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Baseball plans remain in early innings.

Byline: Ron Bellamy The Register-Guard

That Pat Kilkenny loves baseball is a matter of record. There are his choice season tickets to watch his hometown San Diego Padres. There was his interest in one day, perhaps, owning a minor-league baseball team.

And then there's the framed, autographed jerseys on the walls of his office in the Casanova Center: Tony Gwynn, Ichiro Suzuki, Wally Joyner and, remarkably, on an old Henry Aaron jersey, the signature of that player and many of the other players in the select club of those who have hit 500 homers.

Look and you see, scrawled, the names of Frank Robinson, Reggie Jackson, Eddie Mathews, Mike Schmidt, Harmon Killebrew, Ted Williams, Ernie Banks, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Mickey Mantle.

So Kilkenny can talk baseball with anyone, but whether he's the director of athletics who will bring intercollegiate baseball back to the University of Oregon is still in the talking stage.

"We're still doing some work on it," Kilkenny said a few days ago. "You've heard the three challenges. It relates to money, gender equity and the facility. ...

"We're going to get to the bottom of it, one way or another."

By that, Kilkenny means a decision, one way or another, go or no go. "Less than three months," he said. "We'll get an answer. Because I can't be distracted by it anymore. We can't be. We have too many other things that have significant importance to us. We need to get to the bottom of this and understand whether we can or can't do it."

The issues, as alluded to above, are the cost of the sport - the national champion Oregon State Beavers have an annual budget of $1.5 million per year - and the lack of a facility, and that restoring baseball would require Oregon to invest in two more women's sports because of gender equity mandates.

Kilkenny said that contrary to a recent television report, UO President Dave Frohnmayer has not approved a plan to bring back baseball. "He hasn't," Kilkenny said. "Dave has said, `Go do your job, and do whatever is in the best interest of the university.' '

Kilkenny is hearing from Oregon fans who believe that bringing back baseball is just that. Former UO baseball coach Mel Krause met with Kilkenny, urging him to bring back baseball, and Kilkenny's response was to "go out and raise some money and give me a call."

Said Krause: "We have people who are ready to go, but they don't want to donate until they know there's going to be a program."

He put the amount of those informal pledges as not close to $1 million, though that's without an organized public campaign, and that's not counting potential donors who call Kilkenny, unsolicited.

"The financial box, I'm not going to say it's the easy one, but it's one that we could probably check first," Kilkenny said.

Last Monday, Kilkenny met with David Elmore and his son D.G. Elmore, owners of the Eugene Emeralds, the short-season team that plays at Civic Stadium.

"They're very bullish on trying to do something," Kilkenny said, noting that in the get-acquainted session, which lasted less than an hour, the Elmores made it clear that "if we were to get back into the baseball business, how it might have merit using a common facility."

Conceivably, Oregon could generate financial support for baseball, and find a place to play, perhaps sharing a refurbished Civic Stadium with the Ems. But clearing those hurdles would leave another.

"The equity issues are more problematic," Kilkenny said. Even if Oregon drops wrestling, the easy solution for baseball fans, it would need to match baseball with another women's sport, probably two.

With a basketball arena to build, and that his main charge, Kilkenny has found the baseball fires nipping at his heels, fanned by OSU's success and the incessant wind of rumors. The other day, Krause assessed the chances of baseball returning at "less than 50-50."

We'll see. Suffice to say that when Oregon does sign off on the return of baseball, that will be an autograph worth framing.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Jul 1, 2007
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