Congratulations to the 2065 Weaver League Champions, the Oakland Lumberjacks!
What factors help establish the identity of a sports franchise? Is it the actual results on the field, or is it more about the processes and work ethic put in place by leadership? How important is building a relationship with the community, and how does ownership ethos help develop that?
For the Oakland Lumberjacks, this process has been a gradual one as the franchise sought to distance themselves from the prior regime in charge. Heading into the team’s 34th season in Oakland, the bombast and swagger of the Los Angeles Riots had long been replaced by a somewhat reserved, methodical professionalism. To many Weaver fans outside of Oakland, however, they were still “Riots North,” searching for their 1st Weaver Cup in their new digs.
The roots for Oakland’s 2065 title run were planted in the team’s postseason struggles just 4 years prior. After claiming back-to-back Lockwood titles in 2060 and 2061, the contending window seemed to slam shut after Cairo dispatched the Lumberjacks in a 4-game Weaver Series sweep. With an aging roster and LHP Chris Sale’s reluctance to commit for another 3-4 years, the prospects of Oakland making it back to the peak looked highly unlikely.
Undeterred, Oakland management convinced RHP Mike Scott (20-5, 1.86) to sign with the club and serve as the team’s new ace. RHP Armand Holley (17-11, 2.51) was an inconsistent young pitcher in those early playoff runs, but had evolved into a polished starter capable of competing with anybody. RHP Titus Bynum (17-6, 1.60) signed with the Lumberjacks as this year’s top free agent and was quoted on Signing Day as saying “I think this squad could really do something special, they’ve got all the pieces.”
Bynum was indeed prescient, as Oakland’s offense featured solid veterans all around the diamond (34.2 years old, 2nd-oldest in the IL). 12 Lumberjacks hit double-digit HRs, with 1B Dale Thornton leading the way with 35. SS Willie Wells was a triple threat, pacing the club in batting average at .292 while causing havoc on the bases. In the bullpen, LHP Eddie Steengrafe (17 Hld) and RHP Rube Hamner (22 Sv) exuded confidence and had the full trust of the coaching staff to close out games.
Even in the ILCS, questions of identity were hard to shake. Despite the fact that Oakland led the IL with 103 wins, many fans and pundits considered Amity to be the favorite given their extensive postseason track record. The Lumberjacks quickly laid waste to that myth, jumping out to a quick 2-0 lead thanks to 7 different Oakland hitters slugging HRs, as well RHP Hamner’s strong closeout work (1 W, 1 Sv). Amity rebounded to hold serve in Games 3 and 4, but in a pivotal Game 5, relief pitching was once again the story. LHP Steengrafe and RHP Hamner held the White Sharks scoreless for the last 2.2 innings, and Oakland managed to plate home a run in the top of the 11th to setup a potential closeout game at home. Game 6 featured Hamner collecting his record 3rd save of the series, cementing his selection as ILCS MVP.
The Weaver Series matchup was a time to face old demons: Cairo had swept the Lumberjacks out previously, could the in-form Scorpions looking to repeat do it again? Steengrafe and Hamner, longtime team leaders, would make sure things were different this time around as Oakland eked out a surprising 5-3 victory in Game 1 after 12 innings. The two teams proceeded to trade punches, evening the Weaver Series at 2 games apiece after 4 played. In Game 5, RHP Hamner again proved to be the difference, recording a 6-out extra innings save against the heart of the Scorpions order. Then, in Game 6, Oakland’s extra inning magic cemented from “luck” to destiny: RHP Titus Bynum pitched 9.1 IP of shutout ball, and injury-riddled C Levan Zubashvili hammered a hanging curveball to left for the game-winning HR in the top of the 10th.
After so many years of hearing “LA this, LA that..”, Oakland fans and management finally had a Weaver Cup of their own to cherish. Fans streamed out of Lumberjacks Square (aka Coliseum II) and boarded BART trains to Lake Merritt for an impromptu rally with fellow fans coming in from the suburbs. Massive sideshows erupted in both West and East Oakland, and were fueled by an inexhaustible supply of joyous, manic energy; Frank Ogawa Plaza buzzed with the hum of deliriously happy fans celebrating with police officers on hand to ensure celebrations stayed safe. TMZ even received reports that members of the Nukes and Rastas ownership groups were on hand to celebrate the return of a championship to Oakland.
While this season’s Weaver Cup may have been unexpected, Oakland enters next season with a target on its back. With all the major players set to return, though, the Lumberjacks’ chances of repeating look very strong. Here’s hoping to another compelling pennant race and playoffs! Congrats again Oakland!