Tech baseball team caps another stellar season at its pristine home park
on May 3, 2012
Akintunde Ahmad twisted his body, his long dreads flying beneath a purple Oakland Tech baseball hat, his arm contorting and then straightening by his side as he released the ball from his hand, delivering the first pitch of a game against Oakland High.
A few feet behind home plate, Ahmad’s parents, Mubarak and Zarina, sat beaming. “That’s my boy,” his father said. His older brother, Azeem, watched his brother on the pitcher’s mound with a slightly more critical eye. “I’m going to criticize him when he gets home,” said Azeem, 20, an Oakland Tech grad. “He’s a little wild.”
Ahmad did walk the first batter of the game, and the second, but settled down to pitch two scoreless innings in Tech’s 13-0 win over Oakland High on Wednesday afternoon, the Bulldogs’ final Oakland Athletic League game of the season. The win completes Tech’s third consecutive OAL title, and in May, the team will go for its third consecutive championship in the Transbay series, which pits the top two teams from Oakland and San Francisco public schools against one another.
The game was played at Rickey Henderson Field, Tech’s sparkling ballpark on 45th Street and Telegraph Avenue, in front of crowd of family and friends. Parents are heavily involved in the Tech baseball program, coach Eric Clayton said, and they’re the reason the school has the pristine field, where the closely-cropped grass in the outfield and infield is maintained by the parents.
“The field itself was a pure community effort,” Clayton said.
When Clayton became head coach at Tech in 2004, the varsity team played games at Bushrod Park, which wasn’t close to school, has a few gopher holes and has no outfield fences, so the ball would just roll on a deep hit. “It’s just all the way better here,” said Azeem Ahmad, who played on both fields while at Tech.
But the next year, one of the parents of a kid on the team, Paul Brekke-Meisner, told him that the open space next to Carter Middle School, just a block down from the Tech campus, would make an ideal spot for a new ballfield. “I said, ‘Let’s go and measure it up,’” Clayton said, looking out onto the field from the dugout. “And this is what’s come of this.” The field’s original name was “Field of Dreams.”
Oakland Tech athletic director Jim Coplan said parents raised $400,000 to help pay for the field, and continue to maintain it. “They’re incredibly dedicated,” said Coplan, who was at the game wearing a purple “Tech” hat as well.
Keeping a ballpark looking as nice as Tech’s is a lot of work, it turns out. After the game, Paul Mankin, whose son, Zhi, plays on the team, was out dragging a large screen rake on the infield dirt as other parents watered the grass. Mankin said pre-game field preparation takes up to five hours, depending on how many parents are available. There’s a lot of grass that needs mowing, and trash to be picked up, among other duties. “Doing the lines, raking and dragging the field, it’s a lot,” Mankin said.
Mankin said the reason parents spent that kind of time, is because “any kid who comes to play here gets to play on a field that’s really nice.”
“There’s something special about playing baseball on a diamond that’s well-groomed and manicured,” Mankin said. “Especially as a high school player.”
The players appreciate the field as well. The Tech JV team still plays its games at Bushrod, so most of the players on the varsity team went through fielding bad hops from gopher holes and balls that slow down in the outfield when the grass is too high, or speeds by too fast on a dirt infield that has no grass. “It feels like a real field here,” said senior shortstop David Flores, who hit his first homerun of the season during Thursday’s game.
As much as Flores loves the Tech field, he did say he’s looking forward to playing on a real professional field this weekend. On Saturday, the Bulldogs will take part in the Dave Stewart/Oakland A’s High School Baseball Showdown at the Oakland Coliseum, a showcase event that features some of the top teams in the Bay Area. Tech will face St. Joseph Notre Dame of Alameda in the event’s first game, at 10 am. “I like the feeling of playing on a Major League field, where all the Major League players have played is really exciting,” he said.
Ahmad will have to miss the game, because he plays the French horn in the UC Berkeley Young Musician’s Program, a music training program for gifted students. “That’s the priority,” he said. “Music always comes first. My music director tells me that she has maybe some scholarships lined up for me, so …”
Plus, as a sophomore, he knows he still has a couple years left to range around some of the nicest ballparks in Oakland, his home field included.
“There will be more games,” he said.
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