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April 8, 2011

Stu Gordon speaks on reinstatement

There was an unquestionable timbre of euphoria in former Cal pitcher Stu Gordon's voice on Friday, as he addressed the media regarding the reinstatement of his beloved baseball program at the University of California. While the reinstatement was not formal, per se, it was the news for which he and the rest of the Bears faithful have been waiting for the past six months.

"It was so unbelievably exciting," Gordon said. "I have goose pimples just thinking about it. It was just fantastic. It's something we've worked so hard to achieve, and to finally have the Chancellor say that, yes, we're going to continue baseball in the future, and to tell Coach (David) Esquer and to tell the kids that, hey, baseball will continue on in the future, (the Chancellor) does want us to continue to work towards the $10 million goal, and we still have a ways to go to raise that money, but even today, we've raised more money to get closer between the $9 million and the $10 million to get to the ultimate goal to have baseball formally reinstated for an indefinite period. But, we're good to go now, and we're close to it."

But the journey is far from over, despite Chancellor Robert Birgeneau's announcement that the program will represent the campus as an Intercollegiate Athletics sport, now and into the future. There is still plenty of work to be done to turn the program into a revenue-generating enterprise.

"One thing we're trying to do is to work out an arrangement for us to be able to have advertising on our outfield fences, because a lot of colleges throughout the country have major advertising on their fences just like they do in the pros," Gordon said. "Ours are bare. There's a lot of room there for advertising, and Larry Baer of the Giants and others have been very helpful in lining up some advertisers for us if we get the approval from the University to be able to do that."

Since taking over as the fundraising committee chairman 41 days ago, Gordon has pledged $550,000 and opened up a productive dialogue with the Chancellor, which was key in finally accomplishing the goal.

"The communication that I have had with the Chancellor since I met with him approximately six weeks ago, it has been excellent," Gordon said. "My communication with Sandy Barbour and members of the Athletic Department have been good, and my dealings with everyone in the baseball family - the baseball players' families, the supporters and friends of Cal baseball - have been outstanding. I know that there were some rough points before I got involved as the chairman of the campaign committee, with some problems with communication. I think that communication could have been better probably on the part of everyone. It could have been more positive on the part of those people who were trying to raise money, but were very upset that baseball was cut out of the program. Once we all got together and decided that we were going to be positive about our fundraising effort and our efforts to reinstate Cal baseball, I think things have been really great these past six weeks."

There was a bit of a speed bump last week, when one major donor significantly reduced his pledge after meeting with the University, which set the efforts back considerably.

"The actual number was somewhat under $8 million, and we were not willing to go forward with under $8 million. A lot of people stepped up in the last week because of Stu Gordon's very hard work, which brought us from under $8 million to over $9 million. We're very happy with that," Birgeneau said. "Stu would of course have preferred to go forward with the smaller amount of money, but he understood completely. He and I were both optimistic, actually. Our athletic supporters are really terrific, and they just needed to understand clearly that we had firm goals."

As of last week, the Chancellor had announced that the drive had raised $9 million, but that was still not enough. Today, that same figure was quoted as being enough for a good-faith reinstatement of the program. Gordon elaborated upon those recent events for the media in a conference call early Friday afternoon.

"One of our donors who had made a really sizeable pledge decided that under the circumstances, he was going to reduce his pledge considerably," Gordon said. "That was right at the point where the Chancellor was ready to reinstate baseball -- about a week or 10 days ago. Because we were well short of the $9 million because of the sizeable reduction, it meant that we had to get back to where we were when the Chancellor was ready to reinstate baseball. We had to raise an additional $1 million in order to get back into the nines and in order for the Chancellor to feel comfortable about reinstating baseball. Through some herculean efforts over the last week to 10 days, we were able to raise more than the $1 million to make up for the lost pledge. It was right at the last minute as we were about to get the commitment from the Chancellor to reinstate baseball.

"The timing couldn't have been more sensitive, but the donor felt very strongly that he wasn't prepared to follow through with his entire commitment. I talked to him long and hard, obviously, and did everything else I could, but I couldn't convince him to keep up the full amount of his pledge, so I had to advise the Chancellor that, right at the time that he was ready to reinstate Cal baseball, he said - and I agreed - that we had to go back and raise the additional money we needed to get back into the $9 million area, which, fortunately, we were able to do in a very short amount of time. That's also why I think we'll be able to get to the $10 million in a short amount of time."

In addition to Gordon's bump of $50,000 a week ago, others have stepped forward to put the efforts over the top.

"I pledged initially $500,000, and then when we needed the additional $1 million-plus, I pledged an additional $50,000, and there are some others who kept up similarly," Gordon said. "A lot would be proud, like I am, to show that we put up our money to really support Cal baseball. Jeff Kent put in over $100,000, and I think he would be happy for people to know that."

Gordon said that well over 1,000 people have contributed to the efforts, with approximately 40 donors contributing amounts over $50,000. Donations in the $25,000-$50,000 range numbered roughly 100 or more.

"A lot are between $25 and $1,000," Gordon said. "I would be that in the $5,000-$10,000 category, there are probably at least 100 to 150 people."

The donor who reduced his pledge was the largest contributor, and still remains as one of the biggest donors in the effort, but, Gordon said, he wanted the number to reach a larger amount and wanted the progress to be a bit further along as far as starting a permanent endowment. The efforts to endow the program are the next step in the process.

"We expect to still have the current booster program raising money every year for Cal baseball," Gordon said. "We still expect to have the supporters and the boosters of the Cal program contributing $250-300 thousand a year as they have in the past, so we're still going to be looking for larger contributions, as well, to go towards the permanent endowment fund.

"The idea is to have a permanent endowment of $20 million with average income of five percent -- which would be $1 million a year -- and, certainly, $1 million a year, along with year-to-year regular contributions would enable Cal baseball to fund itself indefinitely. We've developed a marketing plan going forward, and have several ideas about how we can get more major contributions to go to a permanent endowment. The donor who cut his contribution to Save Cal Baseball has a substantial contribution ready to go to the permanent baseball endowment, once we get it going. That will be really helpful to us."

The endowment will consist partly of the funds raised so far, and will be added to as efforts continue.

"Certainly, a lot of what we've raised so far will go into that permanent endowment," Gordon said. "Some will go towards current use, but the more that we can get from the advertising and from the baseball revenues and from ongoing contributions. The rest will have to go to current operations, and more of that can go to the permanent endowment, which is what we're hoping for. Of the $10 million, $5 million would go to the permanent endowment and then we think we have some other money lined up for permanent endowment that will go to that, and we will have an ongoing endowment campaign that will take a couple years to get to, but I think that we might get a kick-start on it this year."

The fund will be a private entity, at least to start.

"Right now, I think it's us, until there's somebody in the Athletic Department or with the University who can take this on and try to raise the money for the permanent endowment. It would be good if it were someone other than me," Gordon laughed. "I only have so much time, being a very busy lawyer with my legal practice. I would like some help from the University and others to raise the endowment funds, but I think we all know that, with state funding being cut all the time to universities, we have to have privatization of our athletic program and we're all going to have to be self-funded, eventually, other than of course men's football and men's basketball. Every other sport pretty much runs a deficit unless they're self-supporting by virtue of the money they've been able to raise in endowment funds."

Vice Chancellor Frank Yeary also expressed the hope that the endowment could grow to the point where it could be aided by some of the University's resources in endowment management.

"I think that, in fact, we do think the same thing. The endowment needs to be privately generated, but we expect that the University with really dig in to help them generate that endowment by giving them the support that we give to major fundraising efforts, but also the endowment, once raised, will most certainly be part of the University's endowment management," Yeary said. "We have a lot of experience helping different units on campus manage their endowment, and we would certainly want that to be the case with the baseball endowment."

Beyond the endowment, the business plan submitted by the Save Cal Baseball group has facility improvements for venerable Evans Diamond at the top of the to-do list.

"I think it's important to get lighting," Gordon said. "We're one of the only schools in the Pac-12 that don't have lighting, and I think that's really important. We could also use some better bathrooms and concession areas. The field is great, but someday, hopefully, the scoreboard will be better and we can have better advertising on the scoreboard that will help pay for a new scoreboard. I think those are probably the things that we'll need. Also, the stands along the left field line could be improved and I think as part and parcel of everything we're doing, a lot of it will be improvements at the baseball field."

Text messages flew around the Cal baseball world upon word of the program's good-faith reinstatement. Oakland Athletics pitcher Tyson Ross -- who was on hand with his mother and little brother Joe (a UCLA commit) during Sunday's defeat of his father's alma mater USC -- said simply, "Nice."

St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Allen Craig -- in town to open up the San Francisco Giants' home schedule -- all but demanded that BearTerritory be on hand this weekend to talk about the plans that Cal's Major League alums have to promote the program.

"It would have been such a bitter disappointment, and there would have been so much negativity and there would have been so many donors who would not have stepped up to contribute to the Athletic Department in the future who just would have been so upset with losing Cal baseball, because it's such an institution," Gordon said. "There's so much emotion involved in it, and I was just so amazed at how emotional people were about how they felt about the loss of baseball. We turned that negativity around into a total positive attitude, but people were really feeling emotionally let down and really upset with the fact that there might not be Cal baseball. People love baseball and the Giants have brought that Cal baseball feeling more than ever to the Bay Area. People are so excited about baseball, and all of the sudden, the prospect of not having a Cal baseball team was more than a lot of people could handle. So, instead of the large negativity that people were feeling in this whole process at the outset with the cutting of baseball, I think we've turned it around. I think now, there's more enthusiasm for the Cal baseball program than ever."

That conversation with Craig will take place on Sunday at AT&T Park, before the series finale, so stay tuned.

"Quite a few (Major Leaguers) have been supportive and of course, we welcome all their support," Gordon said. "We would like to have even more support from the Major Leaguers and the former Major Leaguers. They're all doing well and they all had a really good experience at Cal, and I think a lot are really feeling good about that. What's really good is that Scott Boras -- who you all know is one of the best agents around -- he contributed $50,000 just to be able to show his appreciation for being able to help the Cal kids with their pro careers. People like that have really stepped up to make all that possible."

Junior closer Matt Flemer phoned his parents -- Paul and Ann -- at 9:15 AM on Friday to share the news. Paul -- who had been a big part in gameday promotion of the Save Cal Baseball effort -- was "numb … Started checking sources of email, link to newscenter.berkeley and waited for the story to appear there. Still can't believe it!"

"They've been just so instrumental," Gordon said of the Flemers' involvement. "They're some of the best people I've ever worked with. I'll tell you, Paul has a lot of energy, he's out there doing everything there is, and Ann is unbelievable. She's been there every step of the way. She helps in every way she possibly can. She never says 'No' to anything, she always does everything she says she'll do and more. Lining up all the parents to call donors to make sure they're committed to Cal baseball, and trying to get other parents to commit more, they just did an outstanding job."

Paul has been at every home game, handing out Save Cal Baseball buttons, organizing Giants ticket raffles and manning the pledge table, in front of mounted photos taken by Joni Krist, the mother of All-Pac-10 catcher Chadd Krist. Matt Flemer has been just as instrumental to the Bears' success on the field, compiling a 1.69 ERA and three saves in 12 relief appearances, notching 23 strikeouts and just one walk.

"He's been outstanding this year in saving games for Cal," Gordon said. "He's an amazing young man, and the great deal is that all these kids get to play for Cal next year. We have a lot of freshmen and sophomores, and all of these kids now can continue playing baseball throughout their careers at Cal. I'm so excited."

Gordon said that there is no deadline by which to raise the remainder of the $10 million, but the fact that the effort got so far in relatively little time was hard to ignore.

"I think just because we're close enough, and I think the Chancellor realizes how important baseball is to everyone. The timing is really important, because it weighs so heavily on all the players, not knowing what's happening in their future, and recruiting is really important, because there are some kids out there that we can still get before the Letter of Intent Day next week. Everybody's worked so hard, so we deserve to have some really good news and it's just started such a positive feeling about everything that once we got into the $9 million range, it wasn't difficult for the Chancellor to realize that baseball needed to be reinstated."

Of course, as Yogi Berra said, it ain't over 'till it's over, so efforts will not abate as the 19-7 Bears continue to plow through their schedule.

"I think we need Yogi to get on board," Gordon laughed. "I really think that, in the next month or two, we'll definitely have the $1 million, maybe sooner. It's just that we have so many people who are on the line to tell us whether they're going to contribute further or not or how much money they'll contribute, and a lot of others who haven't made their decision yet and who will be impressed with the fact that we are really reinstated going forward and that the Chancellor and the Athletic Department are so supportive of our efforts. It'll really help. I had a donor call me this morning that he's so excited that Cal was actually going to move forward in the future and continue to play that he offered another $50,000 to his $100,000 pledge. That was John Sproul of the Sproul family, which has been so institutional at Cal. Robert Gordon Sproul was President of the University, so his son increased his pledge by $50,000, and it's that kind of outpouring of support we've received today, and expect to continue to see in the future that will get us to the $10 million. We're encouraged to do it sooner rather than later, and my commitment to the Chancellor is that we do it as soon as possible. I told him I might take a day off, though."

The Cal baseball team itself, though, has no such luxury. The Bears will square off with No. 20 Arizona tonight at 6 PM in Tucson in what is sure to be another Pac-10 dogfight.


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