OAKLAND -- Leave it to A's lefty Dallas Braden to shake up the holiday calendar.
"Tomorrow's Christmas for me," Braden said Sunday. "Get to bed early, leave cookies and milk out on the table, see what happens."
The quirky A's pitcher will wake up to a different kind of a gift on Monday -- the chance to take the mound for the first time since undergoing shoulder surgery in May. He's slated to throw 25 pitches -- all fastballs -- at the University of the Pacific in his Stockton, Calif., hometown.
"Buy a ticket," he joked.
Braden was in good spirits while addressing the media at A's FanFest, much thanks to improved physical health and the prospect of maintaining it through spring. He noted he's well ahead of his own rehab schedule, but perhaps slightly behind that of his pitching mates.
The 28-year-old southpaw won't pitch in the club's two-game Opening Series in Japan -- "I don't want him to have to worry about that," manager Bob Melvin said -- but Braden still has hopes of being ready by April 6's stateside opener in Oakland.
Though a realistic time frame may read more like mid-April, Braden simply wants to make sure that "when I hit the ground, I want to hit the ground running. I don't want to hit the ground face first."
Upon his return, Braden is expected to slide behind right-handers Brandon McCarthy and Bartolo Colon in a rotation that has two spots up for grabs. He'll be looking to rebound from a shortened 2011 campaign that included just three starts.
"There's nothing like being back on the field, feeling the grass beneath your feet, smelling the field, smelling baseball and being around other guys on your team," he said. "It doesn't get replaced.
"I feel great. I feel really strong. It's nice to know all the hard work we put into the offseason and the days you didn't want to get up and the days you didn't want to push through, you now understand why it's important to do so."
And Braden assured there were plenty of those days.
"I had to hide every belt and shoelace in my closet so I could stay alive through this timetable," he joked. "It was just an absolute mental struggle, and I knew that coming into it, having been down that road before. I had to sit here and watch my teammates play baseball, and that's absolutely brutal. I had to wear it for a year."