A ballpark where I have watched my alma mater play many times over nearly 30 years. Photo courtesy of uclabruins.com
CHECKING OUT A UCLA BASEBALL GAME AT A FAMILIAR PLACE
I remember the first time I saw UCLA play my favorite sport at this ballpark located on the Veterans Administration Grounds in West Los Angeles, on the other side of the 405 Freeway from the Westwood campus.
It was (I think) sometime in April of 1990; I was a UCLA student and a member of the Bruin Marching/Varsity band at that time and we were invited to perform at a game at Jackie Robinson Stadium against Arizona.
It was my first time there, and I of course enjoyed it as not only did the Bruins win, then-head coach Gary Adams, who had and still has a reputation of being one of the nicest guys in all levels of baseball, approached the band, welcomed us, and said, “We’re gonna win this one for you,” which they did.
I subsequently went to many games at Jackie Robinson Stadium, or JRS, over the next nearly thirty years, mostly throughout the 1990s and 2000s as a baseball fan in general and a member of Bruin Nation in particular.
I still have two game-used balls that I obtained in 2000 and 2001, which I keep on a shelf in my bedroom.
It had been a few years since I last been to JRS, and in the spirit of this blog’s mission to cover things that are generally not covered anywhere else, I decided to visit the place – see an old friend in a sense – watch the Bruins in action on the diamond (for the second time this season as I saw their 3-2 loss to USC at Dodger Stadium on March 11th) and find out if there was anything different about the ballpark that opened in 1981 with a seating capacity of around 2,000.
One thing that must be mentioned is the single worst thing about the Bruin baseball facility:
It is not the easiest or most convenient place to get to; to get to Jackie Robinson Stadium from the UCLA campus one must drive down Westwood Blvd, turn right on Wilshire Blvd. onto perpetually heavy traffic, then make another right onto Sepulveda Blvd until you see a stop light on Constitution Ave, where you make a left and go under the 405 to approach JRS.
I remember during the 90s the Los Angeles National Cemetery, which is located exactly between Westwood and JRS, would sometimes have one of its gates open on Veteran Ave. When that was the case, with me not having a car it made it easy for me to cross that cemetery and approach the ballpark that way.
The bottom line is, Jackie Robinson Stadium is one of the places in L.A. where having a car is especially beneficial, as there are no bus lines going by the place and shuttles are only available for the students during weekend contests.
UCLA celebrating their epic triumph in the 2013 College World Series and first national championship at Jackie Robinson Stadium, which I had the pleasure of being at. Photo courtesy of YouTube.com
Once You Get To JRS, However…
It’s more than worth it as although its capacity is a bit small compared to the college baseball behemoths in the SEC and Big 12 Conferences, Jackie Robinson Stadium stands as one of the most picturesque places in the country to watch a baseball game as trees surround the left and center field fences as well as the stands.
The best one-word description for the place that like Pauley Pavilion, I’ve been to many times:
Which is a good thing as every seat is a very good one and you are close to the action.
That’s how I felt about JRS over the years, and last night was no exception as I checked out a game between UCLA and UC Irvine on what they call “$2 Tuesday”, which is just how it’s describes as you can gain admission for only two bucks.
Which I certainly took advantage of.
For the players, JRS is an outstanding facility, a great enticement to become a Bruin with a top-notch clubhouse, weight room, and a massive batting cage facility beyond the right field fence.
I’ve always thought they ought to build some bleachers beyond the left field fence, which I think would enhance the baseball experience.
Bruins before a game at JRS earlier this year. Photo courtesy of uclabruins.com
OK, Now For My Experiences At The Game…
The first thing I was impressed with, that was different from the other times I’ve visited the place, was the quality of the game program as unlike the other Bruin sports outside of football and men’s basketball, where it’s merely a glorified folder, UCLA’s game program was multiple pages with ads and everything – player photos, team rosters, etc – in color.
Outside of that, everything else was pretty much the same as I remembered it the previous times I was there; the food choices were of the basic hot dogs/burgers/peanuts/chips/candy variety, and the bathrooms and the water faucet behind the first base dugout still worked fine.
It was a sparse crowd seeing the Bruins and UC Irvine’s Anteaters getting it on, but being that it was a weeknight with folks busy with life that was to be expected.
One particular thing I noticed as the game began at 6:00 p.m. was the fact that Jackie Robinson was a rough place to play in if you played first base, second base, or right field due to the fact that the sun was directly in your eyes at that time of day; sunglasses are a definite necessity.
I spent the first few innings sitting behind the UCLA dugout before moving to behind the UC Irvine dugout, slitting among the small but vocal – and polite, I must add – Anteater contingent to get various perspectives, and by moving around to also keep my knee from stiffening.
I had some nice conversations with the fans and ushers, some of them I have known for a while as they have been ushering UCLA sporting events for years, talking about different things like how when a Bruin looked at a strike three call, I stated my hitting philosophy of how one needed to always protect the plate with two strikes, foul any close pitches off until a hittable pitch comes.
Which the guy I was talking to disagreed with, but which was also OK as being a longtime baseball and softball guy, there are many approaches to hitting.
As For The Game Itself…
It unfolded much like the previous Bruin game I saw against USC, only worse as a misplay and a two-run homer in the 5th inning, plus a four-run outburst in the 9th, led to a 8-1 beat down by UC Irvine over my alma mater.
That didn’t ruin my overall game experience at JRS, however, as I had a perfectly good time.
For a baseball person who’s not a fan of all the bells and whistles that a big league ballpark brings, Jackie Robinson Stadium provides a very good experience of pure baseball – picturesque, intimate, and just a nice place to watch a ballgame and assert your place in Bruin Nation.
By saying all of this, I’m sure you can conclude that I highly recommend checking out JRS.
If you do, it’s a good idea to get going – there are only nine home games left.
You can get tickets at the booth outside the ballpark before the game or go to http://www.uclabruins.com
A view of the field at Jackie Robinson Stadium. Photo courtesy of uclabruins.com