Whether it’s the nickname, his cheerful personality or his epic brawl with pitcher James Shields, Coco Crisp is a guy you don’t forget. Born and raised in LA, Crisp has been on four teams during his 9-year Major League career. He came up with Cleveland, won a championship with the Red Sox, and played one injury-plagued season in Kansas City before joining the Oakland A’s last year.

A couple weeks back we had a good chat with the A’s center fielder. After appearing in only 124 games the last two season, Crisp is healthy and excited about his team’s chances this year. During our interview, we talked about his nickname, his charity work, baseball brawls, the A’s outfield, speed vs. power, Charlie Sheen’s UCLA batting practice, who’s got the nastiest stuff and who’s the most underrated pitcher in baseball.

CS: So you started last season on the DL and you’ve had to deal with some injuries in the past. Are you fully healthy going into this season?

CC: Yeah, for the first time in a long time. I think last year was really a challenge for me to even be ready to start the season. Then I end up breaking my finger to start the season which probably was a little blessing in disguise because I don’t know if my shoulder was really 100% ready, but I was good enough to play at a level to compete. So I broke my finger and it was very disappointing to the guys before the season started. But you know like I said, it was probably a blessing. Maybe I would have re-injured my shoulder and then I’d be out the whole year. Right now I feel great. I’ve been in really good shape, able to work out just like I normally would. I’m just ready, ready for the season to start.

CS: Is the team as a whole healthier this year than they were last year?

CC: At least to start this season. We got a little banged up towards the end of last season. To start the season last year, we were pretty healthy I think. Sheets was coming in as a question – whether or not he was going to be ready. Myself, I was a question mark. But for the most part, I think this year there’s no question marks on if anybody is going to be healthy – with the exception of maybe Sweeney and I think he’s doing really well. I know Penny was dealing with some stuff this year. But I think everybody is ready to go and I think our health and our team is really good.

CS: What do you think about the team’s chances this year?

CC: I think they’re greater than last year. I thought we had a great chance last year to win our division, the way our team was structured. You know the thing that we were just talking about—the injuries last year—that kind of changed our season a little bit and made it difficult for us to compete. And we still did a great job of competing, because of our pitching staff was so phenomenal, or is phenomenal.

I think with the addition that we have this year and with some luck and just being blessed and staying away from injuries, I think this year our team is stronger. We have filled the need that we were lacking last year – which are some power players. I think that bringing those players – I mean we still have speed, we have defense and our backbone is our pitching. The only thing that I felt that we were a little low on was power, and they did a great job of addressing that this year.

CS: Do you think with all the additions in the offseason that you’ve got a crowded outfield or is that a good problem to have?

CC: Well for the team (laughs). For the team, that’s always a great thing because you have that many good players that you don’t know who to play out there. You have a lot of options. For the manager, it can get a little bit difficult I think because of those options. It puts a little strain on him. Because they’re so good and probably so close – I mean I’m trying to say “they” but I’m in there I guess – it can be difficult on us to try and shuffle and maneuver guys so they don’t get upset.

On a personal level, you want to be out there every day playing. That’s the heart of the champion and a winner and those are the type of players we have on our team. You want to be out there helping the team. You want to play, you don’t want to just cheerlead. From the top, it’s a good look, but all the way from the bottom it’s kind of like, I want to be out there playing you know. But you don’t want to be that guy to mess up team chemistry either. So I think with the crowded outfield, and the personalities that we have in that outfield, I think we can deal with what might happen or the toughness of being in a crowded outfield. But I think everybody wants to be out there playing. I think depth is always a great thing on the team though.

CS: So are you fired up to be playing with David DeJesus again?

CC: Yeah, that’s my boy! We had good chemistry in the outfield when we’re playing. You know, we didn’t play that long together, because I did get injured in 2009 very quickly in the season. But in spring training, we grew that chemistry and through that first month, it was easy playing alongside him because his moves were easy to see. If he was going for the ball, it was easy to read you. That’s kind of how me and Sweeney were last year as well. That’s just because they are really good outfielders and the communication level and they way they go about it is very similar, and it makes it easy to play alongside them. That’s always a great thing. There’s no fear of running into each other, getting injured.

And as a center fielder, there’s that respect that if I’m calling for it, he backs me up proper. I mean just being a good outfielder makes it easy.

CS: Now you guys are a young team but you’ve still got a lot of veterans, including yourself. Who would you say is the clubhouse leader in Oakland?

CC: Wow, I think from different aspects, I think this year it’s hard to say. I don’t know. I know I’m more vocal. Sheets is a very vocal guy. He was last year. Raj [Rajai Davis] was there last year, he was the leader of our chapels. So there’s different leaders in the clubhouse, and it’s not just about baseball sometimes. Elli [Mark Ellis], you know he’s been there for a long time. So you look at those guys. You look at the guys who are not just older guys, but guys who have also been there throughout the duration of their career. He’s one of those guys, so if I was going to pick somebody I would say him.

CS: What do you think is more important in baseball, having speed or having power?

CC: Wow, you can’t have both? (Laughs)

CS: (laughs)

CC: This day and age, it’s flipping to more of an old school game where speed was more relevant in baseball back then. Then it turned over into power and now it’s kind of coming back to that. But for a ball club I think both are essential in building a team.

CS: Right.

CC: I think you can get away with having less power and more speed guys, than just having a power hitting team, because speed doesn’t slump and power does. You know? So you have a lot of guys that just go for the gusto. It can be a tough time winning with those guys even though it’s going be a fun team to watch. Everybody loves to see the long ball. But the small ball – the bunting, the slap hitting, stealing bases – that can also be fun to watch. It’s just a completely different game. I think the consistency of speed, I think I would choose over power.

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