"Why can't we play baseball on a field like this?" was the question Oakland Tech High baseball players asked when playing preseason games in the suburbs. In 2007, Tech parents decided to do something about it.
The Oakland Unified School District gave permission to build a baseball field on a barren playground at the closed Carter Middle School near 45th Street and Telegraph Avenue.
The parents went to work -- raising $400,000 in small and large donations from individuals, foundations and local businesses.
In seven months, the parents, community volunteers and Tech baseball players built the field with their own hands, with guidance from the Oakland A's grounds crew.
Located in the heart of one of the most revered baseball communities in America, the field became a shining symbol of community participation and a medium to bring back baseball to the inner-city.
Rickey Henderson, Ken Korach (voice of the A's), supporters, school board members, neighbors and community celebrated the accomplishment and christening for Henderson, a Hall of Famer and Tech graduate.
It was the local feel good story of 2008.
Since then, baseball has come back.
"The Rickey" is used by Tech High (a school of 2,100 students), other Oakland Athletic League teams, the Challenger League (baseball for physically and mentally challenged youngsters), North and South Oakland Little League, the Babe Ruth League, American Legion, and adult leagues.
Kept pristine by parent volunteers, last year the Field of Dreams Committee hustled funds to install a scoreboard.
This field is now in jeopardy.
After the baseball field was under construction, the OUSD decided to locate Oakland International High School, a school of 350 students, at the site.
To accommodate this new school, students used the outfield and adjoining blacktop for P.E. and after-school soccer. But now OIHS wants a full-size synthetic turf soccer field to play year-round soccer.
The Oakland school board will decide in May whether to change Rickey Henderson Field into a multisport field with artificial turf that would destroy the integrity of the baseball field.
Based on recent comments by OUSD staff, Tech parents and the community have reason to feel betrayed as all their hard work and investment may have been for naught.
The feel good story of 2008 could become a broken dream that chills volunteerism and charitable giving to Oakland public schools.
In a city with a rich baseball legacy and too few diamonds, this baseball-vs.-soccer confrontation should not happen.
Oakland needs more baseball, soccer and softball fields. It is bad public policy when adults, purposefully or not, pit youth against each other in a lose-lose scenario.
It is also bad public policy when leaders disregard the sweat equity of volunteers, willingness of professionals to donate their time and money, and generosity of individuals and foundations that built a baseball field Oakland can be proud of and named for a native son and Hall of Famer.
Let's not undo the magic that we can accomplish when working together.
Paul Brekke-Miesner is an Oakland resident.