching to analyze the former SK star.

For Cunningham, now 22, seeing the utility player was an inspiration.

Whenever the 2004 South graduate doubted that a player could advance from a small community on the Olympic Peninsula to the major leagues, he remembered Bloomquist.

Just a few years later, Cunningham is close to giving the Wolves a trio of players in the major leagues along with Bloomquist and Tampa Bay pitcher Jason Hammel.

Cunningham was called up from Double-A Midland to Triple-A Sacramento on Aug. 8, which puts him just one step below the major leagues in the Oakland Athletics’ organization.

He knows Oakland might bring him up when the Major League rosters expand Monday, but the right-handed hitter said he isn’t thinking about it.

“I wasn’t expecting the call up to Sacramento,” said Cunningham, who was at Cheney Stadium Monday through Thursday to face Tacoma.

“They had a lot of outfielders up here,” he said. “I was planning to spend the rest of the year at Double-A, which was just fine with me.”

Cunningham’s bat seems intent on forcing the issue, though.

He hit .317 with 12 home runs for Midland with an OPS (on base plus slugging percentage) of .893.

The batting average (.348) and OPS (1.049) through Wednesday have increased at Sacramento.

“He hit the ball well in Double-A and earned the promotion,” Sacramento manager Todd Steverson said. “He’s a good young player.”

Cunningham, who played a year at Everett Community College, was drafted in the sixth round in 2005 by the Chicago White Sox.

He has been traded twice — first to Arizona for infielder Danny Richar in 2007, and then again during the offseason as one of five players sent to the A’s for All-Star starter Dan Haren and reliever Connor Robertson.

He said being traded was “really weird” the first time, but he became accustomed to it after the latest deal.

“There’s more opportunities here,” he said. “In Arizona, they have (outfielders) Eric Byrnes, Justin Upton and Chris Young locked up. It’s a better opportunity.”

With a .396 on-base percentage this year, Cunningham also fits the disciplined hitter profile that Oakland general manager Billy Beane seeks. Cunningham said the coaches discuss approaches at the plate, but not specifically drawing walks.

“They just want you to control the at-bat and get what you want,” he said. “That leads to walks.”

And the free passes don’t end on the base paths for Cunningham. With Tacoma just 30 miles east of Port Orchard, he gave out 16 tickets to family and friends Monday, and said that number increased throughout the series.

“It’s nice to play at home,” Cunningham said. “There’s a lot of fan support.”

Among those in attendance was his fiancée, 2005 South graduate and former soccer player Samanta Stanton.

The couple resides in Scottsdale, Ariz., during the offseason.

“You can’t really get better out here,” he said of the West Sound. “The weather’s really bad in the offseason and there’s not too many people to hit with.”

After all, he doesn’t need any rain in the pursuit of his big-league dream.

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