Junior pitcher Adam Plutko set a season-high in strikeouts. Sophomore infielder Kevin Kramer launched a deep home run into the batting cages beyond the right field wall. Junior outfielder Brian Carroll had a pair of RBIs that were Friday’s only runs. But the star of UCLA baseball’s weekend series was a man who hasn’t played for them in more than 70 years.
UCLA won two out of three in its weekend series against Loyola Marymount, but the team’s ceremony honoring former four-sport athlete Jackie Robinson proved to be the main attraction.
The team celebrated the life and career of the former Bruin before Sunday’s game in honor of Jackie Robinson Day today, which commemorates Robinson’s Major League Baseball debut in 1947.
UCLA unveiled a mural featuring Robinson sporting his UCLA uniform and referencing the various other sports and organizations he was a part of in addition to UCLA baseball. The mural now stands along the first base concourse area at Jackie Robinson Stadium, next to a bronze statue of Robinson.
“It’s a great addition to Jackie Robinson Stadium,” Kramer said. “It’s great playing here and knowing that he played (at UCLA). That’s awesome.”
Along with the mural unveiling, Sunday’s ceremony also included the trailer for the new movie “42” about the life of Robinson, and a pair of speeches from junior outfielder Brenton Allen and former UCLA and Dodgers pitcher Tim Leary.
“The whole Jackie Robinson thing, it’s more personal for me. I’m really appreciative of the people that came before me. The things that he had to go through, the adversity and the stuff like that and he’s paved the way a little bit more for players like me,” Allen said.
“When I was told that I could be a part of the ceremony I jumped right into the opportunity.”
UCLA jumped on an opportunity of its own, looking to rebound from a series loss against Oregon State last weekend with a potential sweep of Loyola Marymount (18-17). After their strong play in the series’ first two games, the Bruins looked primed to do just that.
Plutko struck out eight on Friday as UCLA (22-10, 7-5 Pac-12) earned a 2-0 victory, bolstered by Carroll’s two-run single. Junior pitcher Nick Vander Tuig gave the Bruins another strong start on Saturday, surrendering just one run over six and a third innings en route to a 3-1 win.
But No. 17 UCLA’s dominant pitching, which carried the team to its first two wins of the series, was not as overpowering on Sunday, giving up four runs. With UCLA’s continued offensive struggles, notching just five hits on Sunday, the four-run deficit was too much to overcome in an eventual 4-1 defeat.
“Whenever you win two out of three, you’re not disappointed, but we’ve got to play better baseball,” said coach John Savage.
“We’ve got to be more offensive. That’s clear. That’s no secret. We’ve got to be more offensive, because the margin of error right now is so tough.”
While the Bruins’ hitting remains an issue, they are confident they can overcome that challenge, looking to Robinson as a source of inspiration.
“Jackie Robinson represents us as a team because there’s adversity in the sport. There’s adversity today when it comes to the fact that there’s so much failure in baseball and you have to get through that,” Allen said.
“He had courage during the things that he was going through. And if you can make it through that then why can’t we make it through the things we have to go through every day.”