When the Oakland Athletics signed Coco Crisp to a two-year contract (one year guaranteed with a team option for a second season) beginning last season, they did not anticipate that they would only have their new center fielder on the diamond for only 75 games in his first season in green and gold.
Crisp was so productive with his time on the field that even though he missed more than half the season, he still earned the $5.75 million option for 2011 to be exercised by the Athletics.
Last season Crisp put together a hitting line of .272/.349/.438 over only 328 plate appearances. He managed 81 hits, eight of which were home runs, in his opportunities at the plate. Crisp also made his presence known on the basepaths, stealing 32 bases in 35 attempts.
The 2010 Athletics finished the season with an 81-81 record, good for second place in the American League West. With Crisp in the lineup, however, the team was 40-35.
Entering spring training this season, the Athletics added depth to the outfield, hoping to be able to rest Crisp enough to keep him healthy for the entire season.
"You saw what he could do when he played," A's manager Bob Geren told the San Jose Mercury News' Cam Inman.
"He was a huge part of our success when he was in there (last year). Part of the plan is to keep him rested enough to avoid injuries."
Last season, Crisp injured his pinkie finger in the final game of spring training against the San Francisco Giants. This season, he suffered only a minor hamstring strain during the Cactus League and did not miss any significant playing time.
His numbers through spring training were among the best of any Oakland player. Crisp batted .379 through 20 spring games while hitting three home runs and driving in 11 runs.
Crisp has been the catalyst for the Athletics through their first series against the Seattle Mariners to open the 2011 campaign as well. On opening night, Crisp singled in his first at-bat against Felix Hernandez and came around to score on Josh Willingham's first home run of the season.
Saturday night, Crisp was at it again, with another hit and his first stolen base of the season. Crisp was the initiator of both rallies in the first two games, scoring in both instances.
Sunday afternoon, Crisp ignited an A's rally for the third time in three games with his first triple of the season in the bottom of the third inning to score Kevin Kouzmanoff from first base and give Oakland its first run of the game. Crisp also led off the game with a single and added a double in the bottom of the seventh inning to leave him only a home run short of completing the cycle. For the early season, Crisp is hitting .417 with a run scored in each game.
On the field, Crisp has established himself as one of the Athletics' most valuable players. Crisp's success seems to directly carry over to success for the A's. His aggressive style of play has made him a fan favorite.
Off the field, Coco is as engaging as any player in the major leagues. He is among several Athletics that has taken to Twitter as a way of interacting with the fans.
“I have fun with it,” Crisp told Scout.com's Mellisa Lockard. "It gives me a chance to say things that are on my mind, let people know what I am doing. They are interested, I guess, which is kind of weird, but is cool. They are always replying back to me. When they ‘@’ me, I try to reply back to as many as I can.
“It’s a good interaction.”
Crisp currently has a little more than 13,000 followers on Twitter. You can follow him @Coco_Crisp and enjoy updates about his play as well as off-the-field life.
Crisp's success on the field and popularity among the fans should earn him a new contract and nice payday following the conclusion of the season when he reaches free agency. Given his impact on the A's offense and growing reputation as an Oakland fan favorite, a contract extension with Oakland is a growing possibility.
Whether or not the Athletics retain Crisp beyond this season, his goal is to help the Athletics win the division and go deep into the playoffs.
"It’s my goal to help us try to win the division," Crisp said to Bleacher Report's Samuel Lam in January.
"If we can keep everybody healthy this year; if it’s in our cards to play out that way, we definitely have a better shot than we did last year to win the division."
Brandon McClintock covers the Oakland Athletics and Major League Baseball for BleacherReport.com. You can follow him on Twitter: @BMcClintock_BR.