The secret’s out: UCSD is no athlete’s paradise. Our school spirit is most apparent during team study sessions in Geisel, not in the stadium cheering on our teams like most other cool college kids.
Most of us adopt a habit of bitching and moaning about how we lack school spirit — constantly complaining about how no one is as cool as they themselves are — but often do nothing to help the situation. That’s why, while everyone bitches about our lack of a football team, we fail to notice that our men’s baseball team is the country’s No. 1-ranked team in Division-II, and — in one week’s time — could very well be the D-II College World Series champions. Now that’s something worth cheering about.
On most other campuses, the baseball players would be celebrated as heroic student-athlete gods, negotiating crowds of adoring students everywhere they went. Here, senior first baseman Brandon Gregorich — who was recently named the player of the year in the West Region by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association — is about as anonymous as the next pre-med major. Sure, sports aren’t for everyone, but it’s a shame that — now that we actually have some legit athletic talent — sports are still seemingly for no one.
For Triton athletes, all this means that their last two years of work — during which they’ve posted a jaw-dropping 92-22 overall record (averaging a staggering eight wins every 10 games), earned back-to-back regular-season, conference and regional championship titles and won countless individual and team honors — has gone completely unappreciated by the average UCSD student. The brilliant work they’ve put in on the playing field has garnered the praise of college baseball analysts perched in high media towers across the nation, but is unrecognized at a school where feats in a laboratory or lecture hall are far more worthy of mention.
Perhaps no better an indication of the general disregard for the team is its home-field location. The underwhelming Triton Ballpark was plopped way out in the desolate concrete jungle of East campus, impossible not to overlook. There are a few bleachers, a regulation field and little else. No bright floodlights. No stately scoreboard. No proud Triton billboard — nothing even slightly resembling the sort of amenities one would expect on the field of the nation’s finest D-II team.
Literally right across the street stands the unmistakable pride and joy of UCSD: Scripps Hospital. It’s tall, imposing and proud, with a multistory parking lot out-glowing the evening dusk. Apparently, it’s been deemed a more appropriate location for floodlighting. In fact, when standing behind home plate at night, the light from the hospital illuminates the field better than anything actually inside the stadium.
The juxtaposition of the well-endowed hospital — home to a team of reputable medical practitioners — to Triton Ballpark — humble field home to equally surgical ballplayers — is a telltale symbol of our priorities. But we shouldn’t have to choose.
Last week, when the Tritons competed from May 13 to May 15 at the NCAA West Regional Championships for a spot in the NCAA D-II College World Series, they had earned the No. 1 seed’s right to home-field advantage But, in the end, they were denied the chance to claim that right. The regional tournament, which includes some night games, had to be moved from Triton Ballpark due to its lack of sufficient lighting. Because of this inadequacy, the Tritons were forced to claim regional honors in Compton, Calif., on a field closer in proximity to direct rivals Cal State Dominguez Hills and far less familiar than their La Jolla playing plot.
Still — despite being virtually neglected by what is supposed to be their fan base and sold short in home-field accommodations — this year’s baseball players cannot be stopped.
They have shrugged off waves of national recognition — in the form of polls, power rankings and individual/team awards — with exactly the same indifference that this campus shows toward their record accomplishments. Neither national recognition nor local neglect has affected their game.
Senior catcher Kellen Lee, who earned NCBWA honorable mention for his contribution to this year’s pitching staff, exemplifies this humble attitude.
“We are proud that the entire country recognizes us as one of the premier teams at the Division-II level,” Lee said. “But we try not to get caught up in the rankings.”
It’s a wonder that the Tritons have made it so far, considering the constraints on the UCSD Athletic Department. Though he is not equipped with the ability to attract premier baseball prospects with competitive athletic scholarships, head coach Dan O’Brien has built a winning program from the ground up, stressing the time-tested creed of good, hard work. O’Brien, in his 13th season, now heads a perennial powerhouse of a program, despite his sparse recruiting resources. For the second straight year, he is the CCAA Coach of The Year — an accomplishment this fan would argue is as exemplary as any medical honor received across the street (OK, different degrees of importance, but still).
To the people of UCSD: Get your heads out of your textbooks. You’ve wanted something to cheer about, something to pride yourself on — and now you’ve got no excuse not to cheer. Thirty-eight of your fellow students have handed you an opportunity for school spirit on a platter. The current baseball team is arguably the greatest in UCSD history. Even if you don’t like baseball in particular, take a second to recognize their feats. If you see a Triton player walking around campus in his warmups, wish him luck this weekend. If you do like baseball, tune in to the live stream on http://www.ncaa.com on Saturday, May 22 at 2:00 p.m. when they take on Georgia College & State.
When the College World Series kicks off this Saturday in Cary, N.C., the UCSD baseball team — whether it wins or loses — will be representing our school on a national stage. Even if you are the most indifferent, sports-apathetic student on campus, consider turning on the game in the background as you study or play video games. You might just get inspired.