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Oakland Sports Fans Gear Up for DIY Fans Fest While A’s Strike Out in Las Vegas

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Fans of the Oakland A’s gather during a reverse boycott at the Oakland Coliseum to protest the ownership of the baseball team on June 13, 2023.  (Aryk Copley/ KQED)

A sports coup d’état is unfolding in the Bay Area right now, and the Oakland Coliseum’s drum-beating, flag-waving diehards are leading the charge. Once again, A’s fans are rewriting their own history after spearheading the “Summer of Sell” and organizing the largest-ever MLB boycott — all in response to the team’s planned relocation to Las Vegas.

Their momentous energy will be on full display at Bloc15 in Jack London Square for this year’s guerilla-organized Fans Fest, an all-day event meant to honor Bay Area sports fans that will be unlike anything any other fanbase has ever felt compelled to independently assemble.

a black t-shirt that reads "Fans Fest" in white lettering
Fans Fest 2024 will take place in Oakland’s Jack London Square, and is 100% organized and funded by fans and local sponsorships. (Courtesy Last Dive Bar)

At Fans Fest, there will be Porta Potties labeled “the Johns,” with pictures of Oakland A’s owner John Fisher attached to them. Cult-favorite hot dog vendor, Hal the Hot Dog Guy, will be dressed as a rally possum while handing out Opening Day boycott stickers. Former A’s icons Coco Crisp and Ben Grieve will sign autographs. Custom-designed, one-off bobbleheads made by Robb Roberts, an A’s superfan, will be made available in a silent auction. Oakland baseball legends and youth teams will be on site, gassing up the city’s multi-generational love of America’s favorite pastime. And it’ll be free to attend.

Captained by four lifelong A’s fans — Jorge Leon and Todd Saran of the Oakland 68s (a nonprofit group of A’s fans that donates resources to Oakland-based charities), as well as Bryan Johansen and Paul Bailey of Last Dive Bar (a local apparel brand that used to collaborate with the A’s on popular fan designs) — this community-geared festival isn’t just about celebrating Oakland A’s fans and their history. It’s about highlighting small business owners, creating positive memories for families and celebrating the remaining East Bay sports fandoms, despite the somber reality of major teams jettisoning Oakland in recent years.

“Everyone is hurt by the actions of the A’s towards the community and fans, and it’s sad. Everyone is affected by it, and we wish it wasn’t the case,” Johansen says. “But this event isn’t about bashing the A’s; it’s about coming together and celebrating the fans and sports teams still here.”

Sponsored

Having raised well over $15,000 for the event (a “conservative” estimate, according to the organizers), as well as garnering support and sponsorships from the region’s various teams — including the A’s minor-league affiliate Stockton Ports, the Oakland Roots, the Oakland Ballers and the Marshawn Lynch co-owned Bay Area Panthers — the DIY Fans Fest has reached an epic, unprecedented scale that once again proves how committed Oakland’s sports fans are in the face of erasure.

a woman and man plan a sports event inside a large building
A member of the Oakland 68s meets with a Bloc15 employee to discuss the indoor logistics of Fans Fest 2024. (Courtesy Last Dive Bar )

Amid the never-ending vortex of the Oakland Athletics’ relocation attempt (which now appears to be stalled, with the team perhaps extending their lease at the Coliseum), the community has decided to put the ball back into their own hands. And rightfully so, as John Fisher — the A’s notoriously frugal owner — only continues to sabotage the baseball dreams of Oaklanders with a lack of commitment and vision to the team’s loyal supporters.

It’s time to forget about all that, if just for an afternoon.

Food, desserts and beverages will be available from Smoking J’s Barbecue, La Hacienda Real, De La Cruz Creamery, La Santa Torta, Tacos El Ultimo Baile, Forge Pizza, Drake’s [editorial update: Drake’s has since retracted their sponsorship, and in their place, Berkeley’s Fieldwork Brewing has offered to join a day ahead of the event], 21st Amendment, Oakland Beer Works and more.

The event will effectively replace the traditional “A’s Fanfest,” which the A’s hosted prior to each season until 2020, when, as the event description on the Oakland tourism bureau’s official website puts it, “they seemingly turned their back on the fanbase.” Since then, the Oakland 68s have held a version of Fans Fest beginning in 2021. But never to this degree, nor with this much attention — and tension — surrounding the formerly beloved Moneyball underdogs. Long gone are the days of embracing the inspirational “Rooted in Oakland” and “Green Collar Baseball” slogans of yesteryear — old tag lines that have since been stained with skepticism and distrust.

And yet, while fans have been left to fend for themselves against the wolves of capitalism — with the MLB’s other team owners seeming to act as co-conspirators to help bring the A’s to a supposedly more lucrative market in Nevada — these homegrown bleacher-sitting loyalists aren’t afraid to throw a few curveballs of their own. Though they’ve maintained a good sense of humor about it all (see: John Fisher Porta Potties and an adult man dressed as a possum), they’re also coming from a place of unwavering commitment and life-hardened passion.

a group of men stand on a street corner in Oakland in preparation of a sports event
A member of the Oakland 68s meets with security in preparation for Fans Fest 2024. (Courtesy of Last Dive Bar)

“I played baseball since I was four, up until college. I had a scholarship, but addiction and alcohol abuse took me out,” Johansen says. “I couldn’t afford to go back to college after that, had to support myself. Now I don’t drink. No drugs. I’m sober. I’m in recovery and do a lot of outreach. My wife runs community events, and we got recognized by the City of San Jose.”

“I have a son. What we’re trying to do is pass down good memories to future generations. What we do is a reflection of people’s experiences at the Coliseum and baseball in general. It represents our affinity towards family and community. I hope fans walk away from Fans Fest feeling like they were celebrated. That their love of sports and community was honored. I want everyone to have a ridiculously good time.”

Early in the process, the organizers extended a formal invitation to the A’s. They declined. Once again, the A’s organization has struck out, while the team’s relentlessly creative and resilient fanbase launches another home run over the still-standing fence.

Sponsored

Fans Fest will take place at Bloc15 (252 2nd St., Oakland) on Saturday, Feb. 24 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. On-site and nearby parking will be available. Free to attend.

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