OAKLAND — Rickey Henderson’s ties to the Coliseum run deep, and they go back further than the time the Oakland product wore an A’s uniform.
“I used to come to the ballpark, a lot of time I didn’t have the money to buy a ticket,” he recalled. “Somehow we would find a way to get into the ballpark.”
The A’s are making a renewed effort to honor their legends from the past, and the first major step in that came Monday night when the A’s dedicated the playing surface at the Coliseum as Rickey Henderson Field.
Henderson attended a pregame ceremony before the Opening Night game against the Los Angeles Angels, and he took part in a news conference sitting alongside A’s president Dave Kaval, who he credited for welcoming former A’s players with open arms back into the fold.
He reminisced about his time coming to A’s games as a kid. As it turns out, the major leagues’ all-time stolen base king was putting his speed to use at an early age.
“I probably was stealing my way in as a kid,” he said with a smile. “They used to have the bleachers out there, they used to just have a fence. So we would find a way to get underneath the fence or hop the fence and then during game time, we would sneak in and see the ballgame.”
Did he ever get caught?
“No, I think I was too fast. The kids behind me, they got caught.”
Henderson will serve as a special assistant to Kaval, but he’ll also continue his role as a roving minor league instructor and he’ll occasionally accompany the big league team. Kaval, who hosts open office hours on Tuesdays for fans to drop by to share their ideas, credited a fan with the idea of naming the field after someone. Right away, Henderson popped into Kaval’s head.
“It’s the least we can do to honor such an amazing person,” Kaval said, “not only in baseball — really, an American treasure — but also in this community of Oakland.”
After a video tribute to Henderson on the JumboTron, the Hall of Fame left fielder entered the field through the center field gate to a loud ovation.
“My heart and soul is forever Oakland,” he told the crowd during a speech he gave from in front of the pitcher’s mound.
Then Henderson went down the line of A’s players lined up on the third-base line and high-fived each and every one of them.
During his news conference, he said he hopes he can help in the efforts to get more kids playing baseball again in Oakland.
“First of all, we’ve got find a way to build ballparks,” he said. “I think when I was coming up we had a lot more ballparks. … Today, I think the families, both the mother and the father, have to work. They don’t have the time.
“I know a lot of kids wanna play baseball, but they feel they don’t have nowhere to go. It’s costing too much to get on a traveling team to play. So they give up on baseball and go play football or basketball.”
Henderson also had thoughts to share when asked about the Raiders leaving Oakland for Las Vegas.
“I’m a Raider season ticket holder, so that hurt my heart,” he said. “ … I think the fans were behind them 100 percent. For them to leave once, then come back and leave again, I think it’s hurting us a lot more. I’m really disappointed the city and the Raiders didn’t get together and work out a deal for us to keep the team here.” As for getting the Coliseum field named after him, Henderson said the honor touched him deeply.
“When I was growing up in Oakland as a kid, playing in the parks around the ballpark, I had no idea this chance would ever come,” he said. “… This is just a special moment.”