Jim Harbaugh cameos as A's coach

MESA, Ariz. -- Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh was in camp and in uniform with the Athletics on Saturday at the invitation of Oakland manager Bob Melvin.

"It's a great day for baseball, let's play two! As Ernie Banks would say," a grinning Harbaugh said. "How does it get any better than that? It's a beautiful day for baseball, and just have a chance to put on the uniform. I haven't had a baseball uniform on since American Legion ball."

Harbaugh was in full uniform instead of his trademark sideline khaki pants. He was wearing No. 4, his old number as a quarterback, while sporting a high-socks look.

"He requested those," Melvin said with a smile.

Melvin let Harbaugh coach first base against the Los Angeles Angels at HoHoKam Stadium.

Harbaugh came into the game in the third inning, and coached first base all the way to the A's 8-7 win in the bottom of the ninth.

"We gave him the option [to come out]," Melvin said. "But if we'd have gone 15, he probably would have stayed out there. He just likes the competition."

"I'm getting more and more comfortable," Harbaugh said jokingly in the dugout after the game. "It was great to be around these guys, great group of guys. Bob Melvin does a great job, there are two or three things that I learned today. He was timing an infield drill before [batting] practice, and I see some football applications to it. I love the way he manipulates the roster, everybody's gotten an at-bat already this spring. It's just the way he coaches, from drill to drill, the organization was really impressive."

Harbaugh also got his cap autographed by A's outfielder Coco Crisp.

"One for me, one for my dad," Harbaugh said. "We're big Coco Crisp fans. I was really impressed with Coco Crisp. He stayed all nine innings, even when he was out of the game, working on his craft, watching pitches, picking up things."

Harbaugh didn't have a hugely busy day at first base, but he was prepared well for a one-day adventure on a big-league diamond, getting several signs down.

"Not all of them, just the ones they told me," Harbaugh said. "A couple times I just reminded them of throws down to first. Never really got into a hit-and-run situation today, that's about all I needed to do."

Prior to the game, Harbaugh was asked if he was going to be sending baserunners. He cracked, "I'm going to be very aggressive today. Hungry dogs hunt best! Let's go for two!"

Harbaugh and Melvin have a friendship going back to their teenage years and played for the same American Legion baseball team in Palo Alto, California.

"I played on the same team in American Legion, but not at the same time," Harbaugh said. "Bob was the legend, and went to the World Series the year before I was on the team. I wasn't near the player Bob was."

This was a case of an old friend returning a favor. Harbaugh had Melvin on the sidelines as a guest when he was coaching the San Francisco 49ers.

"I wanted to give him this experience because of when [the 49ers] brought me in, stood on the sidelines maybe 15 feet away from him, got to watch some games down there, got to watch his meetings, watch his coaches prepare. There are a lot of similarities, obviously different sports, but obviously a lot of similarities in the interaction between the coaches," Melvin said.

Added Harbaugh: "Bob's been to several games, shared our sideline with Bob, he's talked to our team, he's been to practice. Our guys love him."

Melvin had good things to say about Harbaugh.

"He's a very good speaker to his teams, and I've been in on some of his meetings and listened. I actually stole some of his material from time to time," Melvin said.

Harbaugh returned the compliment, saying of Melvin's managing: "He's so steady, so detail-oriented, so organized. He's got a great relationship with his players, he loves his players. I respect that. Probably the best thing is talking and texting during the season, if I got something to bounce off of him, he's very responsive, very helpful. Just a good friend."