#FreeSuperfan: Keith Franklin Banned from Anteater Ballpark

If you’re looking for something to piss you off, you’ve come to the right place. I’ll catch you up to speed. UC Irvine’s athletic department has banned its number one fan, Keith “Superfan” Franklin, from its ballpark. Although no official statement has been made by the department, Franklin is now refused entrance to his home away from home, after running onto the field with a sign congratulating Manager Mike Gillespie on his 1000th career win. Franklin’s gesture, by the way, was reportedly approved by players and coaches beforehand. Instead of receiving a warm welcome from the staff at Cicerone Field, Franklin was escorted off by police.

Courtesy of Peter Huynh

Courtesy of Peter Huynh

 

Communications director Bob Olson gave Cal Coast News a one-sentence response, “Mr. Franklin violated our stadium-fan behavior policy.”

It was nothing out of the ordinary for Franklin. Superfan had run onto the field to celebrate with the players on numerous occasions. Since being banned from the ballpark, Superfan has made it his mission to travel to Irvine’s away games in order to give his boys a boost.The story is documented in great detail by Josh Friedman of Cal Coast News.

I remember the day I first stepped foot into Anteater Ballpark. I couldn’t tell you who the Anteaters played, I couldn’t tell you who won, but I could tell you a story of a man standing alone, shouting for what he cared for. Stationed behind home plate, fit for a rock concert, a long-haired man who looked like a cross between Chris Pontius and a pro wrestler was screaming his lungs out. “Here you go kid, here you go, here you go! Let’s go 2-0, here we go Francis!” Catcher Francis Larson stepped to the dish. I don’t know if he homered, struck out, doubled or grounded out to third base. I do know that I found a man who was different, a man who had worn pinstripes for years, but now cheered for players in pinstripes, a man who lived for an obscure baseball team that few cared to raise a voice for.

“Thaaaaaaank God I’m an Anteateeeeeer!” he shouted at one point in my first game at the ballpark, drawing stares from opposing fans, and chuckles, smiles and cheers from UCI fans sprinkled throughout the park in attendance.

With Franklin’s troubled past, UCI’s administration has always rolled their eyes at the idea of Superfan being part of their brand. He’s been in prison for drugs and commercial burglary. His last conviction was in 1993.

He’s a mover by day, a fanatic by night; but most importantly, a man who thinks more about which nicknames to implement for UCI ballplayers, than he does about using drugs. He’s a man who has found refuge in a team. For some, it’s alcoholic’s anonymous that kicks the habit. Others, a new hobby. I don’t know about you, but if my baseball team was one fan’s anti-drug, I would celebrate the hell out of that.

But how spiritual is this? A troubled man finds peace by focusing his energy on something positive. Like homeless and schizophrenic man Nathaniel Ayers finding solace in a violin and in reporter Steve Lopez, as portrayed by Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr. in the movie, The Soloist. Celebrity chef Eddie Huang has an arrest on his record. He found his salvation in food. Anteater Baseball is to Franklin, what an orchestra is to Ayers, what a kitchen is to Huang.

Imagine Major League Baseball refusing Josh Hamilton’s return, because of his drug past. Imagine Jack Nicholson being kicked out of Staples Center for once bashing a car windshield with a baseball bat. Put your bootstraps down Keith, we don’t want you to pick yourself up on our property. That’s the kind of bullshit we’re talking about. If you’re going to let a man run on the field for years, celebrating with your players, many of which, adore him, then why now is he kicked out? I have yet to meet a baseball player at UCI who doesn’t appreciate Franklin.

On my first visit to the UC Irvine campus, I was looking for the UCI Baseball field. Late for my brother’s men’s league all star game, I asked students on the science side of campus how to get to the stadium. One replied, “We have a baseball team?” Another said, “I’ve never been over there.”

It was 2010 and the Anteaters were three years removed from their first College World Series appearance in school history. Ranked in the top 25, a Hall of Fame manager in control, and an All American starter in Danny Bibona on the mound. There was every reason to pay attention to this team, except for the fact that they were in Irvine. Franklin found the diamond in the rough, and he is the rough in the diamond. Without him, there is no diamond. UCI has never drawn a crowd like Cal State Fullerton, Long Beach State, UCLA or USC. But since Keith “Superfan” Franklin arrived, they’ve had spirit. Aside from enthusiastic parents, Franklin is the only bit of culture that the UCI baseball “crowd” has.

Last spring, I wrote a story about the UCI athletic department’s unwillingness to honor their number one fan. Using the word “cowardly,” to describe their desire to distance themselves from a man who can be perceived as a potential scuffmark on their all-important Anteater brand. After the story was published, I was contacted by assistant athletic director Phil Wang, who wanted to sit down for a private meeting in order to “discuss this and hopefully provide [me] with some helpful insight.”

When I responded with a request to tape record our meeting so they could go on the record, Wang wrote, “This week is rather busy as you can imagine with the basketball tournament and the home baseball series against Nebraska. Let’s shoot for next week or the week after when things aren’t so crazy.”

That meeting was never rescheduled. Tell me again how you wanted to disprove that you’re acting cowardly.

I had let it go, until I heard that the department had finally found their opportunity to toss Franklin from the ballpark for good. They’ve wronged everything that was right about UCI baseball. He was the one who waited for them at John Wayne Airport when they lost in the College World Series, or when they came up short of the College World Series. When everyone else was getting back to their lives, he was there. When Gillespie won game 1000 … he was there. It’s time the UCI athletic department was there for him, there for Gillespie, there for something, rather than cowering away from anything and everything that could bring bad publicity. Cause you know what? Publicly shunning the man who the players and fans love is going to have a much more damaging impact on the UCI baseball brand than any of Franklin’s loud and spirited cheers ever would have.

If you want an explanation as much as I do, tweet @UCIAthletics with #FreeSuperfan in order to hear their side of the story. We’re all ears.