Mar 28, 2017
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Oakland’s One-Man Social Service
by Doniphan Blair
Roscoe Bryant, in front of his place of employ, the Grand Hotel, on West Grand in Oakland. photo: D. Blair
ROSCOE BRYANT MAY BE OF MODEST
height and demeanor but he has an athlete’s wiry build, a focused bearing and an upbeat attitude, set off by a snaggle-tooth grin and two large, gold earrings, one in each ear.
In point of fact, he is a one-man social service agency, providing more benefit to the City of Oakland than a twenty-person bureaucracy-burdened department ever could.
First, he is a coach and kid’s baseball organizer, as detailed in Eugene Corr’s excellent, emotion-laden new documentary “Ghost Town to Havana”, see CS's
. Second, he’s their fundraiser.
And third, or perhaps first, he’s a dedicated philosopher of altruism and community activism, unafraid to dive into Oakland’s deepest trouble spots to save the injured child. Indeed, when the Oakland Police release their annual murder stats, Bryant heads to the worst-hit neighborhoods knowing there will be a lot of boys in need of baseball and mentorship.
Bryant’s home ‘hood, Ghost Town, a 20-block triangle of Oakland (starting at West Grand, going to 35th Street, bordered by San Pablo and M.L.K.), has “ghost” in its moniker not for metaphorical reasons. It has one of the highest murder rates in Oakland and, therefore, the nation.
Although Oakland’s recent averages of between 100 and 130 murders a year is down from the almost 200 of the “Crack ‘80s” it is still more, per capita, than the notoriously-troubled Baltimore.
Obviously, policing can only do so much, and sometimes that much is too much, with well-documented police brutality finally coming to the fore. Hence, we need to look to citizen support networks, like
Attitudinal Healing Connection
, a family-run non-prof doing murals, music and therapeutic retreats, also in Ghost Town.
When Bryant recently became the manager of a Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotel, two blocks outside of Ghost Town but still dead-center in its socio-psychology, he immediately started tackling the hotel's problems as well.
First were the obvious ones, garbage-collection, security, drug dealing, but, second, its culture, for which he relies on his trademark system: “Play more baseball,” ie encourage the parents of boys or the boys themselves to join one of his five teams.
Since Bryant’s hotel is about ten blocks down the street from CineSource’s West Oakland studios, one November morning, I dropped by to chat. Coach Bryant was waiting for me outside, ready to tell his story.
To donate to Bryant's teams, contact him via
or send a check to:
Oakland Royals c/o Oakland Babe Ruth
PO Box 27549, Oakland, CA 94602
Please make out to 'Oakland Babe Ruth' BUT with 'For Use by Oakland Royals' in the Memo Section. Thanks.
Coach Bryant in front of the Grand Hotel, once a notorious 'crack palace'. photo: D. Blair
Welcome to the Grand Hotel.
This used to be one of the most notorious buildings in the city of Oakland. Drug dealers would meet you at the front door, surround you, make sure you were there to buy drugs, prostitutes or whatever. Years ago, during the crack epidemic, there were rumors of bodies being piled up in the back yard.
This is a part of my community, so I gratefully took the job [first of security guard, then building manager], so I could be part of the change.
I am happy to say that now there are no the drug dealers, there are no drugs being used in the building—a complete change of culture. It is good to see positive things happening in West Oakland.
It hasn’t been an easy task. I have been assaulted by four different tenants.
Let me show my first day on the job [takes out his cell phone].
This is a video [from a surveillance camera] of my assistant manager attacking me with a golf club. He hits me in the head [a glancing blow]. He’s mad because I want him to actually show up on time. He was supposed to show up at work at 7 [am]. He got there at 10 and had a really funky attitude.
Wow. People usually back away from attackers but you went right into him.
I had no choice. He said he was going to kill me [also Bryant used to box].
This is kind of normal for what I do. [laughs] I am joking. But the turn around is almost complete.
Great to hear. You have been filming with Gene [Eugene Corr, director of ‘Ghost Town to Havana’, see article], so you are pretty used to being on camera by now?
I am, but I’m actually a very shy and quiet person. I did agree to do it with him because I wanted people to see that there is a lot of positive stuff going on in Oakland.
We are not all drugs and thugs. And I thought it would be good for the kids to get a little exposure.
Nothing makes a kid feel better than seeing his face in the movies or in the newspaper. When I was growing up it was the newspaper. But now, with the media the way it is, kids really like to see themselves on film, to increase their self-esteem.
Coach Roscoe Bryant leads his kids on the field and off, including all the way to Cuba, in the new documentary, 'Ghost Town to Havana'. photo: courtesy G. Corr
Self-esteem and some publicity for your projects?
Out of curiosity, what do you think is the most useful thing an individual can contribute at this point?
Time, oddly enough. Just taking the kid out of his environment: TIME!
It could be five minutes; it could be an hour. Time spent with the kids, seeing positive things—knowing that they can do whatever they want—instead of seeing the regular things kids see in Ghost Town: murder, drug dealing, prostitution.
So even if an Oaklander from the hills comes down and does something, or takes them on a trip, it would be useful?
Time. No substitute for positive roll models!
Second, of course, would be money?
Funding is my big thing. I almost have to reinvent the wheel every year as I try to find money. I believe I am still the only free program in Northern California of any sports.
Is that a fact? Incredible!
We cover registration, uniforms, equipment. If we are travelling, we will cover that, too. It’s all about getting the kids the exposure and the baseball itself.
Man, we have gone up against kids with $500 bats. When you stack ‘em up athletically, against my kids, it is not a fair fight. But when you get a $500 bat, it adds 30 to 40 feet to the game. If you want to compete—really compete—it gets very expensive.
My biggest expense are balls and caps. I think the kids are eating my baseballs.
Maybe they think it will give them magical baseball powers?
[laughs] I spend a lot on baseballs. I have five teams. A bucket of balls is about $50 dollars times five; I have to do that two or three times a year. Hats, I don’t know what kids do with the hats. [laughs]
With my ‘T-Ball’ [non-pitching, younger] team, I had 22 kids last year and I had to buy 50 hats. For the first and second game we looked like a team, but by the third game the hats started to change. Kids lose them and the parents will go get a Kansas City Royals hats.
Your team is called Royals?
Roscoe Bryant, inside of his place of employ, waxes enthusiastic about his life work, bringing baseball to underserved kids. photo: D. Blair
Right. The expense of baseball keeps kids off the team. Period. Registration is $150, [and that is especially expensive] if you have three kids [in your family] playing. Most of the kids on my teams have siblings.
You also have to rent fields?
Yes. The sponsor fee for my T-Ball team is free. For my 7-8s it is $450; for my 9-10s $500; and for the 11-12s another $500, to get field for the whole season. The money goes to pay umpires.
Oakland—I give them credit—is really good at hiring youth to umpire baseball—most are between 14 and 18. They go through training; most are ex-ball players. My son refereed a couple of games against me.
Was he pretty tough?
Yes, he was! ‘You better remember, you are going home with me tonight. What was that call? Strike what?’ [laughs]
He said, ‘Dad, be quiet or I am going to kick you out of the game.’
You are pretty vocal for your team?
Not so much. I try to keep it fun. I am vocal in the fact that you will hear us cracking a lot of jokes. We’re very positive with our kids.
Man, I stopped coaching in 2012. I took one year off because I had someone pull a gun on me at a baseball game. We beat their team. The parent got pissed off. [extended laughter]
Really? Pretty amazing!
Yes, that is a fact. Luckily there was a church mother there. She prevented bad stuff from happening.
A church mother intervened between you and the gunman?
Yes. When I first walked on the field there was three of them, big guys, too. They told me, ‘You’d better get off the field.’
I did just that. I am not here to fight. I understand that we are teaching these children, so if I am out here fighting, I have just taught my children, ‘This is how you resolve issues.’
Back to sponsor fees: If you have three kids playing ball, $150 for registration, that is $450, then another $50 on a uniform, then another couple hundred on equipment. By that time, you have spent your rent, your [electrical] and some of your grocery money.
Are you able to offer scholarship?
We are almost 100% scholarship. Very few pay, I would say 5%.
While fielding, as it were, all sorts of odd requests and chores from his hotel clients, Bryant remains focused on doing good work. photo: D. Blair
What I do this time of the year is go out and seek sponsors. This is my mega month, from Thanksgiving to Christmas. People are a little more generous but I fundraise the whole year round.
What is the budget you try to raise every year?
It varies but I generally need about $50,000 a year.
I cold call; I walk in stores; I give them a card; I explain what I do. Some will help; some will not; some will give cash, others cases of water. It never stops for me.
By the way, I do graphic design at the magazine, so we could contribute a flyer, a poster, or we could take some photos.
Better yet! 75 kids gets rather costly but it is worth it.
In fact, when I [arrived] down here in West Oakland, crimes committed by youth went down significantly. It is very simple: Give these kids something else to do other than hang out on the streets.
We also do a lot of things outside of baseball. We may have a two-hour practice [but] then we go sit, eat dinner, talk, do homework, things like that. That is two to four hours they are not on the street. By the time I get done with them, they are tired and go home and to bed.
It is never too early to start these kids off. When we went to Cuba, I was watching these kids. Even before they could they stand up, they were rolling balls to the babies.
In Cuba, they start with two and three years-old, literally?
Yes, I started that here, too. If the three year-olds are not afraid of the ball, they can play. My grandson is three; he will be playing for me this year. I am loving it, the second generation.
Jumping back to the film, it is very personal, not just about baseball. How did you feel about when Gene went so personal?
To have my divorce on public display was very hard for me. Me and my ex-wife are actually still friends. Although the circumstances were what they were, we didn’t have this angry break-up. She went her way, I took the kids got them through high school and into college. We still speak pretty much on a weekly basis.
Not angry with her, more angry with myself because I know I dropped the ball—not so much her, me! Still, even now it is hard to deal with. My kids have all seen the movie and they’re all OK with it but she’s really not.
No. She is a teacher still in Oakland and they’re showing this movie in a lot of [schools in] the Oakland unified school district. We edited it as best we could but even then my concern was: I don’t want to her coming off looking bad person —because she is not a bad person.
Bryant's team joins their opponents on the field in Havana after they lost. photo: courtesy G. Corr
We had a 23-year union; we produced three beautiful kids. [tears up a little] Excuse me.
She is not a bad woman—we just got a divorce, that is all. To have it out there, I feel for her, but it is what it is. But it can be hard dealing with it, knowing that you failed in marriage and every one now will see it.
You think it is necessary for the film?
Yeah, I think it is necessary part of the film.
Simply because it is honest or baseball is also about loosing?
I say this a lot: Baseball is game of failure. If you can hit the ball three out of ten times, you’re a stud. But if I come to work three out ten days, I get fired.
If you are a 180 hitter, you are going to fail almost always but you have to learn to deal with that. Suck it up, come back, improve your game.
I can’t think of anyone who ever got the first job they wanted, or got the first girlfriend. I was always getting shot down. [laughs] I didn’t even have a girlfriend until I joined the army and bucked up a bit.
Baseball is a game of failure. It teaches you how to strike out and the come back. That is one of the life lessons that I love about baseball— it teaches you perseverance.
Of course you and your wife were not the only one targeted, Gene exposed his own family tragedy in the film.
Right. I actually like the way he did the story of three different coaches doing the same thing.
His father, you and—
Nicolas [the Cuban]: The story of three coaches.
It shows that we all have tragedy in our life. Nicolas dealing with his wife, who lost the will to live. Gene, with as dysfunctional family, so to speak. Me with the divorce. There is tragedy amongst all of us, it is just how you are going to deal with it.
I like the way he wove everything together. I always liked documentaries and I don’t just say that because I am in this one. It is a great piece of work.
It’s a great film and a great Oakland film.
Next year, Gene [Corr, the filmmaker] arranged for a southern tour for the movie [‘Ghost Town to Havana’]. We will be in four cities in five days, April 12th-16th.
The hotel clients, where Bryant works, have a diversity of needs, which he attempts to allay. photo: D. Blair
We go to Greensboro, North Carolina, Tallahassee, Florida, New Orleans and Miami. I am trying to raise money to take kids to Miami to play. I found a league there exactly like what I am doing—the whole league is free—that is unheard of!
Miami is the last stop [for the kids]. I definitely didn’t want to take the kids to New Orleans. Call it selfish but I just want to enjoy New Orleans—kind of hard to do that with 75 kids following you around.
Again, it is about exposure, getting our kids out of Oakland, seeing new things. Miami is great cultural center, very diverse. I am just hoping we can pull it off.
You did pull off the Cuba trip. Who raised most of the money for that?
Gene did and the San Francisco Foundation. It was somewhere around 40 thousand. Our tickets from SF to Miami was $270 but that 90 mile trip from Miami to Cuba was close to $400 [each].
Didn’t you have to go to another country?
No. Initially, we were going through Mexico or Canada but we were moving kids, so we [decided we] are going to do it legally.
So you got State Department permission [actually Office of Foreign Assets Control] and flew with a charter?
Yes, a double propeller plane.
The kids had a wonderful time and learned a lot. My son never ever aksed me for a $150 pair of Jordan [sneakers] ever again, after he had seen Havana.
I use this analogy: there is a difference between [extreme] poverty and being poor. Poor people here in America, at least they have an opportunity to elevate themselves.
With extreme poverty, like in Cuba, you are not able to elevate yourself. You have doctors, neurosurgeons, driving taxis. They make more money as a taxi cab driver than as surgeon—it is the darnedest thing. You have professionals opening doors [at tourist hotels] because they make more money off of our tips.
The Germans are there, big time. Cuba is like their sexual playground. After about four days, people thought I was Cuban, so I got propositioned a couple of times.
No, German women. They were a little old and it was flattering but…
The kids loved Cuba but how ‘bout the fact they got beat, what was it, 13 to 2?
Didn’t even matter to them.
Bryant on the field in Oakland. photo: courtesy C. Corr
You know, when you come from a place where your friends are dying, loosing a baseball game ain’t nothing. When you have buried as many kids as I have buried, when you have seen as much as I have seen, a 13 to 2 loss is nothing.
I have had practices I have had to shut down because there was gun play. I was at Lowell Park [Adeline and 14th in West Oakland] about four years ago, I had to end practice.
A guy chases another guy through center field with a 9mm, letting off rounds. I ended up reverting to my army ways. I am running to the kids, trying to scoop up kids so they don’t accidentally get hit. After dodging bullets at practice, a 13 to 2 loss is not a problem.
And one of the things of baseball is learning how to loose gracefully?
Right. After the game [in Cuba], we all had good time. A celebration, no hard feelings, it was like they were brothers.
It shows in the film. What fields are you using these days?
I am probably going use Brookdale [on High St, East Oakland]. A lot of my kids are coming out of the East [Oakland] but I am recruiting heavily in my community, West Oakland. We will probably have two different sites.
When we started, it was just Ghost Town, 12 kids from the exact same street. As we grew, kids were coming from all over Oakland.
What I traditionally do, the first of January, after the Oakland police stats come out, I review them to see where the homicides occurred. This is where we pay special attention. If there are a lot of homicides coming out of East Oakland, that is where I am going to recruit.
How do you recruit, posters, going to schools?
I just go out and say, ‘You know how to play baseball, here is my card,’ walking around. I will walk through any neighborhood in Oakland—you should be able to walk through any neighborhood in Oakland!
Wherever there are problems, that’s where I go. The T-ball team last year, a lot of kids came out of The Village, right behind the Coliseum. They were having a lot of problems, another community like Ghost Town. But the simple game of baseball can mend hearts, bring kids together, bring parents together.
You have to get special permission from the school district to go into the schools. I work too many hours to give an hour to the Oakland Unified school district. Laundromats, grocery stores, wherever I see kids, that is how I recruit.
Do you have assistants?
Oh yeah, team moms. Now I am requiring the parents to participate.
When we started, parents would literally drop kids at my house the last day of school and pick them up the day before school started. It’s not like that any more. Now I require the parents to be a team mom or help me coach. We can’t afford to pay coaches so we utilize what we have: fathers, uncles, moms.
How did you learn your baseball skills?
Bryant can get very enthusiastic about baseball, helping his fellow Oaklanders, despite the costs personally. photo: D. Blair
I am long time fan; I never played other than recreational; I just did a lot of studying; I am old school. I go to the library, pull books and get on the Internet. To this day [I do that,] if I want to know a certain drill.
Like last year, I taught the kids—even the T-Ball kids—how to hit down the third base line. That’s were most of the weaker players are. So, for the whole year, we are just hitting it down the third base line. I learned that off a YouTube tutorial.
Did you have a coach mentor yourself?
I had a coach mentor but the funny thing about him—it was my first year out and we were playing each other. He knew I didn’t know what I was doing, so he came over and coached both teams. Took me under his wing and taught me: Coach Ralph Grant.
A really great man, we lost him to cancer a couple of years ago.
Oakland, at that time, had this mysterious ‘mercy rule.’ Most city’s have a mercy rule: ‘If you are up by ten runs, the game is called.’ But I learned real quick in Oakland, the mercy rule is: ‘We ain’t gonna have mercy. We will beat the pants off of you.’
I’ve had teams put up 45 runs in, like, 3 innings and would not slow down. [laughs]
One coach, who I despise to this day, he pulled all his players back, except for the pitcher and the catcher. First base, second base, shortstop, every one is on the back fence, chilling. ‘They ain’t gonna hit the ball anyway.’
‘I mean, like, are you serious?!? You are winning already by thirty, do you really have to humiliate our kids?!?’
I had a plan [however]. The next time I played the guy, I did what anyone in my position would do. I brought two boxes of glazed donuts, calling them a peace offering, knowing that these kids are going to get a sugar high. During warm-ups they were like [gestures rapidly with hands] hyper.
I know it is not morally right but they just beat me 45 to nothing and laughed at me, so gave them all donuts. First inning, [laughs] they are ready for naps.
Bryant's Oakland Royal's in Cuba. photo: courtesy G. Corr
So you won that game?
Three to two! I will never forget the other coach, just lost his mind because his kids were tired. [laughs] But he didn’t have to humiliate our kids like that.
Why do you think he did that?
In one word, he was a jerk.
Oddly enough when my [biological] kids started playing at Skyline [High School] guess who was coaching? I will give him respect though, he knows the game inside out. He was a professional, came through the Cincinnati Reds organization. But it’s just a game and he is just a jerk, that’s all.
We are from West Oakland where my kids started at McClymonds High [near Ghost Town] and their [coach] wasn’t doing his job. About six of their players didn’t qualify because of grades. That means the whole team didn’t get to play a whole a season.
I’m like, ‘No, my kids need to play baseball,’ so we transferred them to Skyline, a much better school [albeit with the ‘jerk’ coach].
McClymonds is not that bad either, they are getting kids into college. It’s a small school, 400 kids, but if you look at their football and basketball teams, they are always on their way to a state championship.
My daughter was there. She was the cheerleader and we went to the state basketball tournament THREE years in a row! From a pool of 400, we are beating teams with 2000 kids plus.
My point is: There is so much talent in Oakland.
You mentioned your baseball mentor? Did you have another mentor when you were younger?
My father is definitely my role model. There are three men that I look up to and try to emulate. My father was one. He spend 25 years in the army but my mother finally wanted to settle down, so they bought a house in Ohio, bought and paid for in five years.
[He did] 25 additional years driving cross-country—man! But he paid for our house with a 6th grade education.
My other heroes were my wrestling coaches. I wrestled from when I was five years old ‘til I joined army, when I converted to boxing.
Everything was about wrestling for me. I ran cross-country in the fall so I would be in shape for wrestling in the winter. I ran track in the summer, distance, one mile, two miles, they hadn’t converted to meters yet—not to age myself.
Where was this?
I was born in Alaska. I grew up in a military family; by the time I was five, I had zigzagged across the globe. My brother was born in Germany but we settled in Ohio, when I was five— a very racist city, Mansfield, Ohio.
Blatant racism, in your face; it wasn’t subtle like it is out here. They would use the ‘N’ word frequently, my teachers, my principals, some of my coaches.
I am glad I was raised in Ohio, it gave me character, work ethic. We all work out there. My generation didn’t sit around playing video games. You got out and got a job, period.
But the racism I went through: unh-unh, I despise it. I always said, ‘When I became a man, I will not tolerate this.’
I left home when I was 17 and joined the army. I graduated [high school] May 30th 1981; I was in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, June 3rd.
From the army, I actually went back and tried to live in Mansfield. But, by this time, I had seen the world, been all over Europe. I enjoyed travelling, seeing different things, meeting different people and my hometown didn’t have that.
So I stayed a couple of months and got a job [but] I woke up one morning, cussed out my boss, got on the Greyhound and came West. I went to LA first. I got off the bus and looked around—I don’t know if you have ever been to downtown LA but it’s a shit-hole.
‘Hell, no I can’t live like this,’ got back on the bus and came up to San Francisco—gay capital of the world. No, I am not gay, I just figured, ‘A lot of gay guys. There has got to be a lot of available women. Someone has to take care of these women.’
I volunteered, seriously! I am 21 years-old.
I landed in San Francisco with $500 and thought it was a lot of money [but] I went through that $500 in three days. Then I was homeless for a few weeks. I slept in a flophouse on Leavenworth until I got a job in Burger King.
A lot of these kids don’t want to work at Burger King but I was happy. It meant two things: I could eat all day long and didn’t have to worry about it.
Then you shifted to Oakland?
Once I got married and started having kids, I couldn’t park the car [near the house]. I wracked up more parking tickets than… so we moved over to Oakland.
I loved the community right off [Ghost Town] even though there were a lot of issues. When I got the house, there is a park right there, and a school right there—ka-ching! [makes cash register motion]
[But] that park used to have so many needles. I used to have to go out there with thick gloves to pick up the needles ‘cause people would be in the park late at night smoking crack, shooting up. You’d hear rounds going off, now and then. I heard people getting the hell beaten out of them.
The police did not respond the way I wanted them to. In fact, the kid who died in my arms, if the police could have gotten there, they could have saved him. He got shot in the heart, shot in the stomach. He turned to run and the cowards even shot him in the back.
The EMTs got there in three minutes but they locked their truck and rolled up the windows. There’s a policy in the city of Oakland, the police must come first to secure the scene. I get it but the police didn’t get there for six or seven minutes. We had a mini-riot. They people wanted the EMTs to help this kid.
He bled out in my arms.
Oh my god!
Right in front of my front door. He had just come out of my back yard.
My back yard was a safe house. It was the one place kids could come and feel safe. I had a huge back yard, two dogs, a big pitbull, any body could come, any child or female could walk in the yard, pet the dog, jump on the trampoline. The dog would get on the trampoline.
But I shut it down like at 8 o’clock: Everyone has to go! I have to take care of my family. That is how he died, he left my back yard.
There was a white van at the end of the block; it started creeping up; I was seeing it out of my peripheral vision. But, because of the neighborhood, this was nothing unusual. People were always coming down to buy drugs.
[The van] got past me, the door slid open and the automatic fire began. ‘Tada-da-da-da-DA.’ There is a guy in the [neighbor’s] window and he starts opening fire, a crossfire, a literal crossfire, right in front of my house.
They were not shooting at the kid, per se?
No, no, they were shooting at the kid.
I heard he was into something, I don’t know.
I know every time he came around it was, ‘Yes, sir, no sir,’ which seemed kind of strange, since most of Oakland kids don’t talk like that. Mostly, it is ‘What’s up,’ ‘Yo G,’ stuff like that. Very polite, he was 14 to 15 years old.
What could he have possible done? Maybe he ran drugs?
That is what they are saying. Again, I had never seen him do it. I know his family was deep in the game—all his older brothers and sisters. [So] it is probably true.
What I do know he always showed me and my family respect. I know he never brought drugs in my yard or weapons, he’d work out.
Thomas Simpson, 14 years old…
I use Craig’s List’s free section, that is how I built up my back yard. Two trampolines, five or six different exercise machines.
Pretty much, later we put a batting cage out there. I did it for free but there are a couple of batting cages for pay now in West Oakland.
2016 will be our ten-year anniversary in Oakland. At first, I couldn’t afford Oakland, so we started in San Francisco. I have a 1985 Dodge Ram van that we’d load up 9 to 10 kids and go to San Francisco Parks and Rec and play.
We made it to the championship but they play recreational ball in San Francisco. Oakland is hard core.
Are you Little League?
No, we are Oakland Babe Ruth. If I were to do Little League, which is set up differently, I would put the kids in the draft and they would go wherever the league decides. That is not a good fit for me. I want to be personally involved with these kids. I want my own staff to be involved.
Oakland Babe Ruth allows me to bring in a team; it is a friendlier league, more developmental. North Oakland Little League, their kids don’t start throwing the ball until they are 9 or 10.
With our 7 to 8s, you have kid pitchers. You get two years of T-Ball and after that you are playing real baseball. I could take my T-Ballers and probably beat any Little Leaguers out there. I know because we shared a park one time.
I take away from the Little League because of the way they coach. I have been against some really rude, arrogant coaches. And parents. Three years ago our T-Ball tournament got cancelled because of violence—parents fighting other parents in front of our four, five and six year-olds.
As matter fact, at the end of a game, I get two questions, first question, ‘What is for snacks, coach?’ Second question, ‘Did we win?’ Just give them something nice after the game and they don’t even care [about the score]. They are just happy to come out and be part of something.
In closing, in the beginning we were talking about time are there any other recommendations?
I have always been trying to get in place a program: ‘Adopt a Royal.’
No, we are not going to give kids to nobody. What I mean is, take a kid to work one day or show the kid the way you live, or be involved in their school. Just an hour or two out of your week, explain to the kid what you are doing, your journey from point A to Point B, high school, college whatever.
It may sound cliché-ish but the time spent is really important. It stimulates the brain and shows him some other options other than, ‘I am going to out there and make me some fast money.’
And we always have the need for funding. It is a year round baseball program and some kids move away and we bring on other kids but those fees don’t transfer. The more funding the more we can do.
I will say this: I love the Bay Are and the people of the Bay Area.
This is our ten-year anniversary and there has never been a time we couldn’t play because of funding. We have had a couple of times when the league president is, like, ‘Roscoe, we aren’t even gonna let you march in the parade, because you haven’t paid up.’ Mysteriously, funding comes in.
I am thinking about bringing in 13 year-olds this year. I just need a coach. Finding coaches willing to volunteer their time and work for free is a little bit difficult.
You have never drawn a salary?
I have never made one penny in any form or fashion. In fact, in general, I lose about ten thousand dollars a year, depending on the year. The registration comes out of my pocket because, simply put, ‘Kids got to play ball.’
But I don’t lose a lot [because] I call it an investment in our kids. I am willing to invest in our kids having a good time. I think all kids should have a good childhood and not duck bullets every other day and put up with the tragedies these kids down here have gone through.
My first team, every kid on that team had either lost a relative or witnessed a homicide. When I first moved into Ghost Town, a 16 year-old kid got killed right in front of my house.
I have had two times when bullets came right through my house. Random bullets!
The house had a bay window. My daughter was standing in the window looking out because she couldn’t go outside because it was too dangerous. And, sure enough, there was a killing right in front. The bullet came into our house and missed her by about this much [gestures about a foot].
The neighborhood has gotten a lot better for a lot of different reasons [but] it still has issues.
In the beginning of our chat you said you think Oakland is improving
Changes in the administration has something to do with it [from Mayor Jean Quan to Libby Schaaf in Jan 2015]. The economy is improving, the housing. People from across the bay—you can clearly see the shift—the neighborhoods are changing. When we first moved in the choice in dog was pit bull now its Chihuahua. [laughs]
The culture is changing slowly. And, depending on what side of the fence you are on, If you are homeowner, it is a great place because your property values are skyrocketing.
It is evolving, no if ands or buts about it—West Oakland specifically. I love it here because all the freeways, all the bus lines, run through here. And the weather is much better than San Francisco and than East Oakland.
I think West Oakland is the perfect place, period.
Doniphan Blair is a writer, film magazine publisher, designer and filmmaker ('
Our Holocaust Vacation
'), who can be reached
Posted on Dec 08, 2015 - 12:45 PM