A's Coach Brian McArn Helps Bring Game To Far-Off Land

OAKLAND—This was never the course Brian McArn imagined during his college or professional playing days. He dreamed of big league glory, not becoming an ambassador for the game.

In 2007, Major League Baseball recruited him for an assignment that would become one of the most memorable experiences of his life.

"I went to South Africa," McArn said. "I was an envoy coach in Johannesburg and the surrounding townships. Our mission was to bring baseball to Africa as a whole."

Baseball has been growing fast in Africa. In South Africa alone, 1,100 schools now play the game, according to a Web interview with Edwin Bennett, executive director for Baseball South Africa.

"This was one of the great experiences of my life," McArn said. "Most black men in America don't get a chance to go back to Africa, to talk and interact with the people. They were so appreciative. They said, 'When you leave here, you'll never be the same. There'll always be something different inside.' "

McArn returned to his regular job as hitting coach for Triple-A Sacramento, but during spring training last year he had the opportunity to serve as hitting coach for South Africa's entrant in the World Baseball Classic. A's scout Rick Magnante served as manager and recruiter. The Africans lost to Cuba and Mexico, but McArn saw great reasons for hope for the future.

"We were overmatched, but we played hard," he said. "The good news is that they are getting better. It's going to take a long time to get where they want to be, but it's nice to see they're getting better."

McArn, 40, has served five seasons at Sacramento, where he grew up, and has coached for 14 years, all but one in the A's system.

"Brian's been able to take his knowledge and use it to bring out he best in the players' abilities," farm director Keith Lieppman said. "He has a knack for understanding what a player needs and helping him to achieve it."

Lieppman said that McArn has been particularly effective in helping veteran players, such as Wes Bankston and Matt Carson. He also credits McArn with giving significant help to shortstop Cliff Pennington, who blossomed at Triple-A last year and is expected to own a big league job this season.

The A's drafted McArn in 1991, selecting him in the 26th round out of Nebraska, but injuries limited his opportunities. He had shoulder surgery his first year, and then was hit in the face his second year and wound up playing with a facemask. His playing career was over, but he joined the Expos as a minor league coach in 1996 before coming home to the A's a year later.


• Third baseman Blake Crosby, a 42nd-round pick last June, retired to take a scouting position with the Blue Jays. He's the brother of Bobby Crosby and the son of veteran scout Ed Crosby.

• Recent acquisition Eric Sogard, a second baseman by trade, was working on his defensive skills and may see time at shortstop this season with Sacramento.