Tommy Lasorda learned he was not the only celebrity in town last Friday night. While the former skipper of the Los Angeles Dodgers was holding court at the Cabrillo Arts Center, actress Sandra Bullock was arriving at the Arlington Theatre to receive her award from the film festival.
“Is she here?” Lasorda asked. “I’m going over there.” But when he looked around the crowded room, he realized he wasn’t going anywhere. UCSB had sold out A Night With Tommy, promising the attendees a chance to meet and hear one of baseball’s great raconteurs. Besides, there was food.
So Lasorda stuck around; for several hours, in fact. The occasion was the celebration of two community baseball traditions—the UCSB Gauchos and the Santa Barbara Foresters. They both play ball at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium on the university campus. Lasorda’s engagement served to lift off a fund-raising drive to install lights and other upgrades to the facility.
“We haven’t had night baseball since Laguna Park,” said UCSB coach Bob Brontsema, referring to Santa Barbara’s erstwhile home of numerous minor league and semipro clubs that was demolished 40 years ago. Brontsema particularly wants lights at the Gauchos’ park so his players would not have to miss class time on weekdays.
Ryan Spilborghs, a major league outfielder who played for both the Gauchos and Foresters, said families are more apt to attend night games. “It’s prime-time entertainment,” Spilborghs said. “You go to movies at night, and you go outside with your family to watch a game at night.”
Virgil Vasquez, a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates who was a teammate of Spilborghs at Santa Barbara High and UCSB, also was introduced to the audience, along with other former Gauchos with professional prospects: pitchers Justin Lehr (Cincinnati), Joe Gardner (Cleveland), Andy Graham (Colorado), and Chuck Huggins (Toronto); infielder Chris Valaika (Cincinnati); and outfielder Brian Gump (Philadelphia). The most prominent Gaucho in the majors, All-Star infielder Michael Young of the Texas Rangers, did not attend the dinner, but Brontsema said he wrote a check for $20,000 in support of the cause.
The Foresters, winners of two National Baseball Congress championships, used the occasion to inaugurate their Hall of Fame with three inductees—Spilborghs; Chris Koeper, who enjoyed playing with the club so much he stuck around for nine years and set all their career hitting records; and Eric Pintard, a pitcher and coach who inspired the Foresters’ Hugs for Cubs program that lifts the spirits of kids with cancer, a disease that took his own life.
Spilborghs, who recently signed a two-year contract to remain with the Colorado Rockies, got choked up when he spoke about his relationship with Trent Gerke, a beloved young Forester fan who passed away last November. His emotional talk provided a nice balance to the evening after the featured speaker, Lasorda, poured out a rapid-fire series of jokes and humorous stories about the grand old game of baseball.
LEGENDS OF THE DOME: Banners depicting Mark French and Brian Shaw will be unfurled from the rafters of the Thunderdome this week. French will be honored tonight (Thu., Feb. 11) at halftime of the UCSB-UC Riverside women’s basketball game. He coached the Gaucho women for 21 years, winning 438 games and leading them into the NCAA tournament 13 times. Shaw was the triple-threat star of the first Gaucho men’s team to break into the Big Dance, in 1988. He went on to earn an NBA championship ring with the Lakers and is now on their coaching staff. Shaw’s commitments may prevent him from watching his banner drop at Saturday’s UCSB-Long Beach State game, a key Big West matchup that will be televised live at 4 p.m. on FSN Prime Ticket. Shaw’s former teammate Carrick DeHart, who sparked the Gauchos’ historic upset of UNLV in 1990, was acclaimed as the first basketball Legend of the Dome earlier this season.
CIF PLAYOFFS: High school teams begin their pursuit of CIF Southern Section championships in basketball, soccer, and girls’ water polo next week. Two teams—Santa Barbara boys’ soccer and Dos Pueblos girls’ water polo—are undefeated and ranked No. 1 in their divisions. Teams to watch in basketball include the San Marcos and Dos Pueblos boys and the Santa Barbara and Bishop Diego girls. Victories over Buena and Ventura have put Santa Barbara in a position to win its first Channel League girls championship since 1988, the year Lasorda and the Dodgers won their last World Series.
NO QUIT: Santa Barbara’s talent-challenged boys’ basketball team has had a tough year—a 1-23 record, including December defeats by scores of 58-9 and 84-15—but one had to admire the Dons’ fighting spirit against San Marcos last week. They had a shot at winning in the final seconds, but a three-pointer missed the mark, and the Royals prevailed, 46-44.