On a warm, sunny winter day, Major League Baseball great Tom Candiotti ’79 threw out the first pitch on Friday as the Saint Mary’s baseball team opened the 2012 season in the new Louis Guisto Baseball Field.
“This is a top-notch field,” said Candiotti, who was known – and feared -- for his knuckleball when he played in the majors. “It will really help the baseball program. Having a great field makes you work a little harder.”
Candiotti, or “The Candy Man" as he was called, is the biggest star to come out of the Saint Mary’s baseball program. Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, he played with the Milwaukee Brewers, Cleveland Indians, Toronto Blue Jays, Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland Athletics. He retired in 1999 with a 152-164 record and 3.73 career ERA and is now a TV-Radio analyst for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Coach Jedd Soto looked on with pride as his team took the field against Southern Utah University and beat the visitors by 2-1. Earlier, he called the new ballpark his “field of dreams.”
“All of the SMC alumni from the last 30 years have been waiting for this field. It allows us the opportunity to give them what they never had,” he said. “We are playing not just for us, but for them.”
When construction is completed, the new stadium will have a seating capacity of 1,500, compared with 500 in the old facility. It will also boast a state-of-the-art press box, concession stands and an SMC Baseball Wall of Fame in the stadium concourse.
“This will change our approach to recruiting,” Soto said. “We had the oldest and most antiquated facility” in the conference. Jamie Zaninovich, West Coast Conference commissioner, agreed. “It’s a great day for Saint Mary’s and a great day for the conference,” he said. “A lot of other conference teams – San Diego, Santa Clara, and Gonzaga – have been upgrading their facilities, so it’s good that Saint Mary’s is, too.”
More than 30 members of Saint Mary’s past baseball teams lined up behind the pitcher’s mound as Father Salvatore Ragusa blessed the new field and Chairman of the Board of Trustees Russ Harrison welcomed the crowd at a special Opening Day ceremony.
Among them was Bob Hagler ’50, who not only played baseball for the college but coached the baseball and basketball teams from 1955-’60. “I’m glad they kept the name Louis Guisto Field because he did so much for the program,” he said.
A number of scouts were expected for the opening game of the season, and they had plenty of talent to keep an eye on. Among the standouts on the team are junior third baseman Patrick Wisdom, who led the Gaels in nearly every statistical category in 2011, and senior first baseman Troy Channing, who is the Gaels’ all-time leader in home runs (43) and RBIs (156).
Later on Friday, about 200 alumni, friends and family members of the baseball team gathered at the Soda Center on campus for the annual Baseball Meet the Players fundraising event, at which Candiotti was the keynote speaker.
Many donors made the dream of a new baseball field become a reality. The K.H. Hoffman Foundation, led by Kenneth Hoffman ’45 and his daughter, Lisa Hoffman Morgan ’81, was the lead donor for the ballpark. Among the other donors present at the Opening Day ceremony were Don (’51) and Marlene DeLong, Ken (’52) and Patricia Vincent, and Neil and Kathy Norton.
On Friday, Ken Vincent and Don DeLong sat way up in the left field bleachers watching their dreams turn into reality. “It was a long time coming,” Vincent said. “I’m so tickled with the location. This is the perfect spot.”
Next to them sat freshman Connor Loudon, who is hoping to play for SMC baseball. “It’s awesome,” he said. “It’s a lot more professional now.”
The new stadium is part of a $30 million state-of-the-art Athletics and Recreation Corridor. Work will begin in late spring on the new 52,000-square-foot recreation and aquatics center, which is expected to be completed in September of 2013. It will feature an 8,000-square-foot fitness center, a pool for lap swimming and recreational swimming, three full-sized courts for indoor and intramural sports, a climbing wall, rooms for fitness classes, a cafe and community areas for socializing, studying and other events. An outdoor plaza will link the new site to the baseball stadium, the Korth Tennis Complex and Cottrell Softball Field.
Baseball was the first intercollegiate sport played at Saint Mary’s, dating back to 1889, and 62 players have gone on to Major League Baseball, including Candiotti, Hall of Famer Harry Hooper, Von Hayes and Mark Teahen, the third baseman for the Chicago White Sox.
At times, it seemed like the collective spirit of all the players who poured their hearts into Saint Mary’s baseball filled the new Louis Guisto Field.
Dave Digirolamo ’83, who pitched for the Gaels as an undergraduate, stood on the right field sidelines and soaked up the sun. “They told us we’d have something like this,” he joked. He was thrilled to see the promise finally fulfilled. “We always kept dreaming,” he said.
Office of College Communications
Photos by Teresa Castle and Tod Fierner
To learn more about plans for the new Athletics and Recreation Corridor, including artists' renderings and ways to contribute, visit the project’s website. For information about other giving opportunities, please contact Mark Chiarucci at (925) 631-4168 or [email protected].
Read about the baseball team's three-game sweep of Southern Utah on SMCGaels, where you can also watch postgame video on Gaels Live.