Thanks to a new partnership between the San Jose Earthquakes, the city of San Jose and the County of Santa Clara, much-needed professional training facilities for the Quakes will emerge right next to some sort of public fields at the back corner of the fairgrounds property near Umbarger Road.
Both San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan and County Supervisor Cindy Chavez gleamed as they gave speeches and joined themselves together with a soccer ball.
As any old-timer will testify, the city and the county have not always worked very well together. There have been lawsuits more than once.
This time the speeches made sense and everyone seemed to be on the same page. And not just the politicians.
Quakes coach Luchi Gonzalez, fluently bilingual, spoke in both English and Spanish about his own career path, which began on community soccer fields, led to him coach kids on community soccer fields, and then play for the pros, and now coach the professional team. He even headed a soccer ball back and forth with some of the kids who remained glued to the presentations.
For nearby families, to have their kids play on public fields right next to the professional team’s training compound will be a tremendous asset, a point demonstrated by 17-year-old San Jose native Edwyn Mendoza, who came up through the Quakes’ academy and signed with the club last spring. Mendoza delivered prepared remarks at the podium, including how the new public fields will be a game-changer.
Growing up, he didn’t have many places to play around here. He just might be a perfect ambassador for the club and its community ethos. It was a joy to watch him at the podium. At 17, I was already drinking beer in the Golfland parking lot on Blossom Hill, but that’s another story.
Seriously, though, during the press conference, the fairgrounds property looked like a deserted movie set, as it usually does, reminding me that people and politicians have been arguing about what to do with the place for as long as I’ve been alive.
Before the San Jose Earthquakes were violently relocated to Houston in 2005, some fans even suggested building a new soccer stadium at the fairgrounds, although they were not the first to suggest anything of the sort. All one has to do is sift through old newspaper stories to see that even in the early ’70s politicians were already dreaming of an arena, or a stadium, or something, somewhere in the South Bay, one location of which was the fairgrounds.
Nevertheless, the history here is fantastic to contemplate. Umbarger Road was named after the family of David Umbarger, one of the original forty-niners who came west to look for gold in California. He died in 1891, after which his descendants later in 1946 sold 32 acres of land along Umbarger Road to the Santa Clara County Fair Association for a whopping $1500 an acre.
1946 was also the same season the San Francisco 49ers started playing football. As the team later moved into Candlestick in the early ’70s, Dick Berg, the team’s promotions director, then became one of the founding crew that started the original San Jose Earthquakes soccer team in 1974. All phenomena arose to do the coming together of previous phenomena. It’s that simple.
These days, Umbarger Road—where no pedestrians have existed for centuries, it seems—is a dusty, sun-baked, antiquated stretch of asphalt replete with horse manure, dead forklifts, junkyard dogs, rusted barbed wire, corrugated sheet metal, decades-old mobile home parks, transmission shops and other crumbling bastions of industry.
Especially at the back corner of the fairgrounds, the road feels like a different universe. You can almost hear the former stables and the cowboys singing from 60 years ago. One can amble along and look over wrecked fencing to see storage for landscaping materials, crane rentals and all sorts of oddball temporary uses of the property.
Everything, all of it, will be improved with the soccer fields and professional training facilities. I am sure of this.
So when Matt Mahan and Cindy Chavez stood there with a soccer ball, it spoke to a hopeful idea. This could work. It must work.