Piedmont Grounds? Never heard of it. Why … is their coffee any good? — Everyone, 2013
Some still remember that, before the Philadelphia Athletics relocated here (by way of Kansas City) and became the Oakland A’s , the “home team” around these parts had been the Oakland Oaks. However, before that, things were minor league and less clear. There were various teams at different times; but the era we’re concerned with is the early 1890s, and the team, one by the name of the Oakland Colonels. Their practice field, the Emeryville Grounds, was located in a windy, factory-filled area, just downwind of an iron-smelting plant. The players complained, but were ignored — until they began to get sick. Only then did the team’s owners finally concede that their arrangement might indeed be less than optimal, and begin scouting for a new location.
Here some readers may be thinking: “Oh, I see; so the team went to Piedmont, hence the name —”
Nope! Forget “Piedmont” — in 1890, the upper-crusty bedroom community we know today did not yet exist. Piedmont Springs, a country resort and spa, did — and was even accessible now, thanks to a brand-new cable car road. But it lacked sporting facilities, and moreover most people still lived downtown – the city was just beginning to spread out.
It’s important to understand that, despite several decades of growth, Oakland was still fairly small, and contiguous. Picture Lake Merritt as a squiggly, watery “V” (with slightly longer tips than today!): by 1890, not many areas above the V, or right of its left tip, were more developed than oak trees and grass (though this was fast changing). The “Piedmont” in Piedmont Grounds (or Piedmont Baths), referred – rather promotionally – less to the location itself, as a direction (as a modern highway sign heading south from Oakland might mention Los Angeles).
An acceptable spot was found around 24th and Waverly streets (near the leftmost tip of Lake Merritt’s “V”) on land owned by the Piedmont Consolidated Cable Company (whose historic powerhouse and car barn houses Fresh Fields today). A field was quickly laid out with grandstand and bleachers, and all agreed these “grounds” were much healthier. However, the Colonels played there only 2 seasons — 1892 and 1893 — due to the field’s small size, lack of seating (it only held 1100), and the opening of an even-more-ambitious ballfield in another part of town.
Today, almost no traces of Piedmont Grounds remain. However, if you walk around its former location mindfully enough, you’ll soon find … something. I won’t tell you what, and it’s not marked … but when you see it, you’ll know — because oaklandwiki ain’t wikipedia.