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Volunteers assemble Saturday to spruce up future home of Oakland Ballers

Volunteers help spruce up future home of Oakland Ballers
Volunteers help spruce up future home of Oakland Ballers 03:29

OAKLAND -- As people across the Bay Area devoted part of their Saturday to Earth Day service projects, one volunteer effort in Oakland was about more than just cleaning up an old city park. It was about starting something new.

A group of two dozen volunteers gathered at Raimondi Park in west Oakland, to collect trash, power-wash playground equipment, and even add some splashes of new color by planting poppies. The park had become rundown over the years and McClymonds High School's baseball team had to stop using it because the field was so dilapidated. The park has seen a lot of changes lately, thanks largely to the influence of the many new housing developments that are popping up in the area.

"There is definitely a number of residents here who are excited to just help take care of a spot that's been a little neglected for many years," said cleanup organizer Josh Gunter.

The single biggest change is happening right now. A brand new baseball field is taking shape -- soon to be the home of the Oakland Ballers, a new independent league team created as a response to the departure of the Athletics. Laura Geist, the team  chief of staff, said she hopes the Ballers' $1.5 million investment in the park will help revitalize the neighborhood.

"Doing something for the community, by the community, is critical for me as a person and for us as an organization," said Geist. "So, just looking at all the people who have committed a beautiful Saturday to coming out and cleaning up this park is pretty incredible."

Even before they play a game, the Ballers have a built-in fan base from the nearby housing complexes. Many of the park cleanup volunteers for Saturday's event came from the apartments right across the street.

"I think we're all fans already," said Ben Atkinson. "Everyone's excited for the first game coming up. I think in June is the first one and we're excited to see the progress of the park get built slowly and surely. We'll all be out here supporting."

"We're super excited to see the transformation happening. I want to say 'quickly' but it's been a lot of work and a long time coming," said Steve Fernando, as he picked up trash. "It just spells change for the region, for the residents, for Oakland, for West Oakland. A lot of opportunity, so all of us are very positive, very happy about it."

"It was pretty deserted not a lot of population here and now, we're seeing a lot more families enjoying the park, which is fantastic," said Claudia Sanchez. 

Oakland councilmember Carol Fife told the crowd of volunteers that the upgrade of the park is something that has been owed to the community for a long time.

"We're going to make it something that Oakland, especially West Oakland, deserves!" she said. "Because, for too long, we've been divested from and this is going to be something that everybody can really benefit from."

The team says it expects the new field to be ready in time for the first home game in June. They say when the Ballers aren't playing it will be available for use by schools and the community. 

But one man who lives the the area said that, while they may welcome the new ballpark, some people are leery about how all the new investment will affect the neighborhood -- especially Black residents who have lived there for a long time.

"Any time you do something new, people in the neighborhood who've lived here a long time -- it's scary. 'We're gonna take over your home or your property because we got a project coming in.' So, the project is what you see behind me," he said pointing to the new apartments. "So, the people who were there, are they on the street? Or moved to a different area?"

It has always been a dilemma for Oakland: How to bring in something new without pushing out what was already there. In this case, the changes represent a new direction -- a new focus for Oakland baseball fans who know exactly what it feels like to be pushed away.

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