Game Day: Big hits, loud cheers and karaoke with the Oaktown Roots
on September 28, 2011
Game Day is a new series that will feature Oakland teams and athletes every Wednesday afternoon.
The Oaktown Roots, the newest team in the City of Oakland Parks and Recreation Department women’s softball league, play their weekly games on Owen Jones Field on Redwood Road, where the outfield is covered in dead grass and littered with bumps and holes. Players occasionally have to dodge ground squirrels to get to a ball skipping by.
“The first thing I do when I go out there is kick all the mounds flat,” said outfielder Carla Hall. “It’s hard to play the outfield.”
Hall compares the field to the one depicted in the 1993 movie “The Sandlot,” which was not much more than a big dust bowl where a group of friends met to forget about everything else and play a simple game of baseball. For players on the Oaktown Roots, the comparison is apt, and runs deeper than just the field where they play.
“It feels a little big magical,” said Eva Silverman, who plays third base for the Roots and helped organize the team with Hall, “in that we’re a group of women who are on a similar skill level, and we all really like each other.”
While the pre-teens of “The Sandlot” sipped on Coke bottles after they played, after games the Roots’ players go out for adult beverages and karaoke at The White Horse Inn, a gay bar on Telegraph Avenue. “We have fun and we work really well together on the field, and then we go out with each other after every game and build friendships,” Silverman said.
This is the first year the Roots have competed in the Oakland women’s league, which hosts four teams – along with the Roots, there are also the Girlfriends, the Fantasticks, and the Buzz. Since the teams only play one other, everyone gets to know each other well, and the level of competition is high, especially among the top two teams, the Roots and the Girlfriends. The summer league started in mid-July and lasted for nine games, culminating with a championship game on Monday night.
The Roots’ players were recruited from other teams in other East Bay leagues, most of whom had played with either Hall or Silverman over the years. Hall and Silverman both live in Oakland, and Silverman said they started the team before the season because they love Oakland and wanted to help build up the league and attract more players. “We as a team are really excited about growing the potential of the league and having more teams,” said Silverman.
Most of the women on the Roots are in their early to mid 30s, and they come from a variety of professional backgrounds, including a metalworker, an engineer, and a forensic scientist. “Everyone seems to be community-oriented,” said right fielder Candace Archuleta. “There are a lot of people here who work with kids, who work on community art projects, who live in communal areas, so that kind of carries over into our interactions here on the field.”
The Roots entered Monday’s championship game in first place, having lost just once during the regular season, twice beating the Girlfriends, the dominant team in recent years. By finishing in first, they faced the fourth place team, the Fantasticks, and won easily, 11-5, while the Girlfriends defeated the Buzz in a matchup of the second and third-place teams.
On Monday evening for the championship game, about 30 people sat in the stands on the Roots’ side of the field, a few steps from their dugout, and voraciously cheered on their friends and family, chanting encouragement to the Roots’ hitters and decrying calls made by the umpire. During the middle innings of the championship game, two Roots fans began to climb and shake a fence that separated the stands from the field, causing the umpires to briefly stop the game.
Inside the dugout, each of the Roots’ players wore a black T-shirt with the team’s logo—a light blue softball with the Oakland city skyline on top in burgundy, with roots running below. (Silverman, who is a graphic designer from New Jersey, said she designed the logo to look like that of the New York Mets). Each player had picked the name on the back of her jersey, and while some players simply selected their given name (Georgia Toland, who plays first base, has “Georgia” on her back) others went with more obscure references. Melinda Worcester, who pitches and plays second base, has “Putabirdonit,” a reference to the Independent Film Channel show “Portlandia.” Silverman went with “Jersey.” During an at-bat late in the game, a fan yelled encouragement by invoking New Jersey native Bruce Springsteen: “Do it for Bruce!”
The Roots never led in the final, trailing by three runs before they scored. Every inning, though, the fans were yelling, clapping and banging on the benches, especially when the Roots, down three runs, loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth inning, their last good scoring chance.
The final score: 7-4. After the final out was recorded, the Girlfriends celebrated, running and hugging on the field. The Roots walked in front of the dugout on the field to huddle one last time and then shook hands with the Girlfriends.
The players then returned to the dugout to put away their equipment, and talked to their supporters while munching on chocolate cupcakes and brownies laid out on the bleachers. While most were smiling, a few were already thinking about a rematch with the Girlfriends. “Next year, it’s on,” Worcester said as she packed up her bag, her black shorts and shirt, which was streaked with dirt from diving on the field. “It’s so on.”
The Roots’ next tilt with the Girlfriends will likely be in the spring, because Oakland doesn’t have a fall women’s softball league. Silverman said the team is looking into playing in the city’s co-ed league instead, and if not, will regroup in the spring for another season together. Silverman said that while the loss of the championship game hurts, she’s happy about how the season turned out. “I feel like for our first season, we did an incredible job. We only lost twice all season,” she said. “We’ll have a strong team next year.”
After all the equipment was put away, the Roots gathered their fans in front of the dugout and Hall thanked them for coming out to games all season. Then she turned her attention to the players. “Ladies, we’ll bring it back next season, we’ll keep in touch,” she said. In the meantime, she said, the team was headed for the White Horse, “for anyone that wants to go and sing some karaoke.”
For more information on the Oaktown Roots, e-mail the team at Oaktownroots@gm
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