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A's cut loose at annual Golf Classic

ALAMO, Calif. -- Tommy Milone hooking drives off the first tee, Ryan Cook getting rattled by fans and beer served by Frank Thomas ... welcome to the 31st annual A's Community Fund Golf Classic, where professional athletes are brought down to Earth for a good cause.

Round Hill Country Club served as the sight of Thursday's Golf Classic, the largest fundraiser of the year for the A's Community Fund, which supports charitable organizations throughout the Bay Area and received all of the proceeds from the event.

A handful of current and former A's participated, including Josh Donaldson, Derek Norris, Vida Blue, Bert Campaneris and Shooty Babitt.

"When you grow up poor, as I did, you know the meaning of giving back and supporting someone who is less fortunate," said Blue, who played nine seasons with the A's and won the American League Cy Young Award in 1971. "We live in a crazy world of the haves and the have-nots, and I've been lucky to be in the middle of that. I know the meaning of giving back and supporting someone who doesn't have as much as I have.

"It's something I look forward to every year."

Thursday marked the second year in a row in which the event was sold out. Detra Paige, director of community relations for the A's, said the Community Fund annually contributes over $600,000 to various charities through monetary donations, memorabilia, tickets and other items.

Paign is also responsible for recruiting former A's to the event.

"All of them love to golf and it's such a fun event, so it's really not hard at all," Paign said. "Once I ask, they say, 'Yeah, I'll be there.'"

Three current A's kick-started the day with the Pepsi Celebrity Putting Contest. Donaldson, Norris and Milone each teamed with a youth member of the First Tee of Oakland to compete in the challenge, with 50 percent of the proceeds going to the First Tee and 50 percent going to the winner of a raffle.

Donaldson entered the affair with confidence, asking his partner if she was ready to win loud enough for everyone to hear before the first putt. But it was Norris, partnered with Myrese Jackson, who took the crown.

Norris utilized his professional expertise in guiding athletes as the A's catcher by instructing Jackson to put slightly to left after observing the rest of the competition. Jackson followed by sinking the putt on her first try -- the only one to do so out of all competitors.

"I'm the best caddy ever!" Norris shouted as he ran over to congratulate Jackson.

It wasn't an easy day for many of the A's, who proved human as they sent sand-trap-seeking missiles back and forth along the links.

"That's what we're out here for, having a good time," Cook said. "It's been funny and we've been having a blast."

Cook's sense of sportsmanship may contributed to his play.

"They've been ragging me hard since hole one," Cook said with a smile. "I went out on Monday and I shot an 89, and today I can't even hit a golf ball."

Other members of the A's, like shortstop Adam Rosales and manager Bob Melvin, saved themselves from potential humiliation and stuck to less competitive interactions.

Rosales manned the grill responsible for providing sausages near the first hole and zipped around the course in a golf cart, dealing out high-fives and handshakes. His one attempt from the tee box traveled no more than 10 yards.

"They enjoy seeing us out here, I think," Rosales said. "It's good to be part of something like this. It's always for a good cause and just a beautiful day to be out here. I like the outdoors, so any opportunity to be outside and be with good people is good to do."

Competitors were greeted with a booming, "Who's thirsty?" from two-time AL MVP Thomas as they pulled up to one of the tees. Shaded by a dark tent from temperatures that topped 90 degrees and decked out in a T-shirt and baseball cap with the logo of his Big Hurt Brewing Company, Thomas served samples of his newest light beer.

Some groups had more success than others. Milone's foursome didn't appear too concerned with the outcome as they were playing golf under clear blue skies with a professional athlete. Milone matched the intensity, shaking off rust from not having played since Spring Training.

"If he was playing with Cook or DeNo, he'd be over the top," assured Milone's fiance, Tina Sarnecki, who served as driver of Milone's golf cart. "Sometimes even when he's just playing pool with me he takes it really serious. But in settings like this he's able to have fun and tone it down."

Jeff Kirshman is an associate reporter for
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