As September nears its end, so does the season of many major league baseball teams. The craze behind October begins, especially with the MLB playoff promos “There is only one October.” Just kidding.
This is a time when both the dedicated fans and casual fans pay attention to see who is crowned the World Series Champ. With the Dodgers and Angels both winning their respective divisions, more people are engaged in baseball and are ready to root for their teams.
What better time is their to put in a plug in for Anteater baseball?
For those of you who do not already know about the prestige of our program, here is a brief synopsis.
The UC Irvine baseball program was brought back in 2002 by student vote (the program was cut in 1992 due to state budget cuts). The enthusiasm of the student body complimented the zeal of the administration to bring the program back. Then UCI Athletic Director Dan Guerrero picked all the pieces out right: hiring a tremendous head coach in Dave Serrano, who is now the Cal State Fullerton head coach and building a beautiful ballpark on the north side of the campus. He built a large field to cater to strong pitching staffs, and that is exactly what the Anteater teams under Serrano and current Head Coach Mike Gillespie have brought.
Last season’s team compiled the third lowest earned run average in the nation at 3.27, which included a 36-inning scoreless streak. The St. Louis Cardinals selected staff ace Scott Gorgen in the fourth round. The Saturday starter, Bryce Stowell, was selected in the 22nd round by the Cleveland Indians, but decided to stay for another year to improve his draft status. However after dominating the Cape Cod league, the elite summer ball league for college baseball players, over the summer, Stowell agreed to terms with the Indians and received a nice $750,000 signing bonus. Not bad for someone with only one year experience of college baseball and a 22nd round selection. We will miss you Bryce.
Don’t worry, Anteaters. UCI has the 22nd best recruiting class in the nation coming in and not to mention two stud starters – juniors Daniel Bibona and Christian Bergman.
Everyone on offense except Ollie Linton, who was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks, will return this year for the Anteaters. Linton was the spark plug at the top of the order and the reliable glove in center field. Hopefully his presence will not be missed as another Cape Cod league athlete, Corey Olsen, joins the Anteaters this year to take Linton’s position in center field and atop the order. Olsen was one of the top hitters for average in Cape Cod this past summer.
The Anteater offense should be most solid at shortstop with senior Ben Orloff returning while Junior Francis Larson should provide the pop in the middle of the order and take over every day at catcher for Aaron Lowenstein, who graduated this past year.
Another signature of Anteater teams is the unselfishness. Catering to the large ballpark, the Anteaters play excellent small ball. For those who have no idea what that means, since the field is so large, it is very difficult to hit home runs. Adaptively, the Anteaters scrape for runs by bunting and stealing bases. They led the nation in sacrifice hits with Orloff leading the way. They are not afraid to get hit by the ball and everyone truly plays for the team. That’s not something you see in everyday sports.
With Linton gone, outfielder Dillon Bell should become the new fan favorite. His great sense of humor and personality will lead the greatest college baseball improv group in the nation, “The Company,” as proclaimed by The Oracle. It’s why they call him “Big Daddy.”
The Anteaters play in the Big West, which is arguably one of the toughest conferences in college baseball. They were the team that made it furthest from the Big West in the playoffs last year when they were three outs away from another trip to Omaha at Louisiana State University in the Super Regionals.
All the magic began in 2007 when the Anteaters finished the year ranked fourth in the nation after making their mark in history at the College World Series. Those Anteaters put our school on the map by defeating Fullerton and Arizona State in back-to-back extra inning games, a College World Series first.
The nation fell in love with the heart of the team, not to mention our unique mascot.
Since then, the Anteaters have defined themselves as hard-nosed team ball players who thrive in big crowds.
That is why the Anteater ballpark needs to get hostile this season. The tickets are free for UCI students, and the serene seating at the ballpark can only be appreciated in person.
At LSU, where the 8,000-plus-seat baseball stadium sells out on a consistent basis, the fans knew more about our UCI team than the average UCI student does, which is pathetic. They appreciated what we brought to the table. It’s about time we come to the dinner table and eat.