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Oakland is losing the A's but gaining a minor league team


Pros have been fleeing Oakland. The Warriors moved across the bay to San Francisco. The Raiders left for Las Vegas. The Oakland A's are on their way too, after a stop in Sacramento. But the Oakland Ballers aren't going anywhere. The minor league baseball team's inaugural season begins next month. Don Wakamatsu is a former major league player and coach who's now executive vice president of baseball operations for the Ballers, and he joins us now. Mr. Wakamatsu, thanks so much for being with us.

DON WAKAMATSU: I appreciate you having me on.

SIMON: You grew up in the Bay Area. What does it mean to keep baseball in Oakland?

WAKAMATSU: Well, I saw my first professional major league game at the Oakland Coliseum when I was about 9 years old. And since that time, I've had a lot of different experiences in the Coliseum. And so it's emotional time for them to be finally announcing that they're going to go to Sacramento next year - in the next couple of years, and then eventually moved to Las Vegas. And so it's tough. You know, I think one of the reasons I got involved in the Oakland Baller project in the first place was just because of my start and background, being able to be around in the Bay Area with some tremendous athletes and competition. And so, you know that leaving is very emotional.

SIMON: What's baseball mean in Oakland? I don't mind telling you, I'm just torn up inside about baseball leaving Oakland - Major League Baseball, Major League Baseball.


SIMON: You're still there.

WAKAMATSU: Yeah (laughter). Well, I think it's an accumulation of all the teams leaving, you know? And I think the timing for the Oakland Ballers is perfect for us to be able at least to say, you know what? We're going to keep baseball in Oakland. And we're going to do a lot in the community to try to facilitate that dream for young kids. We've partnered with the Backyard Boyz, which is a program that focuses on the youth. We're doing open tryouts. I think the talent level is going to be pretty exciting, and we purposely recruited kids all over the country to at least have a story, to tell a story and can play.

SIMON: And let's be clear on this. We can even remind ourselves, historically, the Bay Area has sent a lot of great players into Major League Baseball, hasn't it?

WAKAMATSU: Well, I was really fortunate to play for a team called Bercovich. And Bercovich was probably the most historic youth baseball program in the country. The team I played on, alone, Randy Johnson was on that team. I ended up coaching with the Kansas City Royals and winning a World Series. And four of our coaching staff, including our manager, Ned Yost, all played for Bercovich. But whether it was Dale Sveum or Joe Morgan or Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, is just a - it's been a historic hotbed of talent coming out of there. And that's one of the reasons we wanted to start the Ballers, is to be able to try to continue that alumni, that legacy and pride in the Oakland area.

SIMON: You're holding open tryouts today.

WAKAMATSU: Yes. Our tryouts are going to be - we have about 60 players signed up right now. Our whole coaching staff will be there evaluating players to see if they have an opportunity to potentially go to spring training with us.

SIMON: Mr. Wakamatsu, I'm on the air. I can't get there in time.

WAKAMATSU: (Laughter).

SIMON: I mean, could - do you need any right-handed relief help?

WAKAMATSU: You're more than welcome to come out and try out.


WAKAMATSU: But yeah, I think - how are you with statistics?

SIMON: Oh, terrible. Absolutely terrible.

WAKAMATSU: (Laughter) No, we're excited to have a bunch of guys come out there and see what we got.

SIMON: Don Wakamatsu of the Oakland Ballers, good luck this season. We'll be following it.

WAKAMATSU: All right. Thank you so much.


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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.