A Heavenly Gate for Baseball

A heavenly gate for baseball




UCSB's Caesar Uyesaka Stadium, here during the summer, is the target of the school's next major renovation project.
Eric Isaacs / news-press

Perseverance unlocks success, if you are to believe one of America's great poets.

"If you only knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you are sure to wake up somebody," Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said.

But those who knock UCSB's junky Caesar Uyesaka Stadium know how badly it's exposed the Gauchos in today's shark-infested waters of baseball recruiting.

And so they're going to need a bigger gate.

Athletics director Mark Massari is making that a priority for the 18-year-old facility, hoping it leads to bigger and better things.

"It's about how you feel walking into a place," he said. "The ICA building was designed that way, with a really nice lobby. The Henley Gate at the entrance to campus is like that, too, and so is the Curtice Gate, which tells the story of Harder Stadium.

"We want to do that now with baseball."

Massari plans to construct a $600,000, entry-way plaza as the first phase of a stadium makeover that would eventually include lights and a new playing surface. Improve the curb appeal, he believes, and you just might sell some major donors on the rest of UCSB's baseball house.

"We're calling it Gaucho Park, and it will have a nice, rolling, wrought-iron gate that will mirror the meandering, snaking gate at Harder Stadium," he said. "It would take into a nice plaza area, with a ticket booth and concession stand, and lead you to the left, down Big Leaguer Lane, and to the bathrooms and the clubhouse.

"We're about $200,000 away from starting, and that's basically what's needed to build the bathrooms."

Right now, there's no restroom for the weary Gaucho baseball fan at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium - a situation that clearly stinks when a large crowd overtaxes the out houses in the parking lot.

New coach Andrew Checketts can't wait to hold anything in, however. He's reportedly planning to bring an elite recruit through the stadium's old, chain-link gate in the coming weeks.

"There are two ACC schools (Georgia Tech and North Carolina) after him, too," Massari said. "He's a real top kid and he wants to go here - he loves UCSB and he loves the UC system - but he's been asking about the stadium."

The entry plaza will include the Gino Filippin Corner, named after the Gaucho super fan who built the stadium's dugouts. Banners down Big Leaguer Lane will tell the stories of former Gauchos such as Michael Young, who is now bidding for his second American League batting title with the playoff-bound Texas Rangers.

Massari said that ex-Gauchos like Young, as well as Colorado Rockies' executive Bill Geivett, have been pledging their support.

"We want to tell the stories of the people who came before us, like Caesar Uyesaka and Gino Filippin, who were so generous with their time and donations," Massari said. "We also want to tell the story of our major leaguers, and of the Hammerheads, too."

The Hammerheads were a rooter group, started by several men's volleyball players during the 1980s, that found inventive ways to cheer for the baseball team.

The Hammerhead model has been locked in UCSB's toolbox for nearly two decades, but Checketts has decided to start his own group called "The Gaucho Nine."

"He's putting the number nine on the back of all the Gauchos' caps as a symbol that they're all taking the field with us," Massari said. "It's like what Pat Hill did with football at Fresno State, with the green 'V' on the back of their helmets which represented the support they were getting from the agricultural community of the San Joaquin Valley.

"What it meant was that 'We're all in this together.' "

UCSB took a big step toward its new gate by getting Al Rodriguez of United Paving to donate the new walkway, just as he did at Harder Stadium. Now Massari just needs to get flush with some bathroom money.

"It all kind of blossomed from a couple years ago when we had that Night With Tommy Lasorda," he said. "We wanted to put it out there to people, that it was no secret that the ballpark was in need of upgrades.

"We made out a list, just like we did with Harder Stadium. There were 20 things that we wanted to do there, but we had to start out focusing on five."

For baseball, it all starts with the entry plaza ... and bathrooms. No. 1 has already been paid for. Now they just need a bankroll to take care of No. 2.

Mark Patton's column appears on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Email: mpatton@newspress.com