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Official Review by Drew Cieszynski, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
California is known for its many National and State Parks, often drawing visitors from far-reaches of the earth. The University of California, Riverside campus seems to embrace the state’s culture with a variety of trees and flora surrounding the diamond.
The UCR Highlanders play at the Riverside Sports Complex, one of the few stadiums in Division I that does not have a corporate name or named for a donor. While the stadium may seem a bit behind Division I standards, “The Plex” has hosted the Division II College World Series in the past.
Former Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim player, Troy Percival, provided the means for renovations in 2007, including a home team locker room.
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".
Food is limited to a single concession stand near the first base foul pole. Fans sitting on the third base side have quite a walk to get to their food options.
The menu is limited, offering pizza ($2.50), hot dogs ($2.50, or add chili for an additional $0.75), nachos ($2.50), pretzels ($2.50), candy ($1.50 - $2.50), chips ($1.50), sunflower seeds (42), and peanuts ($3).
The beverage options include soda with free refills ($2.50), bottled water or Gatorade ($2.50), coffee ($1) and hot chocolate ($2).
While I would expect more of a rowdy atmosphere at a UCR basketball game, the serene setting at the ballpark seemed just fine.
Upon walking through the front gates, fans can quickly notice that towering trees surround the concourse and outfield wall. The trees are such a presence that the outside traffic, campus, and surroundings seem muted. This really helps to immerse fans into the baseball game as distractions are limited.
Just outside campus is the University Village, which offers Quizno's, Del Taco, Denny's, Yoshinoya, and Rubio's among others. There is also a movie theater if fans have time to catch a flick before or after the game.
Other nearby food options include Jason's Deli, Coco's, Marcello's Pizza & Pasta, Getaway Café, SubStation, Duke's Bar & Grill and Mediterranean Palace Grill.
If time allows, fans should also be sure to check out downtown Riverside. Here, fans can be treated to the Tio's Tacos, the Mission Inn, and the California Citrus State Historic Park. Tio's Tacos may be one of the most interesting stops ever made, as Martin Sanchez built one of the greatest collections of folk art in the world.
Just like the basketball venue, the crowd was lacking. Aside from the "Diamond Girls," seated behind home plate, the crowd was limited and very few wearing the UCR colors.
While modifying a venue is not an easy fix, I can't help but think that perhaps the program could benefit from a smaller, more intimate venue similar to that of Cal State Northridge.
The fan turnout is clearly the biggest opportunity for improvement at a UCR game. The venue and the team are both decent, so more of the local fans need to commit to come out and support the Highlanders.
The UCR Sports Complex can be a little tricky to find if you are not familiar with the area as it does not have a stand-out name that fans have become accustomed to with many baseball venues. Most fans will reach the area via the 91 Freeway and simply follow signs to baseball parking. Parking is $5 per vehicle, but fans may be able to find some free alternatives on the nearby streets if they are willing to walk a bit.
The restrooms are a single set beyond the grandstand. The Men's room had 11 stations, which seemed to be more than enough for the venue. The restrooms were a bit run down, again reminding one of the restrooms that would be found in a state park.
Seating inside the stadium is bleachers with seat-backs behind home plate and aged fold-down seats above the dugouts.
Fans can walk up and get their tickets for a relatively inexpensive price. Adult tickets go for $7, while youth and seniors can get a seat for just $5.
Coupled with parking at $5 and some low-priced concessions, any fan can do the whole experience for under $20. While fans will not experience the frills that they may be accustomed to at other venues, attending a Highlander game is still a sound investment.
Unfortunately the venue did not provide much in terms of extras. If I were to mention two items, the first would be the aforementioned paths behind the seating area. These paths are filled with colorful flowers and are lined with many towering trees.
Next is the Highlander sculpture, witnessed immediately upon entering the venue. After fans hand their ticket to the attendant, they can spot a concrete sculpture that has the likeness of the school mascot.
Riverside may not be the first city mentioned in Southern California vacation destinations, but as mentioned in the Neighborhood section, certainly provides its fair share of entertainment.
The same goes for the baseball team. While the Highlanders may not have the notoriety of local programs such as Cal State Fullerton, USC, or UC Irvine, the Riverside Sports Complex still proves to be a great place to catch a game. Fans could benefit from some upgrades to concessions and seating, but the experience should still be recommended to the average baseball fan.
Follow Drew's travels through Southern California on Twitter @Big10Drew.
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24195 Sunnymead Boulevard
Moreno Valley, CA 92553
1201 University Avenue #109,B
Riverside, CA 92507
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