The geography and the demographics don’t make sense.
Pratt, Kansas (population 6,835 as of the 2010 U.S. Census) is nearly five hours west of Kansas City. Kansas is known more for turning out great basketball players. In fact, the last time the University of Kansas didn’t qualify for the men’s NCAA Tournament was in 1989 – the same year the Oakland Athletics won their last World Series.
So one would think that a young boy growing up in Pratt during the early 1990s would prefer to watch KU hoops at the Allen Fieldhouse as opposed to watching the Kansas City Blades, which was the San Jose Sharks top development team (from 1991-96) in the old International Hockey League.
|Brad Ziegler of the Oakland Athletics (photo by Michael Zagaris, Oakland Athletics). |
Athletics middle reliever Brad Ziegler chose the latter.
“After I got into high school and was able to drive a car, me and my buddies would go to Blades games once in awhile,” Ziegler said. “My family also went a few times. I liken it to baseball. Our Double-A team is in Midland, Texas, so you wonder how someone from Texas could possibly be an A’s fan. That’s because you see these guys move through the system and get to the NHL team and that’s who you want to follow.”
And that’s how the sidewinding right-hander became a Sharks fan.
Ziegler made his Athletics debut in 2008. But even though his home games are played at the O.co Coliseum, which is about 45 minutes north of HP Pavilion, Ziegler never went to a Sharks game until he saw the Sharks eliminate the Detroit Red Wings in Game 5 of the 2010 Western Conference Semifinals.
“I didn’t get to attend a game until last year when I went to Game 5 of the Detroit series when they clinched,” the 32-year-old Ziegler said. “It was a lot of fun.”
But Game 5 in 2010 was Ziegler’s first live Sharks game. “My mom, dad and I went,” he said. “That was my first NHL game in person. I got spoiled that night.”
Many have said the best way to watch a hockey game is to see one in person. Ziegler won’t argue with that statement.
“I heard about HP Pavilion and how great the atmosphere was,” Ziegler said. “You get goose bumps walking in there. That night, the Sharks were looking to clinch. The atmosphere was different than any sporting event I’d been to.
“I know there were Red Wings fans there that night,” Ziegler added, “but they got swallowed up by the Sharks fans. Everyone was honking their horns on the street after the game and still cheering on the way to their cars. It’s a tough memory to let go of for sure.”
|Sidewinding right hander Brad Ziegler has pitched for the Oakland Athletics since 2008 (photo by Michael Zagaris, Oakland Athletics). |
Ziegler saw his second Sharks game this year. Again, it was against the Detroit Red Wings. And again, it came in a series-clinching situation (Game 7 of the conference semifinals).
Ziegler tries to catch the Sharks on television as much as he can. This past offseason, Ziegler purchased the NHL Center Ice package, so now he doesn’t have to wait for a nationally televised game to watch the Sharks.
His passion for the Sharks and hockey has drawn some attention in the Athletics clubhouse.
“(Fellow relief pitcher) Michael Wuertz is from Minnesota,” Ziegler said. “I believe he’s a Blackhawks fan because he was into the playoffs last year. Because I was so intense with it this year and tried to watch it in the clubhouse every chance I got, some guys started to pay attention and asked if the Sharks were winning. Hopefully, that will keep going.
“But our clubhouse workers are big Sharks fans,” Ziegler added. “When they do laundry late at night, they’ve got the Sharks game on the Comcast replay.”
Ziegler plays a sport that’s mostly casual and doesn’t have the constant intensity like hockey. Perhaps, as a change of pace of sorts, that’s one characteristic which attracts him to hockey.
“I like the fast paced nature of the game,” Ziegler said. “I really admire how athletic those guys are. I can’t skate at all. To watch them get slammed against the boards, knocked down and how quick they get up and change directions. Recently, I started paying more attention to what guys can do with the stick.
scored a goal in that Game 7 (this year vs. Detroit) where the goaltender was trying to clear the puck and he stuck his stick out, got the puck and wristed it top shelf,” Ziegler continued. “It happened before the goaltender could realize what happened. Guys who can put the puck exactly where they want amaze me.”
Couture, the Calder Memorial Trophy finalist, is one of Ziegler’s favorite players. “I’m also a big Joe Pavelski
fan,” Ziegler said. “I love (Joe) Thornton, (Dany) Heatley and the other veterans who are the glue of that team. I got to know Logan a little bit on Twitter and Facebook and got to meet him after Game 7 this year. He seems like a real great guy and hopefully it’s a relationship we can build up over time.”
Ziegler is also hoping to meet more Sharks players before training camp begins in September. “We’re going to try to get a few of them up here for batting practice,” Ziegler said.
The Sharks have received much acclaim for how they develop players. They’ve also done a solid job in cultivating fans. Just ask Brad Ziegler.