He crossed the first base line, and immediately pointed out that the baseball diamonds at Bushrod Park are named after Billy Martin. He laughed and said, “It should have been named after Frank Robinson.” His rationale was that, although both gentlemen were professional athletes, and both did indeed play at Bushrod Park, Frank Robinson is from Oakland. Billy Martin was a Berkeley kid. When asked if Billy Martin made the book, Paul Brekke-Miesner laughed again and said, “no!”

Brekke-Miesner’s book, Home Field Advantage, is about the athletes and coaches who were born and/or raised in Oakland, and made it to the top of the game in their respective sports.

Oakland’s parks played a significant part in the story of sports in America. Bushrod’s 10 acres hold some pretty amazing sports history in themselves: The Oakland Raiders of the American Football League used to practice there in the 60s. In the 70s, a kid named Rickey Henderson used to run around that base path, galloping like a greyhound while donning an Oakland Tech Bulldogs jersey. And there’s the story of Don Budge, the Oakland-born son of a Scottish immigrant, who grew up to become a tennis Grand Slam champion. He has his name etched in the tennis courts at Bushrod.

Somewhere between the baseball diamonds and the tennis courts, a red picnic table stands in the middle of the park. As Brekke-Miesner grabbed a seat on the bench, he told the story of the Black Socks scandal, and how an Oakland High graduate by the name of Chick Gandil was a key player in the fixing of the 1919 World Series. He then told the story of a Castlemont coach named Dave Shigematsu, who became a champion after spending childhood years in a Japanese interment camp.

He also told me the story of the first African-American man to break “baseball’s color line.” In 1916, three years prior to Jackie Robinson’s birth, the Zee-Nut baseball card company featured a photo of an African-American baseball player named Jimmy Claxton. His official racial makeup was French, Irish, English, Native American and African-American. He was introduced to the team as a Native American man, and was on the roster of the Oakland Oaks for two games before officials discovered he was African-American, and kicked him off the team.

“It’s not about race. It’s not about class,” says Brekke-Miesner, on the topic of the stories in his book. “This is about the history, culture and pride of a town: The Town.”

Paul pitching

Paul pitching

Brekke-Miesner, a native son of Oakland, says he is a fan of Damian Lilliard and Marshawn Lynch, but his favorite Oakland sports hero is a guy named Bill. “The fact that Bill had a meager start to his career–folks who saw him as a senior (in high school) would’ve had no idea!” said Brekke-Miesner.

Bill Russell, a skinny West Oakland kid who was initially cut from his junior varsity high school team, grew to be an NBA World Champion (eleven times!), a Hall of Fame basketball player and a Presidential Medal of Freedom award winner.

Paul's book

Paul’s book

Russell’s legacy looms as large as the story of his high school growth spurt, but Brekke-Miesner is quick to say, “I would underscore the point that I did the book to not only highlight this amazing Oakland legacy, but to bring about a greater discussion on Oakland’s athletic heritage.”

This table-top book makes it a bit easier to discuss the town that produced the great legacies of folks like Frank Robinson, who is on the cover of the book–even people who just stopped in town to play ball, like Billy Martin, who actually does have a photo in the book, as he is standing next to Oakland’s Jackie Jensen.

“It’s a great American story,” said Brekke-Miesner, in closing.

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