Article - Office of College Advancement

Ohlone baseball may be on move

Problems with Fremont athletic fields could bump games to Newark campus

By Todd R. Brown, Staff writer.

Monday, April 28, 2008—Reprinted from Inside Bay Area.

Fremont—Talk about a publicity stunt: A trained falcon swoops into a baseball stadium and passes a hardball to game show icon Pat Sajak, who tosses out the first pitch in the first game of the Golden Baseball League.

Apparently it happened, and, just maybe, something similarly kooky could occur in a couple of years in Newark. Like a penguin ball boy (also true).

The Dublin-based minor league, which counts the "Wheel of Fortune" host as an investor, long has sought a temple for a Bay Area ball club. Right now the closest team is nearly 200 miles away in Chico, home of the Outlaws. There has been talk of a Vacaville club.

By June, the league likely will know whether it can finance a stadium on Ohlone College's Newark campus, where the Ohlone Renegades also would play home games.

There might even be enough wiggle room for The Wiggles, said league founder and CEO Dave Kaval, referring to the touring children's music group.

"We do a lot of other events," said Kaval, 32, of Menlo Park. "We share facilities."

Balancing community wants and business needs is one challenge in starting a local franchise, he said. Other challenges include partnering to get development approvals, creating shared-use agreements and funding and maintaining a stadium and infrastructure.

"We have tried to put a team in the Bay Area for five years," said Kaval, whose wife, Maria, is a Newark native. "It's the same challenges as the 49ers and the A's have."

He gauged the cost of the 1,500-seat ballpark at $5 million, plus expenses for utilities, parking, environmentalstudies and more.

Ohlone officials say the current Fremont ball field is seriously deficient, from its downhill-sloping outfield to slow draining after watering or rainfall, to squirrel holes in the warning track at the edge of the field.

"They're popping up everywhere, and that's an ongoing issue," Chris Warden, interim athletic director for Ohlone, said last week during a trustees' tour of the Fremont athletic fields.

He said similar problems dog the soccer field, which, like the baseball field, was built on a clay base and dries unevenly, causing "waves" on the ground after heavy, saturated areas sink between patches where water has evaporated.

Above-grade sprinkler heads also threaten to trip soccer players going cleat-to-cleat for the ball, Warden said.

"We're talking about breaking bones," he warned.

Although times are fiscally tough, Ron Travenick, Ohlone's vice president of student development, said the college would have to commit money as well as land to the overall project, whose ballpark cost is estimated at $8 million.

"If we were able to partner, we'd get a much greater facility," he said. "Right now we're pouring sand on these fields just to fill gopher holes."

Newark Mayor David Smith, who also is executive director of the Ohlone College Foundation, was involved early in the process of trying to entice the league to town before ceding the venture to Travenick.

He said Ohlone would have to get the city's blessing for a ballpark that had a private use—and related traffic and other impacts—as well as an educational function.

Travenick said the stadium would be southwest of the current Newark Center building, along the Union Pacific railroad tracks, and that the Renegades' calendar would take priority over league scheduling.

Kaval said he and a business partner conceived of the league during an entrepreneurship class at Stanford University that also spawned eBay.

Opening day came in May 2005 in Arizona.

The first season saw former A's hitter Rickey Henderson play for the league's San Diego team in the hope of resurrecting his major league career. Alumni include current A's relief pitcher Adam Johnson of San Jose.

Kaval said the earliest a Newark stadium could open would be 2010. He said the 45 or so home games would not compete with a possible Fremont A's because of simple math: "Our tickets are $5, not $35."

Besides, he said, minor league play fills a different entertainment role, as when a penguin fetches the ball for the umpire, or a falcon delivers it.

"A lot of our people don't know the score when they leave," he said. "They like getting tri-tip sandwiches. They like the 'kids' zone.' They like getting ice cream, seeing the mascot. It's a family, community kind of thing … that doesn't break the bank. In this economic climate, that's a positive thing."

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