For the first time since 2011, former Oakland A's catcher and 2004 first-round pick Landon Powell is back in Sacramento, this time as a member of the visiting Las Vegas 51s. The switch-hitter spent parts of the 2007 through 2011 seasons with the River Cats, while also playing for the A's for parts of the 2009 through 2011 campaigns.
Last spring, Powell was released by the A's and he signed with the Houston Astros. He spent the entire season at Triple-A Oklahoma City, playing for former River Cats' manager Tony DeFrancesco.
Life for Powell over the past seven months hasn't been easy, however. Baseball took a back seat over the offseason, as he and his wife Allyson dealt with every parent's worst nightmare - a devastating illness for one of their newborn twin daughters, Izzy.
After a long and brave fight, Izzy would succumb to a rare disease called Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, or HLH, a diseased that caused her liver to become so enlarged it caused her ribs to break, according to reports.
“I think God has done a good job of building some character in me along the way. This wasn’t the first adversity I’ve dealt with,” Powell, who dealt with health issues of his own while with the A's, said.
The Powell family has helped to create the Donors on the Diamond event to raise awareness of the needs for organ donors. The event is backed by the larger Donate Life campaign. The Powells also set-up a Facebook page where they have shared their memories of Izzy, as well as news about their other two children, Ellie and Holden.
“All the stuff I’ve been through, I’ve learned along the way that baseball is completely separate from life," Powell said. "It’s a big part of my life, it’s something that I love to do and I hope that I can do it a long time, but it doesn’t make me, and it’s not who I am.
"So this offseason I was a dad first, a husband first, and then can of sacrificed my baseball career as far as being ready for spring training but I’m here today and I obviously think about my daughter a lot and I think about my family."
Izzy leaves behind her twin sister, brother and loving parents. She became an organ donor after she died, something Powell said meant a great deal to him.
Powell’s story is as much heartbreaking as startling, as it exemplifies life’s fragility and ability to change course in a snap of a finger. Those interested in contributing to the charities the Powells have contributed to or learning more about Izzy and her courageous life can visit the links earlier in this story. The Oakland A’s and New York Mets both made sizeable donations to the Donors on the Diamond event, Powell said.
The switch-hitting catcher finds himself in a new organization after spending six-plus seasons with Oakland and last year with Houston. He was drafted 24th-overall in 2004, but two torn ACLs slowed his trek through the minor leagues. Powell made it to Oakland in a backup capacity in 2009 and bounced between Triple-A and the majors for a three-year span, before the A’s elected to go another direction.
It was a difficult split for the team and player, considering Powell’s burgeoning relationships with pitchers throughout the organization. Powell has always been an exceptional defensive catcher and some considered him an integral voice when it came to game-planning and helping some of the younger catchers develop.
Now with the Mets, Powell’s chief pupil is top prospect Travis d’Arnaud, who New York acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays in the trade for knuckle-baller R.A. Dickey.
“The guy will be an All-Star one day in the major leagues so it’s fun to watch him play every day,” Powell said. “I can’t help him much hitting, he seems to be a pretty awesome hitter.
"I think defensively, game-calling, stuff like that, I can give him some pointers and some thought processes I’ve learned throughout my time and help him. I’m glad to do that.”
The Mets have gone through a massive organizational overhaul over the past few seasons that has included an influx of many former members of the A's organization, starting with former Oakland A's general manager Sandy Alderson, who serves under the same capacity now for the Mets. His son Bryn, a former scout in the A's organization, is now a scout for the Mets. Former A's Assistant GMs Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi head the Mets' baseball operations staff, while former A's manager Bob Geren is the team's bench coach.
The A's-Mets connections extend onto the field, as well. Outfielder Collin Cowgill is starting for New York in the outfield. Las Vegas shortstop Omar Quintanilla is another former A's draft pick. Powell, who was a non-roster invitee to the Mets' big league camp, battled with former A’s prospect Anthony Recker for the club’s backup catcher spot. Recker, who was on the 40-man roster, wound-up winning the job. Geren, a former big league catcher himself, was their position coach.
“Geren being there was one of the big reasons they brought me in," Powell said. "He spoke highly of me, which I was very grateful for. That’s one of the reasons they signed me. They picked up Recker on waivers and it was me and him. We’ve played each other forever."
Recker and Powell handled the catching duties for the River Cats for the better part of two seasons together. Last spring in A's camp, it was Recker who won the back-up catcher job over Powell.
Powell has fond memories of his time in Sacramento. He joked about his new Las Vegas teammates asking him about places to eat in town.
“I feel like I’ve been here a ton. It’s a great place to play minor league baseball," Powell said. "They have some of the best fans, a great ballpark. The fun part for me is seeing some of the guys on the staff of the other team. [River Cats' broadcaster] Johnny Doskow and some of the people that been here a long time. I’ve been friends with them for a number of years so it’s fun to get back and see some of the guys.
“I'll still try to beat them though.”