Oakland A’s ready for their first Jewish heritage game

Once known for their outrageous promotional stunts — such as Hot Pants Day, Mustache Day and Dinger Night — the Oakland A’s have decided to host an event that’s much more commonplace, at least these days: Jewish Heritage Night.

Already a standby on the schedules of many teams across the country, Jewish Heritage Night with the A’s will make its debut Tuesday, May 17 in a game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. First pitch at the newly renamed Overstock.com Coliseum in Oakland is set for 7:05 p.m.

“I’m glad to see that the A’s have finally done this,” said Rick Concoff, an A’s fan and season ticket plan holder since 1977, and a longtime Jewish educator and camp director in Sonoma County. “It’s a great tribute to the Jewish community, which is why it’s so important for us to show up and make sure that we have a nice showing.”

Craig Breslow, a Jewish relief pitcher for the Oakland A’s, delivers a pitch in a 2010 game. photo/oakland athletics/michael zagaris

The A’s long have had a solid Jewish heritage, from early 1970s stars Mike Epstein and Ken Holtzman to current relief pitcher Craig Breslow, and from owner Walter A. Haas Jr. two decades ago to current co-owners Lew Wolff and John Fischer.

But they sat by as the San Francisco Giants and Golden State Warriors each hosted six Jewish heritage games — No. 7 for the Giants is slated for Aug. 2 — and even as the San Jose Giants minor-league baseball team and San Jose Earthquakes pro soccer team held such events.

However, the A’s at least can brag about breaking new ground locally with their Jewish heritage souvenir giveaway: a yarmulke. “It’s been a hot item in terms of interest,” said Josh Feinberg, an A’s account manager who has helped organize the heritage event; he is expecting around 600 to attend.

Fans who buy their special $26 ticket in the plaza infield section through the A’s or participating local Jewish organizations will get a kippah with “Athletics” spelled out in Hebrew, as well as a $5 food voucher. As a bonus, the game is on a Chevy Free Parking Tuesday.

“It’s a nice rivalry game against the Angels, and the seats are incredible, and everyone will be in the same section together,” said Concoff, the director of teen and camp programs at the JCC of Sonoma County who proudly noted that eight teens from his programs will be singing the national anthem before the game. “We don’t get too many chances to show our solidarity, so this is a great opportunity.”

The giveaway yarmulke is “a hot item in terms of interest,” according to Josh Feinberg of the A’s front office. photo/ travis lodolce

Concoff, who lives in Sebastopol and is helping market the game to people in his area, said roughly 100 people from Sonoma County have bought tickets, which is about the same number sold by a handful of young adult Jewish groups in the Bay Area that have banded together for this event.

“It’s exciting because it’s the first time the A’s are doing this, and we want to do anything we can to help people come together in the community,” said Rachel Thompson, director of the Bay Area Birthright Israel Next (a group for alumni of Birthright Israel). She noted that her agency is selling tickets for a discount and helping to organize a tailgate party for young Jewish adults.

The A’s have come a long way with their promotions since the era of owner Charlie Finley around four decades ago — when scantily clad women and mustachioed men got in free on Hot Pants Day and Mustache Day, and when fans brought cowbells and other bells to shake on Dinger Night.

Like those events, Jewish Heritage Night with the A’s is garnering attention, too, perhaps due to the yarmulke giveaway. An article last month in USA Today raised the issue of mixing Christian, Jewish and Mormon heritage events with sports, quoting Ibraham Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Basically, Hooper posed the question of whether a Muslim heritage game also would be met with open arms, which led to some heated online back-and-forth.

“It’s not that he is not opposed to heritage games,” Zahra Billoo, executive director of the Bay Area chapter of CAIR, explained in an interview. “He’s suggesting it would be beneficial to have similar events for all cultures — events that celebrate diversity … especially in light of all the hate rhetoric that’s out there.”

Alas, while the A’s 2011 schedule includes Japanese, Jewish, Italian and Filipino heritage days, a Fiesta Day and a Church Community Day, it shows no cultural or heritage events beyond those.

Oakland A’s Jewish Heritage Night 7:05 p.m. Tuesday, May 17. A’s vs. the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. $26. Free parking. Must purchase through A’s or Jewish group to get souvenir yarmulke.

Information and tickets: www.oaklandathletics.com/jewish, [email protected] or (510) 563-2205.

Andy Altman-Ohr

Andy Altman-Ohr was J.’s managing editor and Hardly Strictly Bagels columnist until he retired in 2016 to travel and live abroad. He and his wife have a home base in Mexico, where he continues his dalliance with Jewish journalism.