OAKLAND — Some 15 minutes after Rickey Henderson’s opening night press conference was slated to begin, the greatest player in club history sauntered through the doorway, where a standing-room only audience was anticipating his arrival.
“You waiting for me?” Henderson joked as he took his seat on the dais alongside Oakland Athletics president Dave Kaval — never bothering to remove his sunglasses.
Some 15 minutes before Kendall Graveman threw the first pitch of 2017 — in the team’s 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Monday night — Henderson, smiling ear-to-ear, strolled through an opening in the center field wall, walked up and over the mound and joined A’s radio voice Ken Korach at the podium on the infield grass.
“My heart and soul is forever Oakland,” Henderson proclaimed to the crowd.
The dedication of Rickey Henderson Field, which had been preceded by a tribute for longtime broadcaster and Ford C. Frick Award inductee Bill King, concluded with the all-time stolen bases leader popping both of his collars — individually — and triumphantly raising both arms as the crowd roared and fireworks went off in center field.
Khris Davis provided the fireworks once the main event arrived, connecting on two solo home runs in the sixth and eighth innings.
“I threw [batting practice] to him almost everyday and I don’t know if he hit a ball out in BP this year in spring training — let alone the game,” manager Bob Melvin said. “And he hits two balls on a cold night that were no doubters.”
The only blemish on Graveman’s ledger came in the third, when the Angels’ Mike Trout sent a 113-mph laser over the 367-foot sign in left.
“The one pitch Trout hit was a cutter that kind of stayed in the middle,” Melvin said after Graveman struck out seven in six innings. “But when he’s on, he’s throwing sinkers, getting ground balls. That’s what he did.”