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Cal baseball aims to avert cutting block

BERKELEY, Calif. -- With the start of what could be the
final baseball season at California just more than two weeks away,
the players and coaches are looking for a monumental victory before
the first pitch is even thrown.

Four months after baseball was slated for elimination in a
cost-cutting move, people around the program are hopeful that an
aggressive fundraising campaign can save baseball and four other
sports.

"If we can start the year off 1-0, that will be the biggest
first win ever," baseball coach David Esquer said Tuesday.

In a decision announced in September, baseball, men's and
women's gymnastics and women's lacrosse were set to be cut, while
men's rugby was slated to lose its varsity status and be
reclassified as a "varsity club sport," a new category at Cal.

Athletic director Sandy Barbour said Tuesday that a decision
would be made within the next 10 days whether the group "Save Cal
Sports" has raised enough money from private donors to prevent the
programs from being cut.

Reducing the number of intercollegiate teams from 29 to 24 will
save an estimated $4 million a year and affect 163 of the school's
more than 800 student-athletes, as well as 13 full-time coaches.

The program cuts are part of a broader campaign to reduce UC
Berkeley's annual support for intercollegiate athletics from more
than $12 million today to about $5 million in 2014.

Former Cal and major league baseball player Doug Nickle says
"Save Cal Sports" has raised between $12 million and $15 million
to support the five programs. He said that would allow the programs
to continue for the rest of the college careers of the current
players on the teams.

"This proves that Cal alums have woken up and seen the problem
that comes from the budget shortfall," Nickle said. "It will
allow the university to honor the commitment to students who are
there."

UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said Chancellor Robert
Birgeneau has two main criteria to decide whether the teams can be
saved. The first is that $25 million be raised to fund the
operating expenses for the program for five to 10 years. The second is
that there is a viable plan to build an endowment to fund the
programs long-term.

"Chancellor Birgeneau is not one who wants to kick the can down
the road for another chancellor to handle," Mogulof said. "He
does not want to go through a repeat of this situation and
uncertainty again in a few more years."

Mogulof said the budget problems at the university have only
gotten worse since the decision was made, with Gov. Jerry Brown
proposing an additional $500 million in cuts from the UC system
budget.

Nickle said the immediate focus of his group has been on funding
the teams in the short-term since an endowment will not help if the
programs are eliminated.

"Turning your back on $15 million because you don't want to
kick the can down the road seems tremendously shortsighted,"
Nickle said.

Nickle, who pitched at Cal in the 1990s and played parts of
three seasons for Philadelphia and San Diego in the 2000s, said the
alumni and supporters of the programs realize the severity of the
budget cuts and are willing to work to find new sources of revenue
to keep the programs running.

He said his group has been in frequent contact with Birgeneau
and Barbour since shortly after the original announcement was made
and believes that both sides share the same goals.

Only three of Cal's baseball players left the school after the
announcement. The bulk have remained and the Golden Bears are
ranked 17th in the Baseball America preseason poll and hopeful of
making the NCAA tournament for the third time in four years.

"This thing has brought us closer together," infielder Paul
Toboni said. "We're preparing for what we might have to face. We
know there's a chance it won't come back."

Toboni and many of the other players who will have eligibility
left after this season have already started lining up places to
play next year if the team is not saved.

It's been an odd situation for everyone with Esquer saying he
has called colleagues at other schools to try to find spots for his
players, while also preparing for this season.

He said he's proud that most of the team remained, showing their
commitment to each other and the program. But he is concerned.

"You do worry about being punched in the stomach twice in the
same year," he said. "They dealt with the harshness of the
reality once before and it was a blow."