Legendary Los Angeles Dodgers manager and iconic baseball ambassador Tommy Lasorda had the Cabrillo Arts Pavilion rolling on Friday night. He paid a visit to Santa Barbara and was the keynote speaker for an event benefitting the renovation of UCSB’s Caesar Uyesaka Stadium.
The Santa Barbara Foresters, who play at the stadium every summer, have partnered with the Gauchos in an effort to give the facility major upgrades, including lights. It would bring night baseball back to town for the first time since 1967, when the Santa Barbara Dodgers played at Laguna Park.
The 82-year-old Lasorda, who’s as gregarious and witty as ever, said he’s helped colleges around the country in similar fund raising efforts.
“My wife said to me, ‘Don’t you ever say no?’ and I said ‘Yeah a lot of times.’ She says ‘When?’ and I said ‘When they ask me if I’ve had enough to eat,'” he joked.
All jokes aside, his passion for advancing the game, specifically collegiate programs, is something that has kept him driven to headline such events.
“I’ve helped so many colleges to raise money for their baseball programs, because the colleges, you know, they don’t get the credit that they deserve,” he said.
Lasorda said that the late Uyesaka, one of the founders of the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table, was a dear friend of his, and that building the stadium was an effort he was also involved in.
“The baseball coaches need the help. The football coaches don’t and the basketball coaches don’t, and I don’t mean to be knocking them, but that’s the way it is. That’s why I’m here to help out the baseball program,” he said.
The pricey per-plate event sold out, which was a great sign for the start of the campaign. But it’s just that — a start.
“What you do is you hope that you get people who are excited about what you do,” said Gaucho head coach Bob Brontsema. “There are a lot of generous people out there.”
He said that the upgrades to “The U” would make a big impact for his program when it comes to recruiting as well as bringing out more fans. He also pointed out that having night games would help his players miss less class during the daytime.
Bill Pintard, the longtime manager of the Foresters, said it would help his program immensely to have lights at the stadium. At least a few times a year, the team has to cut games short due to darkness..
“It gives us so much more leeway, and there’s something to be said about playing under the Friday night lights,” said Pintard. “And the efforts to have a full-time field manager are a big step. That’s been an ongoing problem for us, and that’s the first step of (UCSB Athletic Director) Mark Massari’s vision.”
Former Gaucho players in attendance included Colorado Rockies outfielder Ryan Spilborghs, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Virgil Vazquez, the Cincinnati Reds’ Justin Lehr and many more. Texas Rangers shortstop Michael Young was unable to make it, but Brontsema announced that he had made a $20,000 donation.
After Lasorda spoke, the Foresters inducted their inaugural Hall of Fame class, which includes Santa Barbara native Spilborghs, longtime Forester Chris Koeper and the late Eric Pintard.
Koeper was with the Foresters longer than any other player, suiting up for Pintard from 1993-2001. He is the team’s all-time leader in just about every offensive category, including homers, RBIs, hits and stolen bases. Spilborghs, a product of Santa Barbara High, is one of the many former Foresters who continue to wear the number 19 after their Forester careers. That’s in honor of Eric Pintard, Bill’s son, a pitcher for the team who founded the “Hugs for Cubs” program to aid pediatric cancer patients. Sadly, Eric passed away from cancer in 2004.