SEEING THE LIGHT
Andrew Checketts was hanging out high-fives left and right on Monday.
It was a day to celebrate – it was his first glimpse at the upright light poles surrounding the baseball diamond at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium.
“They haven’t shown me where the light switch is yet,” the UCSB baseball coach said. “But this has been so many years coming. So much hard work has been done on this project over the years, the whole administration deserves so much credit for seeing this through.”
For more than two decades, the push for lights has had a plethora of false starts, delayed by a number of things, including funding and, in 2018, concerns from the Coastal Commission.
The most recent delay was a surprise, but Mr. Checketts pointed to Director of Intercollegiate Athletics, John McCutcheon, as the catalyst to finally seeing the project through to the finish line.
“It was ultimately his leadership that got us there,” Mr. Checketts said.
Former UCSB head coach Bob Brontsema concurred.
“I really have to commend John for fighting through these walls that were put up,” Mr. Brontsema said, now an assistant athletics director in charge of events, facilities and operations at UCSB.
“Whether it was money or something else that stopped it, it was tough. That’s where I think our administration, John in particular, helping push through those obstacles, raising more money – he deserves a lot of credit in my opinion. It was not an easy project.”
With the lights in place, the UCSB baseball brand will be allowed to expand, particularly locally. Many high school players cannot attend games during the day time because their own schedules conflict, particularly on Tuesdays and Fridays.
With night games, more of those players will now be able to check out a program that reached the College World Series in 2016 and is coming off a record-breaking 2019 season that saw their return to the NCAA Tournament.
“Traditionally, over the years, we’ve struggled to keep local kids home,” Mr. Checketts said. “Now, we hope that they’ll be able to see the UCSB baseball brand a bit more and see that they don’t have to go away to get the baseball and academics experience they are looking for.
“We’ve got it all right here.”
Mr. Brontsema reflected on the years of his own recruiting, where the lack of lights caused a perception problem.
“Getting the lights is a signal of being a big-time program,” Mr. Brontsema said. “At least that’s the perception. It was never that other schools would use it against us (when recruiting), but it was of the player thinking, ‘Why doesn’t this school have them?’ Having the lights will really help.”
And both Mr. Checketts and Mr. Brontsema both know that the work will need to continue, with permanent bathrooms, more seating and further improvement to foul grounds at the top of the wish list.
Mr. Brontsema believes that the program’s success will help it continue to find more donors to continue the transformation of Caesar Uyesaka.
“At night, we will have more people, a greater chance of them coming to the games, filling the place all the time,” Mr. Brontsema said. “That will force us to do the next thing – create more seating. Getting the lights is like getting a new pair of shoes, and now you want a new pair of pants. Then a belt and a shirt, and by the the time you get to the hat, you need a new pair of shoes again.
“Andrew has done a great job, he has put a great team on the field, he’s stirred up excitement, which will help us continue to build.”
While the lights provide new advantages for Mr. Checketts in recruiting and schedule flexibility with his squad, he’s ultimately focused on one simple thing.
“Our first priority to build a gameday experience, creating an event for our community to come out and watch,” Mr. Checketts said. “Our No. 1 priority to showcase with the Gaucho baseball brand is all about.”
Now, he’ll have a chance to shed some light on that.