The 150 sixth-graders cheered as lanky Brad Ziegler, 30, relief pitcher for the Oakland A's strolled up the aisle in the multipurpose room at Pleasanton Middle School on Friday and hoisted himself onto the stage.
They earned the visit through the A's Homerun Reading program.
"It's a huge honor. Six schools are chosen," said sixth-grade teacher Kelly Sheridan. "The kids were really excited."
Ziegler told the kids that he admired them for reaching their reading goals, and said he has a goal to read five or six books this season.
"My favorite book when I was your age was 'Catcher with a Glass Arm,'" Ziegler told the students. It's a sports classic by Matt Christopher.
Then he launched into a sports trivia contest, made exciting by the prizes - A's baseball caps and a handshake or high-five with Ziegler.
Questions ranged from "Who is the Oakland A's mascot?" (Stomper) to "How many games are played in a season?" (162) Hands waved frantically as students vied to be called on. Those chosen almost always had the correct answer and rushed to the stage to receive a hat from director of Community Relations Detra Paige, who accompanied Ziegler, and a personal congrats from the pitcher.
Then Ziegler opened up the session to questions. One boy asked about Ziegler's sidearm underhand throw.
"I'm the only one pitching that way," Ziegler said. "The A's asked me to pitch that way, and I'm still working on it, every day."
He said he started playing Little League when he was 7 years old but was a senior in high school before a coach started him pitching.
He emphasized the importance of finishing college even if one hopes to have a career in the major leagues. He earned a degree in math at Southwest Missouri State University.
"There are 750 players and 17 have a college degree," he told the students. "You always have it to fall back on. And the hardest thing is to go back later."
Ziegler also shared the recent thrill of witnessing a triple play made by the Yankees.
"It was against us but it was the first I'd seen," he recalled.
"How will the A's do this year?" someone else asked.
"We're off to a great start," Zeigler responded. "We're in first place this year. As long as we stay healthy, there's a good chance we can win our division and be in the playoffs."
"The kids will also be rewarded with an A's game at the end of the year," said Sheridan. "It's 120 schools. The Coliseum will be filled with kids. It's pretty cool."