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Official Review by Drew Cieszynski, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
While many Division I basketball schools have long, storied histories, the California State Bakersfield Roadrunners (CSUB) are just getting their feet wet. Of course, the program has seen its share of success, winning three NCAA Division II championships (1993, 94, 97).
The process of moving to Division I proved to be anything but easy for the Roadrunners. After the University President announced that the program would make the move in 2005, the school would embark on a five-year process of reclassification set forth by the NCAA. To read more about the many steps to be completed in each of the five years prior to being formally introduced in time for the 2010-11, read here. Now competing against Division I competition, the Roadrunners participate as an independent rather than as part of a conference.
The team plays most of their home games begining the 2011-2012 season at the Icardo Center. The team calls Rabobank Arena their home for some of their home games and share it with the ECHL's Bakersfield Condors. The arena originally opened as "Centennial Garden," but the name was changed to Rabobank Arena in 2005. The 10,800 seat arena was constructed in 1998 at a cost of roughly $38 million and is currently owned by the city of Bakersfield. Rather than the basketball team, it was Comedian Bill Cosby who was given the nod to open the arena on October 2, 1998.
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".
Rabobank has a rather extensive menu offering, but on this very day only a single stand, immediately inside the entrance, was open. The fare offered here included a cheeseburger ($5), french fries ($3), nachos ($4.75), pizza ($6.75 personal pie), hot dog ($4), big dog (6.50), kicking chicken sandwich ($4.25), the cowboy burger ($6.50), kid's meal ($3.50), ice cream cone ($4.25), or an ice cream cup ($4).
In beverage form, fans can have soda (kids $1.75, small $2, medium $3.50, large $4), bottled soda ($3.50), bottled water ($3.50), orange juice ($3.50), or coffee ($2). Options for the older fans included Bud Light, Coors Light, or Heineken draft beer for ($7.50).
Unfortunately there was not a large crowd and this evening's opponent was not local, so the atmosphere was rather lacking. The lights were dimmed for the player introductions, but I couldn't really make out the music and nothing of note occurred.
There was neither mascot nor band, so the only thing adding to the atmosphere was the cheer squad. Since the arena was so quiet, all fans could make out the cheers rather clearly; a rarity in college hoops. Unfortunately the PA announcer seemed to be the only individual that was really into the game.
Of course there were some contests during breaks in the action including the "make four baskets in 30 seconds" competition, the "dress kids up in oversized basketball attire" competition and a few others. I really thought I had a good chance to participate in one with such a small crowd, but unfortunately my number was not called.
Lastly, the halftime act was a boys gymnastics team. Now I don't want to seem unappreciative of the talents of male gymnasts, but a college basketball fan doesn't seem like the appropriate audience. I'm surprised that they didn't use youth basketball as the halftime act to build support for the program.
While Bakersfield is a bit away from some of the major markets in California, it is still the 11th largest city in the state and has a variety of entertainment to enjoy.
Probably the most notable site is Buck Owen's Crystal Palace. After 5 PM, you can get dinner as well as check out the sights on the facility. You'll see the Bakersfield Arch, bronze statues of country greats such as Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Elvis, and some vivid colors on the exterior of the facility.
While you are in town, you may also want to check out the Fox Theater, Bright House Networks Amphitheater, Red Mill Park, or the sculpture at the Cancer Survivors Plaza.
As far as food goes, my first recommendation would be to go straight to the Padre Hotel. Beyond observing the beauty of this historic hotel, there are food options for every. The Belvedere is clearly for the upscale customers while Brimstone offers hardwood floors, billiards, music, televisions and pub food. The Prairie Fire, which is a second floor rooftop bar, has firepits, cabanas, and a warm breeze for patrons to enjoy. Also on site is a coffee shop known as Farmacy and a lounge called Prospect, offering small plates and great drinks.
Another popular spot is the Wool Growers Restaurant, one of the many places to get Basque food in Bakersfield. Here, you'll start with the bottomless soup, bean, and salsa before getting treated to some of the favorites including the oxtail stew or beef tongue.
KC Steakhouse is another local favorite for the carnivores, offering live jazz and blue music while you enjoy your meal.
If you're looking for some Mexican food, the Mexicali Restaurant offers some of the best around. They offer dishes such as Mexican pizza, tostadas, chicken flautas, but everyone seems to love the margaritas best.
Goose Loonies has become a popular spot as they offer framboise, a very enticing fruit beer for the patrons. Some of their more popular food dishes include the pitas/hummus, Santa Fe chicken salad, suicide wings, gyros, and falafels.
Lastly, I should mention Mama Roomba as it's a popular Caribbean-style restaurant in downtown. The locals caution to make reservations before arriving as seating is tough to come by. Some of the favorites here include the tri-tip with chimichurri sauce, calamari, sweet potato fries, and tortilla soup.
The fans were limited in number during this very game. For a Saturday night, that was rather disappointing. Beyond the normal applause after a basket, the fans didn't seem to be very excited to be there.
Beyond the banner on the south wall and the logos on the court, I might not know that I was at a CSUB game. Maybe 10 % of the crowd was wearing the school's blue colors, and a few of them were actually UCLA Bruin apparel.
While Bakersfield is not quickly accessed from the Los Angeles or San Francisco markets, it's not far from Interstate 5 and easily accessed from Routes 99 and 58.
The arena itself sits downtown, but I experienced little traffic congestion going to or coming from the game.
When you enter the arena, you'll be greeted by a sizable concourse (only one) that leads down to the lower level seating and there is a staircase to the upper levels. The upper level has horseshoe shaped seating, broken up by a wall that will likely be reserved for banners to commemorate big events of the program. It seems that they could have opened up the arena here (where the wall is situated) and allowed fans a view from the concourse. The lower level encircles the court, but the area behind the baskets has a gaping hole between the seats and the action, similar to Pauley Pavilion. There is a single row of courtside seats, opposite the player benches and a sofa opposite the opposing team bench for a lucky fan or two.
The arena has 11 upper level suites on the east end above all other seating and 15 suites on the lower level that surround the ice.
The scoreboard is 4-sided with a video screen in middle. Aside from that, simply the player numbers, fouls and points tracker, score, team fouls, timeouts, and time remaining are shown. A video ribbon also surrounds the arena above the first level.
The parking is plentiful south of the arena for $5 and has easy in and out access. If you are willing to walk a bit, you can probably find some free spaces. Separating the arena from the parking is a group of railroad tracks. There is a footbridge that crosses over the tracks, but many of the trains that passed that day seem to go by quicker than its worth to climb the stairs to cross the bridge and climb down the opposite end.
The venue offers six restrooms, but unfortunately most are rather small for a newer arena. While they seemed to handle this day's crowd just fine, I would assume they would quickly backup during any concert.
I would have a hard time complaining about my investment on this one. I found free parking a few blocks from the arena and when I walked up to the box office and asked for one "cheap seat," the attendant handed me a ticket free of charge. Now I'd like to think that I have some clout, but no one from Bakersfield knew I was coming, so I'd be curious if many fans receive this treatment?
If luck isn't falling your way when you visit Rabobank Arena, fans will pay $25 for floor seating, $12 for mid-court reserve, and $9 for general reserve. If you are the die-hard Roadrunner fan, season tickets can be had for $115-$150, depending on seat location.
So even if you bring your limo or RV to the game and purchase courtside seats, you likely won't pay more than $40 for the game; a pretty good deal! While the stands were not packed, fans can still see Division I action from very good seats for a minimal fare.
Rabobank fares very well in terms of extras as there are many things to observe in and around the arena on gamedays. This was probably my favorite "extra" due to the sparse crowd. The limited fans called for limited security and I was really free to roam around the concourse and sit pretty much anywhere I wanted.
In front of the arena, fans will find Centennial Plaza. On warmer days, a fountain will spurt jets of water into the air for children to enjoy. If nothing else, it's a great photo if you are able to catch the water in mid-air. Also found here is a stage, engraved bricks commemorating the city's centennial (1998), artwork, and sculptures in a large fountain. In the concourse, fans can find a variety of items to keep them entertained. The Condors Kids Club offers a bouncing castle, prize wheel, and miniature hockey rink.
When you enter the main entrance, to your immediate left is a beautiful glass atrium with views of the outside plaza. If you need to get away from the game, it's a great place to hangout and check out the weather outside. There is also an area known as "The Space Between," which appears to be a small pub removed from the hustle of the concourse. Another great place to get away and have a drink!
Before you cross the railroad tracks, look up and take a gander at the street sign. With a green background and white text like a normal street sign, you'll see KORN Way, complete with the backwards "R." The band "KORN" is from Bakersfield and their 2006 World Tour began at Rabobank Arena. You'll also find a plaque in front with images of the band members.
Fans can spend a few minutes or even a half hour perusing the Bob Elias Kern County Hall of Fame. This display, which stretches seemingly 100 feet, honors athletes from all sports that have made their mark in Bakersfield. Roughly 180 plaques with photos and commentary are on display. The west concourse pays homage to some of Kern County's founders and famous contributors including Charles Napier, Caesar Chavez, Buck Owens, and Kevin Harvick.
It seems that for now, Rabobank Arena is a bit too big for the Cal State Bakersfield program. With a 10,000 seat arena and less than 25% of it filled, it really lacks an intimate feel nor does it get really loud.
I do have to give consideration to the fact that the team has just entered Division I basketball and the program is growing. I hope to visit again soon and see a band present, a few more fans present, and a more energized atmosphere. I challenge the residents of Bakersfield to get out and support this program!
Follow Drew's journeys through Southern California on twitter @Big10Drew.
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1702 18th St
Bakersfield, CA 93301
620 East 19th St
Bakersfield, CA 93305
2515 F Street
Bakersfield, CA 93301
2800 Buck Owens Boulevard
Bakersfield, CA 93308
2001 H Street
Bakersfield, CA 93301