3,176: That was the number in attendance for Friday night’s UC Irvine vs. Cal State Fullerton baseball game.
3,083: That is the capacity crowd of Anteater Ballpark.
Finally the big-game atmosphere is here at Anteater Ballpark.
Though Cal State Fullerton upset the Anteaters 12-5 in the opening game of the weekend series, the crowd at the park was the greatest I have seen in my short two years here at UCI.
Overall, the Anteaters are getting pretty consistent crowds at home, and I can confidently say they get better baseball crowds than most powerhouse sports schools. UCI had more fans than the home crowd March 11 at University of Southern California’s Dedeaux field.
Friday night’s crowd showed that when UCI teams win, the crowds will come.
The Anteaters came in fifth, and Fullerton at 25 by Baseball America (the New University uses Baseball America’s rankings). Even though this was a match up between two conference powers, two highly ranked teams and two vicious rivals, the added drama most certainly attracted the big crowd last weekend.
For those of you who are not familiar, here is a brief explanation of the drama of which I am speaking.
After Head Coach Dave Serrano led the Anteaters to a historic college World Series run and to a fourth-place finish, he was offered a coaching position at Oregon. After declining the offer, he took a trip up to Eugene to view the offer, an understandable move considering the dedication to sports the University of Oregon has exhibited over the years. Serrano, however, declined the offer and then Fullerton Coach George Horton took it, thus leaving the Fullerton coaching position vacant. Fullerton, Serrano’s alma mater and where he was assistant coach in its 2005 championship season, offered Serrano the job and he declined. He reaffirmed his dedication to building the UCI program, but then made a decision that “came out of left field” and accepted the job at Fullerton.
The decision left a bitter taste in the Anteater baseball community, and Coach Mike Gillespie even told Baseball America, “You’d have to be an idiot to think there wouldn’t be a lot of interest in this little community.”
Boy, was he right.
The crowd came in the thousands on Friday night, and the “Anthill,” the grass hill located adjacent to right field, was swarming with students and children.
Unfortunately, there was not much to cheer about as the Anteaters were derailed 12-5 by superb pitching from Jeff Kaplan and a barrage of hitting by the Titan offense.
The crowd did make some noise when UCI’s Casey Stevenson jacked a homer to right field, and when Ollie Linton and Ben Orloff yet again got themselves out of a pickle. Keep in mind that Stevenson’s homer did come at night, when the air is thick and the ball does not carry as well as it does during the day in a big ballpark like Anteater Ballpark.
Fullerton out-played the Anteaters on Friday night and Coach Gillespie was worried the crowd would be discouraged to come out on Saturday night.
The crowd was not as large on Saturday night, but there still were an impressive 2,000-plus attendees. This time, those who came did not regret it.
In last year’s College World Series, the Anteaters eliminated Fullerton by taking a 5-4, 13-inning victory in the longest game in College World Series history.
On Saturday night, the Anteaters crushed the Titans’ hopes again in dramatic fashion by taking yet another extra-inning 3-2 win. The crowd even had a little College World Series feel when Linton stole second base at the bottom of the 12th and started the trademark Omaha chants of “Ollie! Ollie! Ollie!” And much like he did in Omaha, he came through in the clutch.
With one out and Linton on second, Orloff stepped up to the plate and delivered a single. Linton was waved home as he crossed third base, but the throw barely beat Linton to home plate. That did not stop Linton, however, as he slid into home and prevented the Titan catcher from securing the ball. The ball fell to the ground and the game was over.
It was only fitting that Orloff and Linton teamed up for the blow against Fullerton, as both were key components in Serrano’s small-ball success last season.
The Anteaters showed they are a hot ticket in Orange County and in college baseball. Coming into the weekend series they had the best pitching staff in the nation with an earned-run average of 2.12. It is only a matter of time before the offense becomes scary. The ‘Eaters average an impressive 6.8 runs per game, and just added the hot-hitting junior college transfer 3B Casey Stevenson to the line-up. And if Friday night’s home run was any indication, his junior college success should translate well into Division 1 play.
Another important reason one should catch games in Anteater Ballpark is the possibility of seeing future big-league talent. Imagine how you could be kicking yourself in the butt when you see Scott Gorgen pitching in the major leagues or Linton stealing bags like Juan Pierre, knowing that they played right in your house and you never went to see them. I know I would be, dear God!
So check out their remaining schedule on www.ucirvinesports.com and take advantage of your No. 5-ranked UCI baseball team.
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