Whipping around the corner between the Mesa parking structure and Bren Events Center, my stumpy legs struggled to move as fast as I wanted them to. I was hustling. As I turned the corner, I spotted a sweatshirt bearing baby-blue and golden yellow: a Bruin fan. I huffed in disgust. Half because I was out of breadth from my journey across campus to the baseball field, and half because I hate seeing opposing colors on campus. Especially on a night like that.
Just as I turned up the walkway to face the entrance, a cheer rumbled through the air and a “U-C (clap clap) Ir-vine (clap clap)” chant permeated the night air. My huff in disgust at the Bruin fan turned into a smirk of pride. Something good just happened, I thought to myself. And then I realized something more miraculous happened as well. Students were doing Irvine chants at a baseball game.
I cannot remember the last time I heard a crowd performing these synchronized chants at Anteater Ballpark (with its field now crowned Cicerone Field). As I got up to the ticket booth, I pulled out my ID, got my free ticket and the buzz hit me. It was like seeing Santa Claus at 17 years old. Pure disbelief. I walked through the gate and witnessed people moving and shaking all over the place. Families, scouts, other Irvine athletes and students flooded the scene in front of me.
It was like nothing I had ever seen at this place. The entire grass hill was filled. New stands set up behind the visiting dugout; volleyball players giving out autographs; a huge line at the food stand; commotion flowing through the crowd and most of all, pride. Kids were out with their free mini-bats, ’Eater Nation shirts were scattered about and all eyes were on the game. It was very un-Irvine.
As I shuffled through the crowd, my next thought hit me, where do I sit? Usually, the crowds are minor at baseball games and it is free rein on where you want to post up. But with this crowd, I resorted to my normal instincts, who do I know here?
I called the New University’s managing editor David Nicolas.
“What’s up Ratto?” he asks over the phone.
“You at the game?” I respond.
“Up in the stands, cruise up, there is some room.”
I hung up and approached the portable stands. I had actual butterflies in my stomach. The energy at the ballpark was so electric that I had actual, flapping-away, butterflies in my stomach! (Weird, I know) As I walked up the stairs to the stands, UCLA fan bumped into me on his way down. I did not even care. Nothing was going to take me out of that moment.
I spotted Dave and two other New U’ers, Kristie and Jen. I plopped down, said my greetings and proceeded to soak in the harmony that radiated around me.
The stands were packed. Both Irvine and UCLA fans squeezed into the seats and were fixed on the game. A waft of hot-dog grease and french fries lingered in the air. The scoreboard read Irvine 1, UCLA 3 in the bottom of the third. There was a group of obnoxious Bruin family supporters in front of me and a group of obnoxious Irvine students to the right. It was beautiful. The reserve seating that wraps around the back-stop was packed and the lights kept the infield glistening green. All the elements that make a night at the ballpark perfect were coming together.
As I looked onto the ’Eaters who were pushing to get back two runs, a calming feeling started to settle over my body. A minute blur started to build around the scene and I fell into a blissful baseball fan coma. It was like the moment Kevin Costner has when he turns on the field lights for the first time in “Field of Dreams.” He is not sure why he did it, but he sits in the moment and looks on to his field in hopes that it will one day turn into a haven for ball players.
That was my exact feeling. I peered onto this beautiful scene and could not help but serenely think, “This is the start of something big.” One of our copy editors sitting next to me probably hated me. She heard me say, “This is beautiful,” about 12 times. I could not get over it.
It really represented the evolution of Irvine athletics. There was the number one team in the nation playing a big-time school and competing, mind you. There was true interest on the part of students and a facility that keeps getting nicer. But above all, there was the notion that this was only the beginning.
As I sat there enamored and bugging my New U people about how stoked I was, I came to one more realization. This ballpark is a “Field of Dreams.” Someone told this athletic department to build the new stands. And it became apparent that if they built them, the students will come.
If they build it, they will come.
Well, I tip my hat to you, whoever it was that decided to build these stands. I came, and I loved it.
Filed Under: Sports