The last time UCLA baseball drew the type of crowds they've been drawing of late...well, nobody can remember when that was so it may have never happened. There have been gigantic crowds before, but large crowd after large crowd is new at Jackie Robinson Stadium.
When multiple Bruin fans who have been attending games for decades were asked about the crowds and if they had ever seen something similar before, the common response was, "well, for one game we had this, but the stadium never had a problem holding everyone before. What we have now I've never seen before."
The last six games that the Bruins have hosted at Jackie Robinson Stadium have all had crowds over 1,000. The most recent game saw the Bruins defeat Oregon, 5-1, in front of a crowd that was announced at 1,986. Some even suggested that the crowd was larger than the announced number, but the Fire Marshal wouldn't have been too happy with many more.
After 21 home games, the Bruins are averaging 924 fans per game. A year ago, that number was 727 and in the years before that, the number didn't touch 700. The 924 that UCLA has drawn this season blows the attendance of past seasons out of the water and it only figures to get better. The USC series, which naturally brings a large crowd, and the series versus Arizona St. between two of the top teams, which will pack the stadium, are still on the schedule.
The fact is that the Bruin fans have embraced this UCLA team and the program. They've pushed Jackie Robinson Stadium to its limits and even forced the athletic department to make midseason expansions to the stadium. This weekend saw a new raised bleacher in the right fielder corner. The bleacher was constructed in a single day and will be in place through the end of the season to accommodate the increased number of people at the games. It was quickly embraced by UCLA rightfielder, Brett Krill, who upon catching a fly ball for the game's final out on Sunday, smiled and flipped it up into the bleachers for the fans who filled it.
A temporary bleacher in the field field corner isn't the only change to Jackie Robinson Stadium either. Beginning today, crews will transform the dirt hill above the concourse along the third base line into a place for fans and unlike the right field corner, it will be permanent. It's somewhat of a makeshift, fit them in where we can move, but it's necessary and not only will help the Bruins' in their pursuit of host postseason ball, but will also increase the fan's comfort at the games.
With the three remaining home series versus USC, Arizona St. and then a season-ending series versus Washington St., there is a very good chance that the Bruins end the regular season with an attendance average over 1,000 and an outside chance that they can hop into the top 50 nationally. With a decent portion of the team returning next season, there is a chance that the crowds that have packed the place of late return for an entire season and push Jackie Robinson Stadium some more.
A week ago, Jackie Robinson Stadium seated 981 in the individual chairbacks that fill the seven sections between the dugouts. There was additional room on the grass hills above the dugouts for patrons to lie out and watch and it has become common for many more to stand on the concourse and watch because there was nowhere else to sit. Against Oregon, the temporary bleacher in the right field corner added room for 350 and when the seats on the dirt hill are added in two days time, another 300 will have room to sit. That will bring the seated capacity to 1,631 for the rest of the season plus standing room and grass seating.
If every inch of an already expanded Jackie Robinson Stadium is going to be filled when Oregon comes to town, what's going to happen when USC or Arizona St. come in? Both teams always bring sizable crowds with them and the Bruin support should increase even more. It will be an electric crowd and one that will bring smiles to the faces of the Bruin faithful who saw the Bruins lose 19 straight in 2005 in front of crowds that could be easily counted when standing on the concourse. The UCLA baseball program is a whole different animal nowadays.
The program is on the uptick and so are the fans. The increased level of play by the team has undoubtedly played the largest of factors, but the exposure generated by the local media, the national college baseball media and the attention given to the team by the athletic department with their videos have played a large role as well. With the recent forays into video proving to be so outstanding, there is reason to believe that the quality and frequency will increase in the future. We may even seen streaming video of all home games, as we saw a week ago at Oregon St. and will see this weekend at Arizona. A deep run into this postseason will put the team on national TV and generate even more excitement.
There are a host of factors pushing the UCLA baseball program ahead and the crowds have followed. They've shown up in their blue and have cheered through idyllic days in Los Angeles. The fans who showed up for the first time earlier this season have become regulars and not only cheer for the Bruins, but know the team now and are knowledgeable fans. College baseball has been on the upswing across the nation for several years now, but 2010 marks the year that it hit UCLA and it's hit in a big way with the fans.