May 1, 2005

New Park, Old Times

May. 1, 2005

By Laurence Miedema
San Jose Mercury News

When the Santa Clara baseball team played its first game at Buck Shaw Stadium, in 1963, the stands behind third base were crawling with pests. Many of those same ``Rodents'' found their way to the opening of Stephen Schott Stadium on Saturday.

Seventeen former Rodents, members of the legendary group of Broncos rooters-slash-opponent hecklers from the Class of 1966, were among the sellout crowd of 1,500 who saw Santa Clara christen its new home with a 3-2, 13-inning victory over Gonzaga.

Sal Taormina, the winningest baseball coach in SCU history, ``used to say we were worth two or three runs a game because we used to annoy the hell out of the other team,'' said Woody Woodaman. ``We still got something left.''

Saturday was all about celebrating Santa Clara's baseball past, along with its present and future. In a ceremony before the game, dirt from the Broncos' two previous homes, Washington Park and Buck Shaw Stadium, was scattered on the mound at Schott Stadium. As the afternoon went on, Rodents taught members of the ``Ruff Riders,'' the SCU student-booster club, some of their old-school tricks, while former Broncos players mingled and watched the current team in action.

``It was just amazing to see the pride, and also the history, coming back to check out the new stadium,'' said Broncos center fielder Ryan Chiarelli, who led off the 13th inning with a single and scored the winning run on a hit by Michael Thompson. ``This was the perfect way to end the day.''

Steve Schott, who pitched for the Broncos in 1960 and donated $4 million to the project, said the stadium exceeded his expectations. Before throwing out the ceremonial first pitch, the former A's owner told the crowd, ``At least I got one ballpark right, and it's the right one.''

The stadium, which in total cost $8.6 million, has more amenities than most minor league ballparks. The clubhouse facilities are housed in a 5,000 square-foot building adjacent to the first-base dugout.

``It's like winning the lottery,'' Broncos Coach Mark O'Brien said. ``We as a program, can't thank Father Locatelli'' -- SCU President Father Paul Locatelli -- ``and Steve Schott enough.''

There has been much interest in the new stadium. Tickets for the opener went on sale April 7 and were gone six days later. More than 1,000 tickets have been sold for today's game.

Ten Ruff Riders slept in tents overnight to assure themselves seats for Saturday's game. They got a bit more than they bargained for. Because of lengthy weather delays -- over the past four months, 40 work days were washed out by rain; the stadium was to open April 9 -- the finishing touches were not completed until about three hours before the first pitch.

``We could hear the construction going until about 12 or so Friday night,'' said Ross Nelson, co-president of the Ruff Riders. ``This morning they started again at 5:30 or 6. I probably got about three hours of sleep. But this is a special day; a lot of people want to be here. It's something we can tell our kids about.''

Most players and coaches also arrived at the ballpark a little bleary-eyed owing to a restless night. But showing up early didn't help them adjust. The Broncos could not get into their clubhouse until 10:30 a.m., because it was not finished.

``We all met over at the old locker room,'' Thompson said. ``Kind of a final farewell over there, but it turned out to be a great day for us. What better than an extra-inning game to break this thing in?''