New A's infielder Nick Punto, inspired by a charitable cause near his home in Orange County, is serving as something of an unofficial team ambassador for a Strike Out Cancer initiative launched by Cardinals reliever and former teammate Jason Motte.
Motte, with help from the Major League Baseball Players Association, has recruited a member from each club to distribute T-shirts emblazoned with a backward "K" above the word "cancer." Punto and several other A's players have begun wearing the shirts, theirs customized in green and gold.
The website 108stitches.com went live on March 17, with 108 Stitches showcasing the "Strike Out Cancer" tees in each team's colors. Each is promoted by a different player who agreed to join Motte in a partnership that will benefit multiple charities. Each participating player has chosen a charity that will benefit from the T-shirts sales, and for each shirt sold, $5 will go to the Jason Motte Foundation and $5 to a charity of that player's choice. A full list of recipient charities will be listed on the 108 Stitches website soon, along with a photo of each player rep in his team-colored shirt.
"At the end of the day, it's about reaching people," Motte said. "Baseball is great and everything, but there are other really important things going on out there that affect a lot of people. Wearing these T-shirts shows people that they're not alone. They're not sitting there doing chemo by themselves where no one cares. People do care, whether it's friends, family or baseball players. There are people who this has touched and this has affected. This is something we're trying to do to get the word out there and try to raise money to help."
Punto easily opted to donate funds to NEGU -- an organization that stands for "Never Ever Give Up!" inspired by Jessica Rees, who died at age 11 in 2012 following a 10-month battle with two brain tumors.
"She just had this unbelievable attitude for all the children that were in the hospital who were sick," said Punto. "She said, 'Dad, do you care if I take some of my things and give them to some of the other kids at the hospital who are sick?'"
Such gifts became known as JoyJars. Through the foundation, they are now distributed to hundreds of young patients and include new toys and activities.
Rees' father is the pastor at the church Punto attends with his family in Southern California.
"She was a really big influence in Orange County," he said, "and it was easy to get attached to their efforts after just one hospital visit. Me and my wife got to know her father really well, and he was such an inspiration. Losing a child is something no parent ever should have to go through."
A's have fond memories of Phoenix Muni
PHOENIX -- Daric Barton will miss the monkeys most.
The monkey exhibit at the Phoenix Zoo is just across the street from where A's players pull into Phoenix Municipal Stadium, and they often hear the primates in the morning. The A's will leave behind the zoo and decades of history when they move to nearby Mesa and Hohokam Stadium next year.
"This is really the only place I've known," Barton, in his 10th big-league camp, said Wednesday, before the team's final game at Phoenix Muni, as it's affectionately known.
Steve Vucinich, the team's longtime equipment manager, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. The entire team watched from the top step of the dugout and afterward formed a tunnel as Vucinich made his way back to the clubhouse.
The A's moved to Phoenix Muni in 1982 and later the neighboring Papago Park training complex. The Giants trained in Phoenix before swapping spring facilities with the A's.
"It's as scenic of a place as you're going to find, and the way it kind of sits down, yet you can still see it from the road, there are some characteristics to this place that are special," manager Bob Melvin said. "I don't want to compare it to a Wrigley Field or Fenway Park, but as far as Spring Training parks go, there are some characteristics to it at that make it unique."
"I think this place is pretty synonymous with the A's over the years, even the days I was with the Giants," Melvin said. "I remember sitting over here watching batting practice, watching Canseco and McGwire and those guys hit balls up on the street. We've been here for quite a while, and in that respect, it's a little sad. But then hearing about the facilities that we're going to have in Mesa, we're looking forward to that, because they're pretty limited here."
Mesa is putting $17.5 million into upgrades at the Hohokam and Fitch Park facilities that were home to the Cubs until this year. The A's are expected to move in by the end of the year.
"This is going to be a whole different game for us," Ted Polakowski, A's director of Minor League operations, said earlier this month during a tour of the under-construction facilities. "We have a lot of history in Phoenix but sometimes it's time to move on to something different."
Barton feels the same.
"It's been fun but I think we're all looking forward to getting a new place," he said. "I don't want to say a better place, but a different place."
Gray gets last-minute call vs. Angels
PHOENIX -- With Opening Day five days away, Sonny Gray was scheduled to pitch in a Minor League game Wednesday. But when A's manager Bob Melvin saw the lineup the division-rival Angels sent to Phoenix Municipal Stadium, he brought over Gray.
The right-hander, who will make the start on his first Major League Opening Day, held the Angels to one run on one hit and one walk in five innings. Gray stuck out one in his final tune-up.
"We wanted to continue what we did last start against the Giants," Gray said. "Throw some offspeed pitches early, late; mix everything up; mix fastballs and changeups and curveballs. For the most part we did that pretty effectively."
"He worked on the things he needed to work on and had a good two-seamer again today," Melvin said. "Got in exactly what he wanted to."
And with that Gray declared himself as prepared as possible for Monday's start against the visiting Indians.
"I'm ready," the 24-year-old said. "The most important thing is continue with the routine I've done all through Spring Training. ... It's going to be a big, but fun, week."
• The A's left Arizona with 31 players still in camp. Melvin will have to make six cuts before Monday's opener. The final spot on the bench and in the bullpen are still up for grabs.
"Any time you leave here and still have cuts to make, those are the hardest ones to make," Melvin said.
• Reliever Ryan Cook (right shoulder) and outfielder Craig Gentry (back), both on the 15-day disabled list, will remain in Arizona to continue their rehab. Both will play in a Minor League game Friday.
• Nick Punto, nursing a tight left hamstring, likely won't play Thursday in the opener of the Bay Bridge Series at AT&T Park. Punto probably will play in Friday's game, Melvin said.
Chris Gabel and Jane Lee are reporters for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.