It’s said that in spring, a young man’s fancies turn to love. But thanks to two enterprising UC Merced juniors, the guys have something else to keep them busy this spring: Golden Bobcats baseball.
With some formidable rookie talent on the 2008 roster, the Bobcats are looking to improve upon last year’s 2-7 record, a none-too-shabby performance for a team’s inaugural season.
“We’ve got six or seven new freshmen, most of them straight out of high school, and they’re making our team look sharp, so we’re pretty stoked,” said Mike Oliveira, a bioengineering major who is the team’s co-founder and president.
The Bobcats play in the Southern Pacific-North Conference of the National Club Baseball Association, going up against Stanford, Humboldt State, UC Santa Cruz and UC Davis. Because UC Merced lacks appropriate facilities, home games take place at Merced High.
While still looking for their first win of the ’08 season, the boys in the snappy-looking blue-and-white uniforms are getting plenty of props around campus. At a home game against UC Santa Cruz, a small but loyal cluster of fans cheered wildly and waved a glittery “Go Bobcats!” sign. Navy-blue Bobcats baseball caps, inscribed with a white “M,” are selling like hotcakes, reports Ben Goodhue, the Bobcats vice president and co-founder.
The Bobcats are even racking up out-of-town cred. USC approached the team to play three non-conference games, set for later this spring. Last year, an incoming freshman who pitched for Culver City High in Southern California contacted the team to inquire about tryouts, even before his high school graduation. Corbin Halley is now a starting pitcher for the Bobcats.
The Bobcats earned a page in the UC Merced record books when the team scored the first win among any of the university’s 10 sports clubs, which include lacrosse, soccer, softball and tennis.
“I couldn’t be more proud of them,” said Alfredo Cierra, a budget analyst at UC Merced who volunteers as the Bobcats’ manager.
The historic victory came last season when the Bobcats swept a double-header against Humboldt State, with ace pitcher Luke Poole and Chris Nanamura on the mound. The second game was the team’s most exciting to date.
“We were down 7-to-nothing but in the fourth inning, our offense sparked and we took the game 9-8,” recalled Oliveira, who plays outfield.
Oliveira and Goodhue first started talking about forming a UC Merced baseball club in the fall of 2005, when they were working the night shift at the Leo and Dottie Kolligian Library. The pair had both played high school baseball and though spring was still a few months away, each was lamenting the prospect of a going an entire season without swinging a bat or fielding a line drive.
“Wouldn’t it be cool if we started a baseball club?” Oliveira recalled saying to Goodhue that night in the library.
Oliveira and Goodhue spent the following spring recruiting players in preparation for a 2007 launch of the Golden Bobcats baseball brand. None of it would have been possible without a big assist from Campus Recreation & Athletics, which pays for uniforms, league fees, officials and transportation and lodging to away games, which are always held on weekends so as not to interfere with classes.