A Different Kind of Pinstripes
His name says it all – Super Fan.At nearly every UC Irvine home baseball game, you can find him seated in section 106, three rows behind home plate, with a group of regular fans he calls the “106 Lunatics.”
Since 2005, his presence has been a staple at Anteater Ballpark for fans and players alike. Drawing inspiration from death metal and rock ’n’ roll, Super Fan has created unique nicknames or phrases for just about every UCI player.
He routinely shouts “Release the hounds!” when first baseman Jordan Fox comes to bat or “Bring on the slaughter!” when pitcher Crosby Slaught takes the mound. It’s always an attempt to fire up the crowd and acknowledge the players. His involvement and enthusiasm for UCI baseball has single-handedly created an atmosphere at the ballpark.
He even leads the singing of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch and regularly shouts “Rip ’Em …” which cues fans to respond in rhythm with “’Eaters!”
If you’re lucky, you might witness Super Fan’s signature “wall jump,” where following an exciting Anteater play, he sprints to the wall behind home plate with his pinstripe UCI jersey flowing behind in the breeze. He hops on the wall, then grips and tugs at the screen net like a mad man. And while he may receive strange looks by newcomers or visiting teams’ fans, Super Fan stresses that everything he shouts is positive, never negative nor intended to be disrespectful.
He has become a rock star in his own right. During last summer’s College World Series, he was caught on camera during ESPN’s national broadcast at the Virginia Super Regional. The world was introduced to Super Fan. As he recalls, Virginia fans and spectators were approaching him for pictures and autographs after the game.
To the Irvine community, Super Fan is almost mythical. His long, flowing hair and bulky frame are reminiscent of the Marvel comic book superhero Thor. Many have witnessed his greatness, but are clueless as to who the guy is or how he got here. Their stories get passed on to other students and slowly become folklore tales on campus for those that have never witnessed the UCI Super Fan.
But behind every legend, there is a man, and behind any man is a story. For Keith Franklin, being Super Fan was not always in his plans.
“My life hasn’t been the easiest one,” Franklin admitted. “I had a tough time growing up.”
Franklin, who was born in the Bronx, N.Y. relocated to Santa Ana in 1967 with his family. That’s when, Franklin says, he started to rebel and began experimenting with drugs. His choices led him down a troublesome path.
“I traded in college for prison,” Franklin said.
He once served a 16-month prison sentence and another two-year prison sentence on drug and alcohol charges.
“I saw some crazy shit. It was a dark time in my life. I was addicted to drugs and fighting for my life every single day.”
After being released from his second stint in the pen, Franklin began working as a mover, a job that he still holds today. He loves his job, but sometimes it gets in the way of his true love — baseball.
“I’m a hard-working man, but when I get to come out here and celebrate the team, I get a lot of the stress of the week off my back,” Franklin said. “The only [UCI] games I miss are day games scheduled during my work hours. It’s tough. I try to get those days off. I’ve already used a couple of my vacation days for the Halloween event (“Spooktacular”) and for the Alumni weekend. By the time the season comes by, I have no more vacation days at work. I’m on vacation every time I come to the ballpark.”
A true baseball fanatic, Franklin regularly attended baseball events from the professional to the collegiate level.
He used to follow Long Beach State and Cal State Fullerton, until stumbling upon Cicerone Field, where he describes having an “instant connection.”
“It’s hard to explain,” Franklin said, smiling. “Take a look around the ballpark. How could you not love that? How could you come here and not feel a sense of baseball and tradition.”
Franklin’s first UCI game came in the first week of March 2005 when UCI opened a home series against Dallas Baptist. Since then, he has followed the team and its players.
“I really wanted to show support to these guys. I would scream my butt off. I began making names up for players. I wasn’t sure if they heard me, but I really enjoyed being out here.”
Soon after, Franklin was approached by, then, star infielder Jamie Martinez.
“The player I miss the most is Jamie, don’t tell Benny-O (Ben Orloff) that, but he was really the first player to talk to me and acknowledge me. He told me he loved what I was doing and encouraged me to keep it up. It made me feel like I was a part of something special.”
Slowly, Franklin began making a name for himself. His passion and enthusiasm for the team began to be recognized by fans, players and coaches.
“I remember in 2007 when the team lost [in the College World Series]. I found out what time their plane was arriving and waited for them at the airport to show my support. [Hitting coach] Pat Shine embraced me and said ‘Keith, come here. Let me introduce you to our entire team.’ He went around and had me meet all the players. It was a really touching moment.”
Franklin’s story is a true testament to the power of sports. For a man with a troubled background and history of drug and alcohol addiction, UCI baseball became more than a sport, it turned into a home and helped turn his life around. It’s his therapy. To this day, former players embrace Franklin and honor him with the upmost respect. He is more than a Super Fan, he is a part of UCI baseball history.