Can Oakland Ballers turn Raimondi Park into a baseball home?

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OAKLAND — Raimondi Park on Wood Street might not seem like a prime location for large crowds to gather.
It is in a heavily industrial part of West Oakland, with warehouses and nameless office buildings. The closest bus stop is at an intersection flooded by trucks and vans lumbering onto Interstate 880, while the park itself has no available parking.
But past the concrete barriers and a tiny set of bleachers is a vast, verdant and somewhat muddy athletic field, which may soon be the home of a fledgling new team that promises to restore Oakland’s tradition of professional baseball.
The Oakland Ballers, known prominently as the B’s, are strongly considering playing their inaugural season as an independent minor-league team at Raimondi after becoming the latest sports franchise to ditch the more centrally located Laney College.
Talks between the B’s and Laney fell apart over the team’s request to build several thousand more seats at the school’s scenic baseball field, which currently seats just 250 people, officials at the Peralta Community College District said.
Bringing the facilities at Raimondi Park up to standard might be an even steeper uphill effort, but the B’s have the full support of Oakland Councilmember Carroll Fife, whose district includes the park.
In an Instagram post, Fife said the team is slated to play 48 games there after its inaugural season kicks off in June, noting that the B’s will steward the park by “investing in new enhancements.”
“Raimondi Park holds a special place in history,” she wrote, adding that the team’s presence there will “further instill the park as a central hub for community gatherings, outdoor activities, and family-friendly events.”
B’s officials, meanwhile, declined to discuss their stadium plans, or even acknowledge that Laney College is off the table, insisting that the situation was still in flux.
Team cofounder Paul Freedman said in a statement that the team’s “ongoing partnership” with the school will provide “internship opportunities, employment, community events and more to Laney students.”
The college is one of Oakland’s longstanding institutions, but the B’s departure — before even playing a game there — is the latest instance of the school letting a sports team walk out the door.
Last year, the men’s soccer franchise Oakland Roots SC similarly abandoned its field at Laney over a field turf issue, opting to play instead at Cal State East Bay in Hayward while it searches for a semi-permanent home.
Ruben Rios and his son, Armani, 11, warm up before batting practice at Raimondi Park, where the Oakland Ballers baseball team might play in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024. Rios who lives in West Oakland, supports the idea, “It’s great for the community, great place for the Ballers”, he said. Rios coaches his son almost everyday after school, he added, and he “hopes to see his son play for the A’s when he grows up, even if the A’s moved to Last Vegas.” (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)
View of Raimondi Park, where the Oakland Ballers baseball team might play in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024. A controversial homeless encampment near the park was cleared last year and now an affordable housing is underway. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)
Ruben Rios looks on as his son, Armani, 11, hits the balls during batting practice at Raimondi Park, where the Oakland Ballers baseball team might play in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024. Rios who lives in West Oakland, supports the idea, “It’s great for the community, great place for the Ballers”, he said. Rios coaches his son almost everyday after school, he added, and he “hopes to see his son play for the A’s when he grows up, even if the A’s moved to Last Vegas.” (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)
An affordable housing is underway on the former controversial homeless encampment next to Raimondi Park, where the Oakland Ballers baseball team might play in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)
View of the bullpen at Raimondi Park, where the Oakland Ballers baseball team might play in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024 (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)
View of a dugout at Raimondi Park, where the Oakland Ballers baseball team might play in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024 (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)
A soccer player practices at Raimondi Park, where the Oakland Ballers baseball team might play in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024 (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)
A car rides past the baseball park at Raimondi Park, where the Oakland Ballers baseball team might play in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024 (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)
View of the baseball scoreboard at Raimondi Park, where the Oakland Ballers baseball team might play in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024 (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)
A person rides past Raimondi Park, where the Oakland Ballers baseball team might play in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024 (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)
A soccer player enters at Raimondi Park, where the Oakland Ballers baseball team might play in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024 (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)
And in the late 2010s, the Peralta district’s leadership shot down overtures by the A’s to build a 35,000-seat stadium near Laney College after residents expressed concerns that it would gentrify the Eastlake area, where the 94606 ZIP code population is 36% Asian, per 2020 Census data.
Together, the struggles of even smaller sports teams to find a home in Oakland have fed the perception that the city’s cultural cachet is on the decline. Freedman, though, promised in an email that “we are 100% playing in Oakland on June 4th” — the team’s season opener.
Raimondi Park, meanwhile, has been through hard times. Until last year, it directly neighbored Northern California’s largest homeless encampment on Wood Street, where tenants were cleared by government officials in a painful process that concluded last year.
The park is intrinsically linked to baseball, however, having been named for Ernie Raimondi, a son of Italian immigrants and a McClymonds High graduate who played for the former minor-league club Oakland Oaks before he was killed fighting in World War II.
“West Oakland is an area that needs some love,” said Jorge Leon, an A’s superfan who says he has corresponded directly with the B’s owners. “If done right — and I have no doubt the Ballers are trying to do right — it’s a well-deserved thing that the area can have to call their own.”
Still, the new digs could pose an obstacle to both the B’s business ambitions and their hopes of being taken seriously by baseball fans in Oakland and the East Bay.
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Freedman, a tech entrepreneur, and cofounder Bryan Carmel, a television writer, also own the Yolo High Wheelers, a team up in Davis that ostensibly would be the Ballers’ regional rivals — if the unusual ownership structure did not cloud the competitive stakes.
The two native Oaklanders formed the Ballers after witnessing the passionate “reverse boycotts” last summer by A’s fans protesting the big-league franchise’s efforts to leave for Las Vegas.
The contrast between the B’s and A’s has already manifested into real-life narratives after the minor-league underdogs made national headlines last month by asking to play their inaugural game at the Coliseum — only to be shot down by the A’s.
Despite the evident gap between levels of baseball, the B’s do present a fresh sports experience to residents like West Oakland native Ruben Rios, who was walking with his son Armani on a rainy Tuesday afternoon at Raimondi Park.
“They got him playing third base,” Rios said proudly of his 11-year-old son, who has quickly fallen in love with baseball. “I be taking him to see the A’s play sometimes, so now I’ll have to take him to see these guys.”

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