Oakland-area fans start the Ballers, an independent baseball team
Jeff Passanespn5 minutes to read
If the Oakland A’s leave for Las Vegas, the East Bay will still have a baseball team to root for.
Dozens of Oakland-area fans, led by a pair of high school friends, banded together to kick off the Oakland Ballers — also known as the B’s — who plan to play in the independent Pioneer League starting this summer wearing the same jerseys. Green and gold like A.
Team founders Paul Friedman and Brian Carmel told ESPN they have hired former Seattle Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu, who went to high school in nearby Hayward, Calif., as executive vice president of baseball operations. Former St. Louis player Micah Franklin, a San Francisco native who coached in the minor leagues, will manage the team.
Friedman said the B’s plans came together after the A’s – who have played in Oakland since 1968 – announced their move to Las Vegas. The A’s will play at the Oakland Coliseum, their dilapidated home, for the 2024 season, but plans beyond that are unclear until their new stadium in Las Vegas opens for the 2028 season.
Friedman and Carmel did not want to wait for the A’s to leave for the East Bay to learn that they would have professional baseball. During discussions to create the team, they made it clear that they wanted to start playing in 2024.
“We felt like our hearts were being ripped out of our chests like all East Bay sports fans,” Carmel said. “Oakland is the city that saw the Raiders leave the city, that saw the Warriors move through the city. There’s been a lot of talk that maybe Oakland isn’t a professional sports city. We completely reject that.”
Friedman said the ownership group has raised $2 million to help fund operations and expand seating at Laney College Stadium, a junior college in Oakland where the B’s will play. Their acceptance into the Pioneer League — a former affiliated league that was eliminated when MLB cut more than 40 minor league teams In late 2020 – adds to the 10-team league that includes teams in Montana, Idaho, Utah and Colorado.
While Pioneer League teams no longer have a formal affiliation with major league teams, the league itself is one of four MLB Partner Leagues, a group of independent leagues that work with MLB and serve as a testing ground for new ideas. Instead of playing extra rounds, the league in 2021 created a derby-style “knockout round” to determine the winner of the match.
“What you ultimately build in these organizations is fan experience and joy,” Friedman said.
The B’s sought input from local fan groups, including the Oakland 68s, while forming the team. Friedman said they were “warmly received” because “we’re doing this for the fans. We’re fans ourselves. That’s why we got into this.”
Friedman, who has produced several films, will serve as chief experience officer while Carmel, an entrepreneur, will serve as CEO. They liked the B name as a clever play on the letter A — “And when Paul and I used to play sports in high school,” Carmel said, “we were always on the B team” — but they also liked the Ballers, to honor them. Their friend is the late Bobby Winslow, who, Friedman said, often called himself a ballplayer.
In the end, they realize they can have both, and are hoping for support from the thousands of fans who attended the so-called reverse boycott at the Oakland Coliseum this season. Carmel said they would even welcome A’s team owner John Fisher, the architect of the move to Las Vegas after two decades of failed attempts to replace the Coliseum — and the goal of the constant chants to “sell the team” is to keep that number going into next year. .
“He can buy a ticket as soon as it’s available,” Carmel said, pegging June 4 — the same day they host the Mariners — as a potential B’s home debut. “We welcome anyone to purchase these tickets. I hope they like what we do.”
The A’s and MLB could not immediately be reached for comment.
The team will include players who were previously in affiliated baseball or were not selected in the 20-round MLB draft. Wakamatsu, 60, last coached with the Texas Rangers, where he was a bench coach from 2018-2021, including a 10-game stint as interim manager to end the 2018 season. Friedman said he brings credibility to an organization that wants to become An institution based on its own merits.
“We are not here to make up for what we lost,” Friedman said. “We mourn what we’ve lost. What we’re here to do is say there’s a tradition in Oakland. We have to continue that. We believe that when Oaklanders come together, nothing can stop us.”
“We’re close to Oakland. We’re for Oakland,” Carmel said. “We’re not leaving Auckland.”