Cal baseball to be reinstated

Photo: Campus officials announced the impending reinstatement of Cal baseball at a press conference Friday. The sport had been slated to be cut next season.
Tony Zhou/Staff
Campus officials announced the impending reinstatement of Cal baseball at a press conference Friday. The sport had been slated to be cut next season.

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The Cal baseball team has made a habit of staging comeback wins this season. None of them have been bigger than this one.

A little over six months after it was slated as one of five teams to be cut, over $9 million in pledged donations has brought the program back for the foreseeable future.

"We got the news from (Athletic Director) Sandy Barbour this morning," said coach David Esquer last Friday. "The kids went into what they thought would be a scouting report meeting ... They let out with a loud ovation as soon as I gave them the news. It was pretty touching to see how excited they were."

Added Barbour, "This is unprecedented. I'm just thankful that our student-athletes have the opportunity to continue (playing)."

The Save Cal Baseball fundraising group presented over $9 million in pledged donations, prompting the campus to announce the 119-year-old program's impending reinstatement Friday. Because the funds are still short of the identified $10 million target, formal reinstatement will be announced once the figure is reached.

San Francisco attorney Stu Gordon, a Cal pitcher from 1958-62, spoke to Chancellor Robert Birgeneau on the phone March 28 and presented him with the supporters' new fundraising figures. Gordon, whose firm Gordon & Rees has offices in 12 states, joined the movement just over a month ago and helped the team make long strides toward the $10 million required to sustain it for seven to 10 years.

Although the Save Cal Baseball group had prepared over $9 million in pledges two weeks ago, an anonymous donor reconsidered his pledge shortly before Gordon spoke to the chancellor. Birgeneau said the total presented to him was a little under $8 million, a figure the campus was not prepared to move forward with.

"The timing couldn't have been worse," Gordon said. "The donor felt strongly that he wasn't able to follow through with his commitment."

Even so, both parties were confident that the lost funds would be replenished.

"He and I were both optimistic, actually," Birgeneau said of his conversation with Gordon last week. "Athletic supporters are really terrific, and they just need to understand clearly that we had certain goals. All of our supporters, if they didn't understand before, now understand the situation."

The donors also include many involved in Major League Baseball. Jeff Kent, a former Cal player who won the 2000 NL MVP with the San Francisco Giants, donated over $100,000, while super-agent Scott Boras gave around $50,000.

Supporters plan for a $20 million permanent endowment that will sustain the program into perpetuity. Gordon estimated that around $5 million of the $10 million target goal will be transferred into the endowment. The privately funded endowment, which is expected to dispense a 5 percent annual income, will be managed by the campus.

"The endowment, once raised, will most certainly be part of the University," said Vice Chancellor Frank Yeary. "We have a lot of experience helping different entities in endowment management."

Frank Yeary serves on an advisory board for The Daily Californian that does not have control over editorial content.

The news of the reinstatement comes as a reversal of two past announcements from the campus. The sport was originally one of five slashed last September, when the campus cited serious financial difficulties as well as a need to reform the athletic department's history of overspending. Three baseball players transferred soon afterward.

On Feb. 11, rugby, lacrosse and women's gymnastics were reinstated - leaving baseball and men's gymnastics still cut - after all five teams collectively raised $12 million to $13 million.

Although the campus had given the programs a combined target of $25 million in order to secure reinstatement, it stated in February that baseball and men's gymnastics did not meet the respective $10 million and $4 million that would have been required to sustain them on a long-term basis. It added that Cal baseball had at that point raised $1.5 million to $2 million, while men's gymnastics raised around $1 million.

Baseball supporters have kept in close contact with both the administration and the Pac-12 conference to ensure that next year's baseball schedule would not be finalized without the inclusion of Cal baseball.

Men's gymnastics is currently the lone program still slated to be cut; it has raised just under half of its $4 million target required for reinstatement. There is no firm deadline set for the team, but it will still have to act quickly if it hopes to compete next spring.

"At this point, we're dealing with the mechanics of prospective students making decisions about where to enroll next year, current students making decisions about where they're going to be next year," Barbour said. "Things like scheduling, putting together a viable schedule for the 2011-12 year.

"So there is no hard and fast deadline, but there are going to be junctures where things become more difficult."


Jack Wang is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]

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