HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS
Marcus Semien will represent Texas in his second All-Star appearance. But he built his foundation in the Bay Area
By Jerry Crasnick
After a challenging first year in Arlington, Marcus Semien has found his comfort zone. The Rangers are leading the American League West, and Semien, shortstop Corey Seager, third baseman Josh Jung and catcher Jonah Heim will give the AL All-Star starting lineup a Texas-sized presence next week in Seattle.
Career moves can be daunting, and it took Semien some time to feel at home in 2022 as he embarked upon a new seven-year contract. He had to reconfigure his cherished routines around the ballpark, and there was the little matter of relocation; Semien and his wife, Tarah, bought a home in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and are raising their three sons (with a fourth child on the way) for 11 months a year in Texas.
Amid all that change, Semien continues to find a sense of calm, equilibrium and purpose in his roots. He wears his San Francisco Bay Area allegiance on his sleeve -- and his left elbow.
Each at-bat, as he settles into the box, Semien wears a protective pad with a wrap bearing the numbers “510.’’ That’s the area code for El Cerrito, a town of 26,000 residents in the East Bay. Semien’s approach to baseball and life -- and all the skills that he’ll display before a national audience Tuesday night at T-Mobile Park -- were forged during his formative years in the 510.
“The Bay Area in general is very sacred to Marcus,’’ said Dave Buscovich, Semien’s close friend, former college teammate and offseason workout partner. “His upbringing and connection to Bay Area baseball kind of molded him to where he is now. I think it means the world to him.’’
Semien, 32, is soft-spoken and understated by nature, but he’s becoming increasingly harder to overlook. He leads the American League in runs and ranks among the top five in hits, doubles and total bases. True to form, he has also been a stickler for perfect attendance. He has played in every game this season and 783 of a possible 794 games since 2018. That puts him in a dead heat with Freddie Freeman for the role of baseball’s resident iron man during that span.
Like the fans who voted Semien onto the All-Star team, his peers know what he brings to the party. Semien is a two-time club nominee for the Heart & Hustle Award and received the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award, given to a player whose leadership inspires others, in the 2021 Players Choice Awards voting.
“Marcus is a guy who needs a light shined on him just for who he is and what he represents,’’ said Tyson Ross, a former big leaguer and fellow Bay Area product. “He goes about it the right way, day in and day out. I think people like that need to be celebrated just as much as the guys who are doing more flashy things out on the field.’’
Semien developed a commitment to excellence, a strong work ethic and high standards at St. Mary’s College High School and the University of California-Berkeley, and he learned how to be a big leaguer with the hometown Oakland Athletics from 2015-20. For decades on end, the Bay Area has produced talent at a pace that almost defies comprehension. As a student of history, Semien is simultaneously intrigued and inspired by that lineage.
While Joe DiMaggio set the standard for baseball San Francisco style, the East Bay has been a source of elite talent for generations. Frank Robinson, Joe Morgan, Willie Stargell, Curt Flood and Vada Pinson gave way to Vida Blue and later Rickey Henderson, Dave Stewart and Dennis Eckersley, local products who played for powerhouse Oakland teams in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. In recent years, CC Sabathia, Jimmy Rollins and Dontrelle Willis helped perpetuate that tradition.
Semien feels a sense of gratitude to his predecessors and a kinship with contemporaries like the Ross brothers, Tyson and Joe, and Dodgers outfielder Trayce Thompson, brother of Golden State Warriors star Klay Thompson and a groomsman in Semien’s wedding.
“There’s definitely a bond,’’ Semien said. “I’m looking forward to more conversations with those guys about their upbringing, how they got to the major leagues and how it was for them being in the major leagues from the Bay Area. I think everyone from the area who’s made it to the highest level of the sport is super proud of each other.’’
Hometown pride is a family heirloom. Semien’s father, Damien, and his mother, Tracy, are San Francisco natives, and dad played wide receiver for the Cal Bears football team in the 1990s. Marcus’ maternal grandmother, Carol Phillips, was a constant source of support and encouragement throughout his youth.
Semien spent long summer days at Central Park, a 1.7-acre span with baseball fields, basketball courts and playgrounds. He fielded more than his share of bad hops on the local municipal fields in Little League and youth ball.
“During those times, crime was down and kids would stay outside until the sun went down and walk home,’’ Semien said. “Times have changed a little bit. For me, my mom always made sure I was safe, my friends drove me home and I was home at a reasonable hour. Baseball was so popular, the bottom line was she just wanted me to play. And it wasn’t just baseball. Everybody played multiple sports.’’
Semien grew up a Giants fan and was in the SBC Park stands on his 14th birthday when Barry Bonds hit career homer No. 700 off Jake Peavy. He took Bay Area Rapid Transit to A’s games with his grandmother and even gleaned a few words of encouragement from the great Rickey Henderson on the back fields during spring training trips to Arizona.
After leading Cal-Berkeley to a College World Series appearance in 2011 and breaking into pro ball with the White Sox, Semien came full circle when the A’s acquired him by trade in 2014. He made 35 errors as Oakland’s starting shortstop in 2015, but manager Bob Melvin stuck with him and let him figure things out on the fly.
In Semien’s formative years, coaches Shooty Babitt and Brian Guinn taught him the fundamentals and awakened him to the possibilities. In Oakland, infield coach Ron Washington hit him countless grounders and instilled a sense of confidence that helped him develop into a Gold Glove second baseman in Toronto.
“When I got traded to Oakland, I was a little nervous,’’ Semien said. “I was the hometown kid playing at the major league level in front of everybody I knew, and I had a lot of things to work on just to be a starting player in the league. Those six years of opportunity changed my entire life.’’
In both Oakland and Texas, Semien has been a magnet for charitable endeavors. But nothing hits home like working with aspiring Marcus Semiens back home in the Bay Area. He’s a regular contributor to “Loyal to My Soil,’’ the Tyson and Joe Ross-run program that offers free camps and clinics to help increase youth baseball participation. And he works closely with Buscovich, a former Cal teammate who gives private hitting instruction in the East Bay. When Buscovich ran a clinic for 135 kids at Chabot College in Hayward, Calif., in 2022, Semien showed up as a guest coach before heading off to spring training.
“Once you put your face out there and say, ‘Hey, I was in your shoes. I grew up playing baseball and loving baseball. I grew up here just like you,’ the kids see that and it gives them a little bit of a boost,’’ he said.
As the A’s lay the groundwork for a move to Las Vegas, Semien feels the inevitable nostalgia pangs. He was born in 1990, a year after the Loma Prieta earthquake forced the disruption of the San Francisco-Oakland World Series. He was 12 years old when the A’s set an AL record with 20 straight wins in 2002, and playing baseball in Berkeley in 2010 when the Giants won the first of three titles in a five-year span.
“Baseball is such an important (thing) in the East Bay, the Giants should not be the only show in town,’’ Semien said. “It’s always been good for the Bay Area to have that competition between Oakland and San Francisco. But it seems like business has been getting in the way.’’
The move to Texas notwithstanding, Semien has kept his home in Alameda and brings the family back to California for several weeks each winter. When he’s not getting up at 5:30 or 6 a.m. for his daily workout, he’s checking out his beloved Warriors at the Chase Center or catching up with friends at one of his favorite local eateries.
Invariably, when Semien receives a request to appear at a clinic or other youth event, the answer is yes. He sees a little of himself in the eyes of the kids, as he dispenses baseball instruction with personal anecdotes designed to resonate. A starting berth in the All-Star Game in Seattle just gives him a bigger stage.
“It’s all about passing the torch,’’ Ross said. “I don't think Marcus even understands the impact he's had in the community, to go play at Cal and become a superstar right there at home in Oakland. It’s kind of a ripple effect. There are going to be kids coming along behind Marcus that grew up idolizing him. And there'll be that next generation, that next wave of player from the Bay to just keep it going.’’