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By raising money and getting former players involved again, this
weekend’s Gavilan baseball reunion is considered a step toward
ensuring the long-term survival of the program.
By raising money and getting former players involved again, this weekend’s Gavilan baseball reunion is considered a step toward ensuring the long-term survival of the program.

Perhaps it’s only fitting then that the weekend is dedicated to the coach who has saved the program time after time – Bob Nickerson.

The fundraiser, which began with a golf outing yesterday and continues with this afternoon’s alumni game at noon, “is great for several reasons,” Rams’ athletic director Ron Hannon said.

The first, of course, is the alumni themselves – many of whom still live in the area.

From the mid-1980s to the end of the ’90s, the program enjoyed “immense support” from the local community, said Gavilan Board of Trustees member Mark Dover.

A former Ram player, assistant coach and head coach during that time, Dover said many of the local alums were instrumental in rebuilding the program by donating uniforms and equipment, and renovating the field and dugouts.

Then after the 2000 season, former college president Rosemarie Joyce decided to make the head coach’s job full-time for the first time.

She hired Vince Maiccoca, who turned out to be a public relations disaster while leading the Rams to a 1-41 season in 2001.

“So many people were involved at the time,” Dover said, “and after that, they basically pulled the plug and said, ‘You’re on your own again.'”

Neal Andrade, who is entering his second year as Gav head coach, said he wants his fellow alums back in the fold.

“The program took a dive for a few years,” Andrade said, “and one of my steps to get it back up is getting the local community back involved … getting everyone back involved.”

And, that’s where Nickerson comes in. For at least parts of four decades, he was not just involved with Gavilan baseball.

He was Gavilan baseball.

“One of the founding fathers,” Hannon said of the 76-year-old Nickerson. “He put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this program.”

Nickerson, a retired school teacher now living in Lodi, is back in Gilroy for today’s reunion, which will include the unveiling of signage on the outfield wall retiring his No. 30.

A similar sign was posted a few years back, but mysteriously disappeared during Maiccoca’s tenure, Dover said.

“That didn’t sit well with a lot of people,” he noted. “I don’t think you can think about Gavilan College and not have his name attached to it. This sport would not be at Gav without Bob.”

In the early 1970s, Nickerson took over head coaching duties at a time when his teams would often field no more than 10 players. Juggling his duties as a longtime teacher at South Valley Junior High, Nickerson dedicated the rest of his time to the Rams for only a small stipend.

“He certainly didn’t do it for the money or the acclaim,” Andrade said.

In a span of nearly 30 years, he was a head coach during four different stints, mostly during times when the college budget couldn’t find a dollar for athletics.

“He would take the job when nobody else would,” Dover said. “He kept the program going because he loved the players … he loved the college. He believed in the college.”

Even in the years when Nickerson wasn’t heading the program, he was almost always helping out as an assistant – even as a commuter in 2000 after he and his wife moved to Lodi.

“I did it because I love the game and enjoyed working with the kids,” Nickerson said. “And when you spend 30 years at a place, you develop some deep-rooted feelings toward it.”

So as a few dozen of his former players get together for this first-ever reunion, a flood of memories will no doubt join them.

“Something tells me they’ll be a lot of war stories being tossed around,” Hannon said with a laugh.

“It’s going to be a fun time … a pretty special weekend for Rams baseball.”

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