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Oakland Ballers look to fill baseball void in Oakland with A’s set for Las Vegas move

If the Oakland A’s do end up leaving for Las Vegas following the unanimous approval by Major League Baseball’s owners for the franchise’s relocation, baseball will live on in the area thanks to a new independent team.

Beginning in May 2024, the Oakland Ballers — a.k.a. the Oakland B’s — will become the first California-based Pioneer League team and wear the familiar green and gold colors of the A’s. Ownership will be made up of Oakland-area fans and the head of baseball operations will be former Seattle Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu. Micah Franklin, who played over 1,000 minor league games and was later a coach, will serve as the team’s manager.

From ESPN’s Jeff Passan:

The plans for the B’s came together, [Ballers co-founder Paul] Freedman said, after the A’s — who have played in Oakland since 1968 — announced their move to Las Vegas. The A’s will play at Oakland Coliseum, their dilapidated home, for the 2024 season, but plans beyond that are unclear until their new stadium in Las Vegas opens for the 2028 season.

The ownership group has raised $2 million, Freedman said, to help fund operations and expand the seating at the stadium of Laney College, an Oakland junior college where the B’s will play. Their acceptance in the Pioneer League — a former affiliated league that was eliminated when MLB cut more than 40 minor league teams in late 2020 — adds to the 10-team league that has teams in Montana, Idaho, Utah and Colorado.

While Pioneer League teams no longer have formal affiliation with major league teams, the league itself is one of four MLB partner leagues, a group of independent leagues that work with MLB and serve as testing grounds for new ideas. Rather than playing extra innings, the league in 2021 instituted a home run derby-style “knockout round” to determine the game’s winner.

The A’s relocation to Las Vegas was approved earlier this month by MLB owners, ending speculation about the franchise’s future. Owner John Fisher explored building a new stadium in the Oakland area, but nothing came to fruition.

The Oakland Ballers of the independent Pioneer League will begin their 96-game schedule in May 2024. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

The Oakland Ballers of the independent Pioneer League will begin their 96-game schedule in May 2024. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

In April, Fisher turned his attention away from Oakland, purchasing a plot of land in Las Vegas where a new $1.5 billion ballpark would be constructed. That decision prompted numerous fan protests throughout the 2023 season. A’s fans routinely wore green shirts featuring the word “SELL” in large, white letters across the chest.

Fans packed Oakland Coliseum in June as part of a reverse protest to prove to Fisher that Oakland would support a successful team. There were loud chants of “Sell the team!” during the game, a 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.

“That was amazing. And the moment of silence in the fifth inning, I had goosebumps,” Freedman told the Associated Press. “That activism, that inspiration, that demonstration of just what a strong fan base was part of the reason.

“[Co-founder] Bryan [Carmel] and I were already contemplating it, but after that it was like, ‘We cannot let this legacy of baseball end in Oakland. It’s too beautiful, it’s too intertwined with the city of Oakland. And regardless of what the A’s are going to do, we can’t let that legacy end and we have to do something about it.’”

The A’s still have a lease at their ballpark through the 2024. The Las Vegas ballpark isn’t expected to be ready until 2028, so the team could remain in Oakland for the next few seasons or find a temporary location to play after next season.

Even if the A’s stick around in Oakland for a few more years Ballers ownership is ready to welcome all Bay Area baseball fans on board their new venture, even Fisher.

“He can buy a ticket once they’re available,” said Carmel. “We welcome anybody to buy those tickets. I hope they’re fans of what we’re doing.”