Paul Brekke-Miesner Talks A’s, Warriors, and Raiders
One of The Town’s original sports junkies, Paul Brekke-Miesner has his finger on the pulse of Oakland sports.
Photo courtesy Paul Brekke-Miesner
Oakland has long been synonymous with sports. An endless list of world class jocks raised in the hub of the West includes baseball stars Joe Morgan and Rickey Henderson, b-ballers Bill Russell and Jason Kidd, football’s Marshawn Lynch, and tennis legend Don Budge. The city’s pro sports teams have also flourished — even while looking for other places to play. Training a keen eye on this legacy is one Paul Brekke-Miesner. A native son with family roots dating back 100 years, he self-published a tome on the city’s rich sports history, Home Field Advantage Oakland: The City that Changed the Face of Sports. It is a must read for any Oakland sports nut. It not only chronicles the feats of the city’s finest athletes, it also discusses why Oakland has been able to nurture so many gifted athletes. A former manager of the Oakland schools health and safety programs, back in the day Brekke-Miesner also covered high school and junior college sports for the Berkeley Gazette and the Oakland Tribune back when there were these things called local public newspapers. He also spearheaded the building of a baseball diamond for the Oakland Tech baseball team at a nearby closed middle school. I caught up with Brekke-Miesner recently to get his take on the current state of Oakland’s healthiest obsession.
Paul Kilduff: How exactly did Oakland change the face of sports?
Paul Brekke-Miesner: As a kid, we were playing sports year-round as opposed to kids on the East Coast who couldn’t do that unless they were playing indoors. But we’ve always had that great weather, so we were always out playing anytime of the year. The more you play, the better you get. As important, if not more important, was that Oakland going back to 1907-1908 developed an incredible recreation and parks program. When I interviewed so many athletes, many who have now passed, they always talked about the parks and recreation program in Oakland, which was so significant in their lives. For example, I don’t know if you know this, but Oakland once had a program where every elementary school playground across the city had a male and female recreation director after school and on Saturdays who coached sports and provided arts and crafts.
PK: It would seem that with that history it would have been a no-brainer for the Oakland schools to take an abandoned field near Oakland Tech and turn it over to the school in need of a baseball diamond. But you and other parents had to make that happen. What does that say about how things have changed?
PBM: You raise a good point. Times changed, people changed, institutions changed. As I mentioned in my book, one of the things that just cut the legs out from underneath parks and recreation was Prop 13. In one year, $10 million was cut from the recreation department’s budget. It was a killer and it’s never recovered from that, quite frankly. That was a devastating blow.
PK: Fast forward to today. The A’s say they have two choices for a new stadium, Howard Terminal or the Coliseum. But it seems like there’s really only one choice, and it’s not the Coliseum. What do you think?
PBM: I know there’s all kinds of hurdles ahead for them to build at Howard Terminal rather than the Coliseum. I mean, that’s their decision. They seem genuine, so I’m real hopeful. And my family and I can still afford to go to a baseball game. We can tailgate. I mean we may not be able to do that at Howard Terminal. I don’t know. They say they’re going to try to make that happen. Personally, I would love to see them build at the Coliseum site because I can walk out my front door in East Oakland and be in my seat in 20 minutes. I’ve timed it. Some of the greatest moments in American sports history took place there. So how could you not love the place? I mean it’s in my heart and always will be. It’s The House of Thrills on 66th Avenue.
PK: Do you agree with the contention that, like it or not, the Raiders, Oakland’s first pro sports team, put Oakland on the map?
PBM: They put Oakland on the sports map. Although I would argue that people who really knew sports knew about Oakland years ago because Oakland had fed so many incredible athletes into the nation’s sports consciousness. We had been doing that for a hundred plus years. But you’re right, as far as professional sports are concerned, the Raiders put Oakland on the map, or I should say more appropriately, Oakland put the Raiders on the map. That swagger, tough working-class persona of the Raiders, Oakland gave that to the Raiders. That didn’t happen just out of the blue. This was a tough working-class railroad and port town, and the Raiders were birthed here, and the reason they have that tough reputation was because they were raised in Oakland. When they leave here, it’ll never be the same.
PK: A friend of mine who like me grew up a Raiders fan has said the Raiders are now dead to him. How about you?
PBM: When they leave Oakland for Vegas, I plan to write an obituary, because they will have died and gone. They are no longer the Raiders. And then the Warriors. We supported them through thick and thin, mostly thin, and when they wanted an expansion of the arena, we expanded it for them. And now they have been refusing to even pay for that as they leave out the door for San Francisco. I feel proud to say that we’ve done everything to support our professional sports teams.
PK: I would agree. But it begs the question: Has Oakland put too many eggs in the pro sports basket?
PBM: Pro sports has really changed. It’s not about the fans anymore. This is corporate now. It’s a whole different beast that we’re trying to feed. Professional sports has this financial appetite that you can’t satisfy. Cities like Oakland, you know what? I think it’s time that we just say see you later.
PK: In their final Oakland season, will you pay any attention to the silver and black?
PBM: When they leave, I’m done. I rooted for them the last couple of years because Marshawn Lynch was playing for them. Marshawn’s a friend of my son. They went to school together. So I watched the games, but I’m done.
PK: So wait — you’re not going to one last farewell tailgate done up in full Darth Vader face paint? Dude, that’s hella disappointing.
PBM: No, no, no.
PK: What if I invite you to mine?
PBM: I’ll go to the tailgate. I won’t go to the game. I’m not going to give Mark Davis another penny out of my wallet. I’m sorry.
PK: I’ll stock up on Miller Lite.
PBM: I’ll be there.
Paul Brekke-Miesner Vital Stats
Birthplace: Oakland, where else?
What’s your sign, man? Taurus
Book on nightstand: Where the Crawdads Sing
Baseball “Walk up” music: Tower of Power’s “Oakland Stroke”
Favorite Sando: Pastrami and Swiss on rye with mustard and mayo
Editor’s note: While currently out of print, Brekke-Miesner is seriously considering doing another run of his book.
Got an idea for The Kilduff File? E-mail Paul Kilduff at PKilduff350@gmail.com.