A Sunday to Witness the Resurrection of a Stadium.

By Eric Sorenson. Posted on April 21st, 2013 in Sunday summations
 

960 fans may not sound like much to most of you out there. But to Cal baseball, it’s a measurement on the Richter Scale compared to the girlfriends-and-parents crowds of 50-to-75 that used to come to Evans Diamond for games.

Drove my '64 Rambler to the Golden Gate today. This pic was taken from the Sausalito side of the shore. Wish I coulda taken all you Stitch-Heads with me.

Drove my ’64 Rambler to the Golden Gate today. This pic was taken from the Sausalito side of the shore. Wish I coulda taken all you Stitch-Heads with me. Decided to head down to Berkeley to see Cal-Wazzu afterward.

 

 

Which begs the question: Can a dead stadium come back to life?

 

Is it possible for a stadium built in 1933 be one of the best fan experiences in college baseball? In THIS day and age?

 

At Cal Berkeley today, I found out the answer was “yes.”

Today was my first trip back to the Berkeley campus since the 2011 season when it looked like the program was gonna get the guillotine.  And holy shitte, what a transformation this place has undergone.

 

For example: In the middle of the 5th inning, the Evans Diamond PA announcer proudly declared it was “Time for the Cal Bears T-shirt toss.”

 

Kids began jumping around and screaming wildly. Co-eds put down their cell phones and waived their arms. Parents put down the sunscreen and raised their infants on their shoulders and began to yell at the UC marketing reps. Battles for the tossed T’s was bordering on fierce. Cal baseball was a hot commodity to these people.

 

And that’s cool.

 

To think that just two years ago, those marketing reps wouldn’t have even bothered with a T-shirt toss. Hell, there weren’t enough parents and girlfriends in the crowd to gather enough interest in throwing out the keys to a new BMW. That was pre-death sentence.

 

The difference between going to a game at Evans Diamond in 2011 and going to one today, is a wide chasm to cross. The stands were as full as I’d ever seen them, kids were chasing foul balls en masse, the pep band was hitting all the between-inning high notes, the new beer garden was doing a brisk business…  My Gawd, there was a palpable energy to this joint like I’d never seen or felt here before.

 

And keep in mind that this was a game between two teams who are not even close to fighting for the Pac 12 crown either. Didn’t matter. The fans were there to enjoy a college baseball game in Berkeley. That’s headline-worthy on its own.

 

See, the Cal athletic administration finally got smart. They made Cal Baseball an event. They gave little leaguers a giant welcome. They gave adults a place to cool off with an adult beverage. They made the start times much more fan friendly. And they gussied up the old joint just a little and it shows.

 

I spent the first few innings on the balcony that overlooks the field and is attached to Haas Pavilion, the UC basketball arena. They have an indoor clubhouse for basketball games and the adjoining balcony down the 3rd base line was a great vantage point for the rich alums to gather, have some beer or wine, some free food and mingle.

 

By the way, I had snuck my way in… then just acted like I belonged.

 

What the hell, it gave me free booze. Worth the risk of getting caught.

 

A view from the deck, overlooking the 3rd base side. Complete with all the beer, wine and short skirts you could want.

A view from the deck, overlooking the 3rd base side. Complete with all the beer, wine and leggy brunettes you could want.

I was talking with Cal alum Thomas Atkinson up in the Alumni Deck of Haas Pavilion during the early part of the game.

 

“You see this crowd here?” Thomas asked me. “You never would’ve seen this two years ago… hell, 20-30 years ago. Fans want to come to a game where they can get a beer, let their kids run around and watch a good game. They never had this before.”

 

And that’s what we’re looking at for California-Berkeley baseball now. The team itself is still decimated from that near-extinction season of 2011, which saw them miss almost an entire season of recruiting because there was no promise of a program even being in existence. But now, it’s a complete 180. The biggest reason for the big crowds is due to the installation of lights this past February. It means that Cal can now start games later on Fridays and Saturdays and allow busy families to come out to Evans Diamond at a more convenient time.

 

Granted, we’re not talking about eight-t0-ten thousand fans here. But the Bears have pulled in 1,000-plus four times this season, including the 2,133 for the first night game vs. USC on March 28th, as compared to the Friday day game vs. Fresno State two weeks earlier, which saw just 126 people in attendance for a 1:30 afternoon start time.

 

I was talking with Jeff Reuvekamp, the father of the game-winning hitter Mike Reuvekamp, and I said to him, “Well, this crowd is impressive. Not like 10,000 fans for an SEC game impressive, but compared to how many showed up before to these games…”

 

Jeff responded, “Well yeah, but the city of Berkeley wouldn’t have enough parking spaces for that big of a crowd anyway.”

 

Good point. But who knows what the future holds.

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Here are a few more pics from the renewed Evans Diamond today…

Here's a better look at the beer garden down the left field side.

Here’s a better look at the beer garden down the left field side.

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Also, note the moved-in fence in left field. Don't worry, this ain't one of those SEC programs that feel a great need to hit more home runs so they move their fences in to 290-feet. The temporary fence here is due to the construction of a new scoreboard (note the base of it on the far right of the pic) and the implementation of the light standards. The 310-foot fence will go back to regular length after this season.

Also, note the moved-in fence in left field. Don’t worry, this ain’t one of those SEC programs that feel a great need to hit more home runs so they move their fences in to 290-feet. The temporary fence here is due to the construction of a new scoreboard (note the base of it on the far right of the pic) and the implementation of the light standards. The 310-foot fence will go back to regular length, (with its 25-foot wall as well) after this season.

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The temporary bullpen on the 3rd base side sits immediately below the stands.

The temporary bullpen on the 3rd base side sits immediately below the stands.

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Call it the "reverse mullet", this kid has Party in the front and business in the back for his hair style.

Call it the “reverse mullet”, this kid has Party-in-the-front bangs and Business-in-the-back crew-cut for his hair style.

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Another new wrinkle: The Cal alumni pep band also stuck it out the whole game in the right field stands.

Another new wrinkle adding to the atmosphere: The Cal alumni pep band also stuck it out the whole game in the right field stands.

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With the heavy influx of little leaguers at the game today, Sundays have become autograph day at Evans Diamond.

With the heavy influx of little leaguers at the game today, Sundays have become autograph day at Evans Diamond.

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... oh and I mean it's autographs by the hundreds after the game. Kids were getting players signatures, running the bases and just having a ball after the game. Another great new wrinkle by the Cal marketing department. Again... this changes everything about games at Evans Diamond.

… oh and I mean it’s autographs by the hundreds after the game. Kids were getting players signatures, running the bases and just having a ball after the game. Another great new wrinkle by the Cal marketing department. Again… this changes everything about games at Evans Diamond.

 

 

 

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COACH SPEAK 

After the game, I caught up with Cal head coach Dave Esquer – admittedly one of the best people on the planet. I didn’t really want to talk much about the game itself, after witnessing the atmosphere at Evans Diamond, I just wanted to talk to coach Esquer about the atmosphere.

 

Me:

Coach Esquer, look at this place. The crowd was big. It was energized. You’ve got the beer garden down there. There’s an alumni band playing. This place is a buzz of activity. What’s going on here coach?

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Coach Esquer:
Let me tell you… since the lights went on here it has been a completely different atmosphere. More family oriented. The ability to have night games accessible to families, they looked at that and said, “Hey, let’s come back on Sunday.” I think families are looking at this as a chance to come back on Sunday’s and have a good time at Evans Diamond.

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Me:
I’m just blown away at how many things are different here, not just the new lights.

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Coach Esquer:
I think our marketing department has done a really good job here too. And I really think they are just starting to scratch the surface of what can be done here. When that scoreboard goes up and that new video board goes on… the possibilities are endless. I really think so. You know what it’s gonna be? We’re gonna be a minor league baseball-like atmosphere here. It’s almost that right now. Look at this (he points to all the kids on the field getting autographs and running the bases…). We’re getting some great crowds here.

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Me:
Scott Ball (the Cal baseball S.I.D.) was telling me that the night games you guys have had so far have all been 1,000-plus in attendance.

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Coach Esquer:

Yeah. Absolutely. It really has turned on a dime. And think about this, we haven’t played worth a damn in those games, lost a lot of close ones, especially when Oregon was in here when we lost 3-2 and 5-4. But you know what, you show ‘em a game like today where it’s a one-run win in the 9th inning and the fans will say, “Hey, that was a LOT of fun. We’ll have to come back here.”

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Me:

You told me when I saw you in Houston that day games were always hurting you guys because parents had soccer games and baseball games to drive their kids to so they couldn’t make those.

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Coach Esquer:

Yeah, the new lights are letting us get bigger crowds for Fridays and Saturday for sure. And now you see that carry over into Sundays here.

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Me:

No doubt. No doubt. This is way more than I was expecting when we were first talking about saving the program back in the fall of 2010.

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Coach Esquer:

You know, I think I told you this before, but Skip Bertman (the former LSU coach) told me, “You’ve got to have clean bathrooms and hot coffee” because you’ve got to have food and drinks that will make people want to come out and then you better have the bathrooms clean because mom ain’t comin’ back if the bathrooms ain’t clean.’

 

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WHAT I SAW AT EVANS DIAMOND (game-wise, that is)

Well, this is kind of beating a dead horse here, but I saw the complete transformation of a program. From “Who cares” to “Hoo boy!” in two short years. Oh, and I also saw the homesteading Cal Bears make a valiant 9th-inning comeback to edge the hard-luck washington State Cougars 2-1.

Even Oski the Cal Bear made an appearance at Evans Diamond today.

Even Oski the Cal Bear made an appearance at Evans Diamond today.

 

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LINESCORE:

WSU – 000 010 000 – 1  8  2

CAL – 000 000 002 – 2  9  2

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PITCHING:

WP: Logan Scott, 3-1

LP: Kellen Camus, 3-2

Save: Bibe

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TOP HITTERS

Wazzu:

- Jason Monda, 3-for-4, RBI

- Adam Nelubowich, 2-for-4

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Cal

- Mike Reuvekamp, 2-for-4, GW RBI

- Brian Celsi, 2-for-4, GW run

- Mitchell Kranson, 2-for-4, RBI

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RECORDS:

Washington State: 19-18, 6-9 Pac 12

California: 18-21, 7-11 Pac 12

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IN SUMMARY.

Not much to write about, game-wise. I mean, it was 1-0 Wazzu from the top of the 5th inning to the last few pitches of the game.

 

In fact, it looked for the longest time that the Cougs were going to snuff out each and every Cal Bear threat from the top of the 5th inning onward with great pitching by Scott Simon and Kellen Camus.

 

But Camus got the 9th inning off on an ominous note by walking leadoff batterNick Hamandaris on four pitches. He was replaced by pinch runner Sean Peters, who was immediately bunted over to second base.An infield singe by Brian Celsi kept Peters at 2nd base, but put two men on with just one out.

 

A batter later Mitchell Cranson sent a sharp liner to right field, which was fielded cleanly by Wazzu RF Yale Rosen, but his throw to home to attempt to get Peters was slightly off-line, allowing the game-tying score to cross the dish.

 

Next up, 9-hole hitter Mike Reuvekamp put a clothespin on the weekend with a looping single to center field which NORROWLY avoided the glove of WSU centerfielder Austin Pernell by a fingernail or two, allowing Brian Celsi to come around and score the winning run.

 

All three Cal pitchers, Dylan Nelson, Keaton Siomkin and Logan Scott threw a butt-load of strikes (81 of 119) and issued just a single walk on the day. Though the defense did commit two errors, they were a little on the meaningless side as neither of them led to a run.

 

The win allows the Bears to win the weekend series two-games-to-one and also helps them leapfrog the Cougs in the Pac 12 standings by 1.5 games. Cal already came in with the better RPI – 91st compared to 102nd – but it will still be a pretty long shot for them to make the NCAAs, considering the ground they must make up in the final five weekends.

 

Then again, this IS Cal we’re talking about. You know how big of miracle-workers Dave Esquer and his staff are…

 

Never say never.

 

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PICS

Some more images from today’s Evans Diamond experience.

Ben Roberts makes a dramatic diving catch right on the 3rd base foul line.

Ben Roberts makes a dramatic diving catch right on the 3rd base foul line.

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All elbows and knees. You can't blame lanky Wazzu starter Scott Simon, who threw 7.0 innings of 5-hit ball in a no-decision.

All elbows and knees. You can’t blame lanky Wazzu starter Scott Simon, who threw 7.0 innings of 5-hit ball in a no-decision.

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Despite the beauty of a day they had in Berkeley, home plate ump Dave Yeast still needed a significant amount of cooling off between innings.

Despite the beauty of a day they had in Berkeley, home plate ump Dave Yeast still needed a significant amount of cooling off between innings.

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Ty Jackson made a few friends by tossing this foul ball into the beer garden down the 3rd base line.

Ty Jackson made a few friends by tossing this foul ball into the beer garden down the 3rd base line.

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One of the best names in college baseball: Washington State's Yale Rosen. (also known as "Dr. Rosen Rosen" by you Fletch fans out there)

One of the best names in college baseball: Washington State’s Yale Rosen. (You Fletch fans out there might know his father, “Dr. Rosen Rosen”)

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Coach Esquer rallies his troops for a pep talk before  the fateful 9th inning. Whatever he said, it worked.

Coach Esquer rallies his troops for a pep talk before the fateful 9th inning. Whatever he said, it worked.

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Wazzu shortstop Trace Tam Sing made this catch despite being tackled by his own player: LF Ben Roberts.

Wazzu shortstop Trace Tam Sing made this catch despite being tackled by his own player: LF Ben Roberts.

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Sean Peters slides into home with the game-tying run in the bottom of the 9th, just edging in before the throw from RF Yale Rosen could get to him.

Sean Peters slides into home with the game-tying run in the bottom of the 9th, just edging in before the throw from RF Yale Rosen could get to him.

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... that left Coach Esquer and the boys fired up over the 1-1 tie.

… that left Coach Esquer (foreground) and the boys fired up over the 1-1 tie.

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A batter later, WSU centerfielder Austin Pernell narrowly missed a sinking liner hit by Cal's Mike Reuvekamp...

A batter later, WSU centerfielder Austin Pernell narrowly missed a sinking liner hit by Cal’s Mike Reuvekamp…

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That led to the Cal players descending on Reuvekamp to celebrate the bottom-of-the-9th come-from-behind win for the Bears.

… which led to the Cal players descending on Reuvekamp (#37) to celebrate the bottom-of-the-9th come-from-behind win for the Bears.

 

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AROUND THE COUNTRY. 

A brief look at some of the best and worst.

 

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THREE UP: 

The best of the day… or at least of what I saw.

 

1- NORTH CAROLINA STATE AND VIRGINIA. 

I can’t pick one over the other. They were both Billy Bad-Asses this weekend in the ACC. Maybe a slight edge to the Wolfpack for winning all three games at Georgia Tech, topped by today’s 8-7 win. UVa took down Florida State for the third straight day, taking some shine off their moo and leaving us to wonder if FSU is back to being a paper tiger.

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2- CAL STATE NORTHRIDGE.

Under the veil of no fanfare, the Matadors went out to the islands and dropped the hammer on Hawaii for the third straight night with today’s 10-5 win. With the sweep, CSUN has now swept its first Big West road series since 2004.

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3- MIKE BIANCO, OLE MISS. 

The Rebels head honcho earned his 600th win in today’s 4-3 win at Tennessee. The  Ole Miss win today wrapped up a three-game sweep in Knoxville and improved the Rebs to 29-12 overall and 10-8 in the SEC.

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HONORABLE MENTION:

- The UNC-Duke crowd.

While we’re on the subject of big crowds, North Carolina pulled in an impressive crowd of 4,255 for today’s game with Research Triangle rival Duke. The Heels sent the audience home satisfied with a 10-1 woodshed job on the Dookies as the offense pounded out 16 hits and the Heels scored in all but two innings. Here’s a shot of the packed-to-the-gills crowd, courtesy of the Doctor of College Baseball:

A look at the crowd of 4,255 who crammed into Boshamer Stadium today.

A look at the crowd of 4,255 who crammed into Boshamer Stadium today.

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THREE DOWN. 

The best of the worst… or at least of what I saw.

 

1- FLORIDA STATE.

Ugh. The Seminole Nightmare continued all weekend long. The ‘Noles drop their third straight at Virginia, 5-2 at Davenport Field. How bad was it? Scott Sitz actually took a loss, dropping his first decision of the year, at 7-1.

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2- GEORGIA TECH.

Like the Noles, lost all three to an ACC rival (North Carolina State), but unlike the Florida Staters, the Jackets lost their three ACC games at home. Today’s 8-7 loss they allowed the Pack to score two runs in the top of the 9th inning to win.

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3- CONNECTICUT

The Huskies dropped all three games to South Florida, culminating with today’s 4-3 loss. The Huskies left the bases loaded in the 8th inning, furthering the torture. The Huskies also saw their RPI plummet down to No. 104 going into Sunday’s game.

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Sorry to cut it short. Kinda tired.

 

G’night.

 

 

COMMENTS:

April 22, 2013 at 3:28 pm
Tim says:

Nebraska’s RPI is up to 35. Any idea what the lowest RPI’s have been for at-large teams in recent years?


April 22, 2013 at 4:14 pm
Eric Sorenson says:

I wanna say LSU from 2011 (I believe, don’t quote me on that) when they were something like No. 26 or so.


April 22, 2013 at 10:03 pm
Johnnienation says:

2012: Louisville rpi 42, college of charleston rpi 47, Michigan st rpi 48, Indiana st rpi 53, Sam Houston st rpi 54

2011: uc irvine rpi 44, Dallas baptist rpi 47, UConn rpi 48, Troy rpi 49, St. John’s rpi 54


May 2, 2013 at 6:09 pm
Berkeley Bob says:

I have been out there on a Friday night game, and it is a great environment. I have been going to games throughout Esquer’s time, and I respect him as a coach. He does a great job of teaching the game, and knows how to develop talent.