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Going to bat

PHOENIX - Ken Korach, the Oakland A's radio play-by-play announcer, heard about the trouble at Oakland Tech. The baseball team at Rickey Henderson's alma mater didn't have a field to speak of. The team had to drive two miles to work out and play games, and that created a hardship and, frankly, some kids wouldn't come out for the team because things got so complicated.

An organization called The Friends of Oakland Tech initiated a project to build a field across the street at an abandoned middle school and, somehow, the whole process, from hardship to looming success, affected Korach.

"I donated $5,000," he said before a recent A's game. "I thought my donation in a small way might make a difference for this field where kids could play in their neighborhood."

The project, called Field of Dreams, eventually succeeded, and Korach will make a speech April 4 at the dedication.

He didn't stop there. He is 56 years old and he had achieved success in Oakland and he wanted to give back to the community. In a way, it sounds like a clich? this notion of giving back. If it's a clich? it's the best kind of clich?

Korach had strong feelings about the tradition of baseball in Oakland, not just the A's but the high school kids -- Henderson, Frank Robinson, Curt Flood, Vada Pinson, Joe Morgan. He told himself the tradition is rich and worth preserving.

And then it dawned on him. He could do something on his own. He could start his own charity and 100 percent of the proceeds would go to baseball programs at the six public high schools in Oakland. The mere thought of this charity gave him a profound feeling, as if he had been searching for this, or something like it, for years.

He would not call it the Ken Korach Charity because he is a self-effacing man and when you listen to his broadcasts you know he never calls attention to himself. He would call it, "A's Winning for the Community." That sounded just right.

He asked himself, "What's a reasonable amount I can afford? And he came up with $100 after each A's victory.

There was just one problem. He knew absolutely nothing about setting up a charitable foundation. He's just a regular guy who grew up in L.A. where his dad, Simon, was a high school and junior college baseball coach and he graduated from UC Santa Barbara and there's no such thing lurking out there called the Korach Trust.

So he went to the A's and asked for advice on establishing his charity, and Ken Pries, in charge of A's broadcasts, said the team would help him with the detail work, and by the way, the A's would be honored to match Korach's donations dollar for dollar.

So that's the deal. Two hundred bucks for each A's victory, and individuals and corporations are invited to give what they want. All the info will be on the A's Web site by opening day.

You may not know this, but Korach got his start in Petaluma. So, in addition to being a story about giving in the right spirit, this is also a story about local boy makes good.

In 1980, he wanted to get started in radio but didn't know how. He figured he'd better try a small market because, basically, he knew zilch about radio and he thought of Petaluma/Santa Rosa because a pal of his was the head pro at Bennett Valley Golf Course. Korach could work there until he connected in radio.

He got hired at KTOB in Petaluma -- now defunct -- for the kingly sum of $3.35 an hour. He would play records for four hours on Saturday mornings.

"I said I don't know how to cue up a record," Korach recalled. "I was the worst DJ in the history of radio."

Eventually, he got a full-time on-air shift hosting political shows and doing election coverage. He also announced high school football, baseball and basketball on KTOP and eventually became the voice of Sonoma State football and basketball.

His most important break involved baseball. He announced Redwood Pioneers games on KSRO and, in case you don't remember, the Pioneers played in the California League in that charming little stadium -- also defunct -- in Rohnert Park.

So, Korach's radio pedigree begins in the 707 area code. He has quite a pedigree. Don't take my word for it. Before every A's game, Korach does a radio segment called Rattling the Lumber with Marty Lurie -- it is the last segment of Lurie's pregame show, "Right Off the Bat."

"Ken lets the moment breathe," Lurie said.

This is what Lurie meant. Too many announcers scream and shout and drown out the game, in effect, diminish it. Korach -- his voice deep, resonant, intelligent -- respects the action and does not compete with it. He presents it in vivid word pictures.

His sheer love of baseball comes out in every word he utters and he is a disciple of Bill King -- he could get Kings' Warriors broadcasts as a kid in L.A., Korach lying in bed listening to King on his transistor radio. And King always taught him understatement: "Hold something back, Ken."

Except now, Korach is not holding back. He is giving. I thought you should know.

You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at 521-5486 or lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.

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