I love baseball.
It’s a great, historic sport I grew up obsessing over. As a Massachusetts native, I grew up in a culture where everyone was a die-hard Red Sox fan, and it has made me the aggressive and bombastic sports fan I am today.
When I came out to Westwood, I was under the impression I would be moving from one baseball culture to another. There is history and prestige inherently tied to UCLA baseball, and I was looking forward to seeing how people here treated one of my favorite sports.
It turns out, no one really seemed to care.
Now let me get this straight – the Bruins do have their fans. They have alumni, they have young families and they have die-hard baseball junkies who all care about their team. But the issue is that the student interest just isn’t there.
The cause? Well, it could just be that baseball as a whole is losing popularity in my generation, but I still know plenty of students who love the Los Angeles Dodgers, LA Angels, San Francisco Giants or some other MLB franchise.
So the issue isn’t baseball, and it has nothing to do with the quality of the program – UCLA is routinely ranked in the top 25, produces high-profile MLB talent and won a national championship as recently as 2013.
The problem is Jackie Robinson Stadium.
Not the stadium itself, exactly, just where it happens to be: on the other side of the I-405, almost two miles away from campus.
Compare that to Pauley Pavilion and the Los Angeles Tennis Center – which are right on Bruin Walk – and Easton Stadium and the Spieker Aquatics Center – located by the Sunset Canyon Recreation Center on the Hill.
I went to plenty of home baseball games last year, and at most of them, there wasn’t a student in sight. Only for weekend day-games would a group of students show up, and even then, the attendance rarely exceeded 1,700.
Tickets are free for students, but Ubers aren’t. And a 45-minute walk isn’t exactly the most convenient way for students to spend their time.
This may hit die-hard fans close to home, but Jackie Robinson Stadium is not the right fit for UCLA. The Bruins need a stadium on campus so eager students can make it out to the ballgame.
There is currently minimal promotion for the team’s games, but if schedule banners hung next to the men’s and women’s basketball ones on Bruin Walk, maybe UCLA baseball’s attendance could begin to compete with its Pac-12 rivals.
Jackie Robinson Stadium fits 1,820 fans, but both USC and Washington have newly renovated stadiums that seat around 680 and 380 more than that, respectively. Oregon State’s Goss Stadium sits 3,315 and has outfield seating – unlike Jackie Robinson Stadium. Arizona’s Hi Corbett Stadium sits nearly 10,000.
To be fair, there is no reason for UCLA to expand and pour money into tricking out Jackie Robinson Stadium where it stands. The revenue wouldn’t overtake the costs for a long, long time – not nearly enough people go to the games.
That is why the brand new, state-of-the-art Jackie Robinson Stadium II should be built right on the Hill.
If UCLA found a way to fit the Mo Ostin Basketball Center, Wasserman Football Center and Wallis Annenberg Stadium on campus, I think it could find a spot for a baseball stadium as well – tear down the Hitch Suites for all I care.
Another season at the original Jackie Robinson Stadium is rapidly approaching, and yet again, fans will have to journey out to the far edges of Westwood to see a really talented team play one of the greatest sports on the planet. The next generation of UCLA fans shouldn’t have to make watching baseball such a chore.
No more 45-minute walks along the highway or pairs of $10 Ubers on gamedays – put a stadium on campus.