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Official Review by Drew Cieszynski, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
While baseball is often synonymous with beautiful spring and summer days, few venues can compete with the weather and surrounding natural settings of Caesar Uyesaka Stadium in Santa Barbara. With the city being located on an east to west strip of the coast, it has a rather comfortable Mediterranean climate. Being one of the few campuses located on the Pacific Ocean, the ballpark is exposed to cool ocean breezes and stunning views of the Santa Ynez Mountains beyond the outfield wall.
When the stadium opened in 1964, it was originally known as Campus Stadium. A UCSB booster named Caesar Uyesaka had larger visions for the program and ultimately led the charge for major renovations. The stadium would later be renamed for his efforts in 1994.
Many outside fans visiting Santa Barbara often inquire about the team's nickname, one of the most unique in college sports. The UCSB website states that the Gaucho, or "Argentine cowboy," dates back to 1936 when it was inspired by the 1927 film known as The Gaucho. Fans have embraced this nickname, often swinging boleadoras in the air, tossing tortilla onto the playing surface, and wearing sarapes or sun hats.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
When facing home plate, fans will find a single concession area on the left side of the grandstand. The items offered here include the Gaucho hot dog ($4), Gaucho nachos ($4), soft pretzel ($3.50), peanuts in shell ($3.50), cracker jacks ($3), sunflower seeds ($3), cotton candy ($3), chex mix ($3), honey roasted peanuts ($3), candy ($2), and finally potato chips ($1).
The beverage options included Monster Energy ($4), Powerade ($3), apple juice ($3), iced tea ($3), lemonade ($3), soda ($3), and Dasani water ($3).
Single dessert option for those warmer Santa Barbara days was frozen lemonade for $4.
It's difficult to imagine a setting much better for baseball than the one at UCSB baseball games. On most days, fans are treated to clear blue skies, the cool ocean breeze, and spectacular views of the Santa Ynez Mountains.
I loved the seating structure as it really gave a great vantage point to see all of the plays develop and standing in the lower concourse was an interesting novelty; as fans can envision his or her self as the batter with the pitcher straight ahead at eye-level.
While the "Thunderdome" (home of the UCSB basketball team) has a more raucious crowd and atmosphere, Casear Uyesaka Stadium is certainly a more reserved, relaxed atmosphere. While some may want a little more engagement from the crowd, there will be no complaints from me as I watch the baseball unfold below in front of the Santa Ynez Mountains.
The UCSB campus is probably one of the most unique in all of America. On one side, it faces the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport/Santa Ynez Mountains and on the other side the Pacific Ocean. Visitors to campus can walk around the UCSB Lagoon and admire the many varieties of birdlife taking refuge here. From the campus beach, or even the nearby Goleta Beach County Park, visitors can spot the Channel Islands of California.
While the campus itself is located west of downtown Santa Barbara, a short ten minute drive will allow visitors to take in the delights of the "American Riviera." Popular attractions include Mission Santa Barbara, downtown red tile walking tour, Stern's Wharf, Museum of Natural History, and Lotusland.
Should a visitor not have time to visit the downtown attractions, there are still plenty of options in terms of bars and restaurants in the nearby town of Isla Vista. Some of the more popular options include the Beachside Bar-Cafe, Silvergreens Restaurant, Woodstock's Pizza, McMaster's Steak and Hoagie, or the Elephant Bar Restaurant. Whether fans are on State Street in downtown or Embarcadero Del Mar, they are sure to find a variety of food and shopping options.
The stadium is a smaller venue in terms of the Southern California college baseball venues, so the fans do seem a bit more muted than others I've experienced.
There is a rather notorious portion fanbase known as the "Hammerheads." These fans got their nickname years ago after wearing cardboard concession carriers on their heads. The sideways orientation made them resemble the head of a hammerhead shark and while the look is less practiced today, the lore is still there.
The fans were engaged throughout the game, cheering for their team at the appropriate times. Many of them were also active in participation of the UCSB trivia conducted between innings.
The UCSB campus is difficult to miss along Route 101, or the Coastal Highway 1, as it is seated by the freeway, the airport, and the ocean.
The parking is a bit confusing as there is a single meter among a large parking lot outside of the stadium. It's easy to miss the sign stating that fans need a permit to park and it seems that the cost varies from day to day. It seems that parking is actually higher on weekdays with the influx of students, but the fee on the Saturday that I was there was merely $3.
The restroom options were limited to three portable toilets down the first base side. Due to the small size of the crowd, accessing them was never a difficulty, but you would like to see a more permanent option for a Division I program.
Fans of the Gauchos can see their team play for just $7 per ticket and just $4 for youth/senior tickets. There are a variety of package deals that provide incentive to buy more, including season tickets for just $75. The season tickets are a great option because fans get 27 games and a $25 credit towards UCSB merchandise. There is also a great program for fans with younger children known as the "GKids." A small fee gets the children a tshirt, coloring book, and free admission to most sporting events.
Reasonable ticket prices, reasonable concessions, and reasonable parking provides great reason for fans to visit the UCSB campus and take in a baseball game.
The first of the extras is evident upon entering the ballpark. To your left upon entering the stadium, fans will find a large baseball with a Gauchos logo on it and a plaque beneath. The plaque reads "An invincible determination can accomplish almost anything and in this lies the great distinction between great men and little men. Gino Filippin was a great man who through love, honor, friendship, generosity, and hard work helped to shape UCSB's athletic heritage."
Next is the large imagery of Gaucho players of the past all displayed all over the grandstand. Michael Young, Skip Schumaker, and Ryan Spilborghs are just a few of the past players from UCSB that are shown in contrasting blue colors.
I would also be remiss to not simply mention the design and location of the stadium. As I've probably stated too many times in this review, the stadium is a five minute walk from the Pacific Ocean and the seating stares directly at the towering Santa Ynez Mountains. In regards to the stadium design, when fans first enter the grandstand, they are below the bleachers standing at field level. After climbing a set of steps, the seating area is situated higher than the dugouts, with fans looking down upon the field.
Lastly in terms of extras, is the concourse that resembles a botanical garden as fans walk the paths. Here fans can admire the ferns, palm trees, red flowers, lavender plants, and birds of paradise as they walk to their seats. If fans need to step away from the action for a moment, this is certainly the perfect spot.
What is possibly most exciting is that the program is hoping to upgrade Caesar Uyesaka Stadium. As fans enter the stadium, they will notice a sign showing the "Campaign for Gaucho Park." The program is attempting to raise $1.8 m to add a plaza, more landscaping, Gino's corner (tribute to Gino Filippin), Big Leaguers Lane (paying tribute to Gauchos in the majors), Hammerhead wall, field upgrade, and adding lights to allow for night games. All of these additions would certainly be a huge plus for Gauchos' baseball (and the summer baseball team known as the Santa Barbara Foresters) fans and players at the stadium.
Even without the renovations, I still consider the UCSB campus one of the prime spots to catch a college baseball game in Southern California.
Follow Drew's travels through Southern California on Twitter @Big10Drew
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