For Cunningham, next stop The Show

After a rough start with Oakland, South Kitsap High School graduate Aaron Cunningham entered Monday’s four-game series at Tacoma with a .280 batting average and nine home runs. - Kenny Gatlin Photo
After a rough start with Oakland, South Kitsap High School graduate Aaron Cunningham entered Monday’s four-game series at Tacoma with a .280 batting average and nine home runs.
— image credit: Kenny Gatlin Photo

Baseball doesn't always provide second opportunities.

Struggle the first time up to the major leagues and another might not come.

But Triple-A Sacramento River Cats manager Tony DeFrancesco insists that isn't the case with 2004 South Kitsap High School graduate Aaron Cunningham.

By any measure, Cunningham's start with the Oakland Athletics this season was difficult. He had just a .152 average in 46 at-bats in addition to a .261 slugging percentage.

"Aaron's on a quick, quick path to the big leagues," DeFrancesco said. "He's still a young kid and everyone likes his potential."

DeFrancesco was able to see some of that last year when he served as Oakland's third-base coach. Cunningham, 23, received a late-season call-up and hit .250 with one home run and 14 RBI in 80 at-bats.

"He's got some power, speed and can play all three outfield positions," DeFrancesco said. "There's good upside there."

DeFrancesco believes that might begin to show when Cunningham, who was in Tacoma on Monday as his team played the Rainiers, receives another opportunity in the major leagues. He feels Cunningham, who was one of five players sent to the A's from Arizona for All-Star starter Dan Haren and reliever Connor Robertson before the 2008 season, should benefit from his previous two stints with Oakland.

"When you get up there, you have to get over the fact that you're in the big leagues," DeFrancesco said. "There might have been a little too much pressure for him to succeed. I think he just has to relax a little bit more."

Cunningham doesn't dispute that.

"It's hard to go up there and not press," he said. "You've got to go up there and just be calm."

Cunningham said nerves were a bigger issue for him in 2008, though. He separated his right (throwing) shoulder in a collision at home plate with Tacoma catcher Jeff Clement in April.

"I just wasn't ready for baseball," said Cunningham, who entered Tacoma with a .280 batting average and nine home runs in 189 at-bats. "I was on the disabled list for a month and after three days back they (Oakland) called me up. I needed a little more seasoning."

He said that wasn't a criticism of the A's management and was "honored" that they had enough faith in him to recall him quickly after an injury.

As with anyone who has played in the major leagues, Cunningham is busy working back. His only time off recently came during the all-star break. He took advantage of that time to marry 2005 South graduate and former soccer player Samantha Stanton on July 15 in Las Vegas. They're planning a reception after the season since several family members and friends weren't able to attend.

Cunningham was able to see many of those who made the trip to watch him during Sacramento's four-game series against Tacoma.

And even though he would like to be playing in Oakland, he's happy to be approximately 80 miles east with the River Cats.

"This is one of the funnest teams I've ever played on," he said. "There's a lot of camaraderie on this team. It's like recess every day."

And his break from the A's might end soon. With Oakland in last place in the American League West, left fielder Matt Holliday regularly is mentioned as the July 31 trade deadline approaches.

"I think if he does get traded, I'll get another shot," Cunningham said. "But I think no matter what, I'll be back up there. It's just a matter of executing what they want me to do."

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