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Ruff-housing: Baseball should be a bigger hit with students

By Jacob Ruffman

June 10, 2013 12:00 a.m.

If a college baseball program makes the College World Series two of the past three years, averages over 44 wins a season and has 27 players drafted over that span, but no one is there to see it, does it really happen?

I couldn’t help but sit in awe asking myself that question on a gorgeous Tuesday evening when UCLA baseball faced UC Santa Barbara in the Bruins’ regular season home finale.

At the first pitch, there were maybe 100 people present; and while the final attendance number settled at 653, I don’t know if more than 450 were there at any one time.

Even more disappointing was that maybe 25 students were there with no designated student section for them to congregate.

“We joke sometimes that we’d rather play on the intramural field so students would go to our games,” said sophomore closer David Berg, who was recently named Pac-12 pitcher of the year. “It’s hard to play off campus, but we understand that it’s difficult for students to get out to Jackie (Robinson Stadium).”

While Berg seems to understand the chronic low attendance numbers, I simply cannot.

Most students provide me with the same excuse. They say Jackie Robinson Stadium, which is located off Sepulveda, about a mile and a half from the Hill, is too far from campus and there is no easy way to get to the games.

I understand that concern and even share that sentiment. As a student, I only attended two games when I wasn’t going as a media member, and I consider myself a big baseball fan.

So if the biggest issue is getting people to the games, then why doesn’t the athletic department have a shuttle system to take students to the games?

UCLA athletics provides more than 100 buses per season for seven football games at a cost of $450 per bus, so why not send one bus to every baseball game?

Just like most business-based decisions, the answer is simple – money.

Baseball, unlike football and basketball, loses a substantial amount of money for the athletics department. Last season, the baseball team had a net loss of over a million dollars, and UCLA would like to avoid adding to that deficit.

“We’ve tried buses in the past (for baseball) but it didn’t go over very well,” said Associate Athletic Director Scott Mitchell. “It’s something that we could revisit but there hasn’t been an outcry from the student population (for it).”

The Undergraduate Students Association Council’s General Representative 1 Office attempted to run a bus from campus to Jackie Robinson Stadium a few weeks back, but the turnout was vastly underwhelming.

Given it was a Tuesday night game during USAC elections week, the low attendance was somewhat expected, but the event itself was considered a success from those who went.

“We received great feedback from everyone who went,” said General Representative Michael Starr, whose office ran the event. “If (the athletics department) picked a few games to highlight on Saturday games where they bus people out, I think it’d be a success.”

While a larger commitment to baseball could help generate revenue and ease the financial burden of the program, there is still a major cultural issue with UCLA’s students when it comes to attending UCLA sporting events.

Last year, the athletics program sold more than 10,000 Den Sports Passes to students, setting a record high for season passes in the process, yet it was a struggle to fill the student section at times.

On average, just around 2,000 students would attend a men’s basketball game at brand new Pauley Pavilion this past season, meaning four-fifths of students chose not to attend a game they already paid to watch.

“We have tried to give students the opportunity to attend games, like this past April when we provided free buses to football’s Spring Game, but only about 100 kids went,” Mitchell said. “You have to ask yourself what kind of return are you going to get, and realistically, how many people can you really get to go to a Tuesday night game?”

To confirm this suspicion of apathy toward UCLA athletics from the student population, I went on BruinWalk and asked 40 UCLA students if they could direct me toward Jackie Robinson Stadium.

26 of the students had no idea what I was talking about, seven knew generally that the stadium existed and seven could tell me exactly where to go.

I find it sad that UCLA has a gorgeous baseball stadium that’s almost the exact same walking distance from campus to Westwood Brewing Company, yet only seven out of 40 people can tell me where it is.

UCLA baseball has one of the best recruiting coaches in John Savage, had the No. 1 and No. 3 overall picks of the MLB draft taken in 2011 and just last weekend, junior center fielder Brian Carroll had the top play on ESPN SportsCenter – why wouldn’t you want to see this?

Fortunately for the Bruins, they just won their Super Regional, placing them in the College World Series, which is the equivalent to the Bowl Championship Series for football or Elite Eight for basketball.

Each game in the CWS is nationally televised, meaning that after a yet another tremendous 44-win season for the Bruins, someone will finally be watching.

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Jacob Ruffman
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