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New Oakland Ballers expansion team draws big crowd for home opener as A’s play nearby

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Construction on the outfield bullpen finished just in time as pitchers from the Oakland Ballers began arriving to work at Raimondi Park for the new minor league team’s home opener.

The batting cage came together last minute, too. And everybody with the “B’s” embraced the chaos as the expansion club in the independent Pioneer League hosted its first game only eight miles from where the big league Oakland Athletics opened a series against the Seattle Mariners with an announced attendance of 5,624.

“The batting cage was just being put together when we got here. They just got it together today and we went out on the field,” said former major leaguer J.T. Snow, first base and bench coach for the Ballers. “A lot of players came over yesterday to check it out because we had an off day. It was right down to the wire.”

Their clubhouse is across the street in a giant warehouse, and some players waved while making their way back to the field as one man yelled, “Let’s go, Ballers, whoooo! Yeah, love you!”

The Ballers announced more than 4,200 tickets purchased for a sellout at Raimondi Park, where they lost 9-3 to the Yolo High Wheelers. The club stopped selling tickets a week beforehand but some walk-ups became available because of people not choosing to use a ticket in their purchased package, the team said.

Chants of “Let’s go Oakland!” began shortly before game time as drums pounded.

Starting catcher Tyler Lozano grew up in Stockton and attended A’s games. He loves the vibe already.

“Being part of a new and upcoming organization like the Ballers, it is awesome,” Lozano said. “To start here and start from the ground up and to help this community, help the city of Oakland grow and be better, it’s awesome. Me coming from Stockton growing up there as a young kid coming to A’s games, seeing the fans, the fan base, the drums, everyone is invested and Oakland is ready for a new team and ready for the Ballers.”

Even on an unseasonably hot day for early June, fans began arriving in the parking lot some four hours ahead of first pitch for a moment the Ballers are counting on to carry on Oakland’s storied baseball legacy for decades to come. The A’s are playing their final season in Oakland. The next three years are scheduled to be played in Sacramento as they hope to build a new ballpark in Las Vegas and move ahead of the 2028 campaign.

Several players on the Ballers roster have ties to the Bay Area and Northern California and understand the importance of being part of something special from Day 1. But so did outfielder Austin Davis of Orlando, Florida.

“I think the Ballers are going to be huge meaning to Oakland, like a beacon of hope kind of like the Batman symbol,” Davis said. “They’re going to bring the community back together, that’s our goal. We’ve heard Oakland has the best fan base. The 510 is what they call it. We’re just excited that we can be here for Oakland and unite everybody.”

Right-hander Eric Waldichuk is the younger brother of A’s pitcher Ken Waldichuk. When Eric Waldichuk was released by Ogden after spring training he reached out to the Ballers assistant general manager Tyler Peterson and the timing was perfect.

The Waldichuks’ father, Anthony, grew up in nearby Orinda.

“It’s awesome,” the younger Waldichuk said. “The fact we both grew up in San Diego and found our way back here it’s been really fun.”

The Ballers had pitcher Tyler Davis purchased by the Chicago White Sox earlier Tuesday.

That’s just part of it, and Snow is thrilled to help develop these players to prolong their careers as long as possible. They love hearing his stories, like of playing with home run king Barry Bonds.

Volunteers frantically worked in recent days on ballpark preparations in West Oakland, where Raimondi will be a work-in-progress for a while, and that’s just fine with everybody. The field has come so far in a matter of months — it was an unplayable Little League field in late March.

“It’s been pretty hectic today,” Snow said. “Anytime you start a baseball team there’s a lot of things that go into it, but they’re doing a great job. This place two months ago was just a city park.

“It’s coming together. It’s chaotic but it’s been fun. There’s a lot of energy, it’s kind of exciting.”

Peterson recalled walking the field in January when there were five rows of minimal seating and not much more. Even three weeks ago — before the team’s 12-game, 15-day road trip to begin the season — the main bleacher chairs weren’t even installed behind home plate.

“I didn’t even know what I was going to show up to,” Peterson, the assistant GM, said, “it’s pretty incredible.”

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AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB

By JANIE McCAULEY
AP Baseball Writer

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