Public Comment

Commentary: Baseball at San Pablo Park

By Tim Moellering
Friday May 19, 2006

Although I enjoyed reading, and laughing at, Neil Cook’s satirical commentary on Berkeley High Baseball and San Pablo Park, it contains some denigrating comments about our team and the fine young men who comprise it. Unfortunately, some people take these comments seriously, so I feel obligated to respond. 

Yes, it is true that our players, without revealing any parts of their anatomies that cannot be shown in a G-rated movie, change clothes in the bleachers and the dugout. It would be impossible for them to cram into the bathroom, hold one set of clothing above the puddles beneath them, and change their pants and shoes while balancing on one foot. The only seat available is a frequently wet and slimy toilet seat in an open stall. A room behind the stall serves as the team’s crowded storage shed. When players go to retrieve equipment practice is often delayed 10 minutes out of respect for a man’s need to use the aforementioned stall. Although others may use the shed behind the backstop as a urinal, our players always run to the bathroom for that activity.  

These inconveniences occur precisely because San Pablo Park is a public park which our teams are generously allowed to use between the hours of 4 and 7 p.m. in the afternoon from February through May. Any activity that occurs on that field outside of those hours is not associated with Berkeley High School. This should be obvious as our players are in class during the day and most of our coaches are teaching classes. And, our teams are filled with outstanding students. 

The stereotypical characterization of our players as competitive jocks and our school as a place that values athletics over academics is completely baseless. Despite having to miss as much class time to travel to home games and set up a fence as they do to take a bus to an away game, our team maintains better than a 3.0 grade point average. In my six years as a coach, all of our players have gone on to colleges and universities except two; one chose professional baseball. As a teacher, I can attest that athletics is our most consistently successful academic program. In addition to providing motivation to maintain academic eligibility, participation on a school sports team increases pride, self-esteem, and connection to school.  

Although the long debate over the Derby Street field has inspired lurid fables of the catastrophe that would accompany the field, Mr. Cook does reveal the major problem associated with living next to a baseball field: foul balls. Ironically, according to some city officials, his intransigent insistence on demanding an ineffective backstop overhang thwarted efforts to install mesh above the existing fencing that could actually reduce the amount of balls that leave the field. In the current configuration, of the diamond and backstop, foul balls land in neighbors’ yards during most of our games. Upon the request of the neighbors, our players have been instructed to retrieve balls in view in front yards and to seek permission before entering a back yard or searching through plants. If a different policy is desired, we are happy to abide by it. Obviously, we would prefer to have fewer balls leave the field. Hopefully, if a new field is built on Derby Street, we can construct it in a manner that will minimize this hazard. I am looking forward to an honest discussion with the stakeholders in this lingering controversy and am optimistic that the result will be a field we can all enjoy.  


Tim Moellering teaches English and history and coaches baseball at Berkeley High.