New Stadium Buoys Broncos

Jan. 27, 2005

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -

By Josh Suchon
The Oakland Tribune

Mark O'Brien will never forget the Monday last January when he'd just finished a meeting with his assistant baseball coaches at Santa Clara. The topic was recruiting. They felt they were doing well under the circumstances but daydreamed of what a difference a new stadium would make.

O'Brien returned to his office, heard the phone ring, and saw "President's Office" appear on the caller ID.

"Did I do something wrong?" the head coach thought to himself. "I started to worry."

Instead, the Rev. Paul Locatelli told him the news that changed the Santa Clara baseball program forever. Steve Schott, owner of the Oakland Athletics, pledged $4 million, and the Broncos' field of dreams was on its way.

O'Brien nearly hit his head on the roof he jumped so high and sprinted upstairs to the athletic director's office to share the news.

"It was the equivalent of winning the lottery," O'Brien said. "It feels like we're going to play at Yankee Stadium."

A year later, the only thing slowing down the new stadium is rain. Originally scheduled to open this month, in time for Santa Clara's season opener Friday against UC Riverside, persistent wet weather has pushed back the date to April 8.

Think the players are excited to move into their new home?

"I drive by it on the way to practice every day," said outfielder Ryan Chiarelli, a senior from San Ramon Valley High who hit .361 last year. "I walk over once a week just to look at it. It looks incredible. The fieldis ready to go. But we don't have any stands yet.

"It makes you want to go over there and help the construction workers get it done quicker."

O'Brien's longtime relationship with the Schott family was key to the donation. O'Brien and his brothers attended St. Francis High with Schott's children.

"I watched Mark grow up and play sports," Schott said. "When he got the job at Santa Clara, we were all very pleased. I've always had in the back of my mind that somebody had to fund a stadium at Santa Clara. They've never had one."

Schott knows from experience. He pitched for the Broncos in the 1960s, when games against USC, UCLA, Cal and Stanford were played on a public field about a mile from campus.

Bill Connolly, one of Schott's best friends and the president of the school's Diamond Club, organized a meeting of alums to discuss how to help the baseball program reach the next level of success.

The result was the $8.6 million Stephen Schott Stadium. It will have 1,500 seats (500 chair backs, 1,000 bleachers) and will include spacious 800 square-foot dugouts, a players locker room, coaches locker room, team meeting room, satellite training facility, equipment storage and laundry facility.

There will be a lighted batting cage, 20-seat press box, VIP suite, visiting and umpire locker rooms, four ticket windows, four concession stands and a family restroom.

"It's about time is what it is," Schott said. "The (stadium) name isn't that important. It's important to have a quality facility for the young people to play ball. The coaches and players are just so thrilled and overwhelmed by it."

Previously, when recruits visited the campus, there was no field to show. Buck Shaw Stadium is used by the women's soccer team in the fall, and the infield is covered in grass.

"We're not embarrassed by it," said Chiarelli, who has hosted recruits. "We have to show the stadium. You can see the grass is different colors where the infield is. You have to remind (recruits) that Santa Clara has a nationally ranked women's soccer team and they deserve a nice play to play, too.

"But it will be cool to show them a stadium that's ours and only ours."

Schott is entering the final months of his tenure as A's owner. His legacy will include four straight playoff appearances, despite one of the lowest payrolls in the league, and the team still in Oakland. But no new ballpark.

Yes, of course, he wishes it was as easy building a major league ballpark as it is building a college one.

"I wish we could get a venue in Oakland for $8 million-$10 million," Schott said. "If it was that easy, I'd have done it by now."