Baseball fans on the Central Coast of California have to drive over three hours to catch the Angels or Dodgers in the south, the Athletics or Giants to the north, or even the Bakersfield Blaze minor league baseball team to the east. Enter the California Polytechnic State University Mustang baseball program to satisfy the baseball appetite of the fans residing on the central coast.
The Mustangs call Baggett Stadium their home and it is the epicenter of the 47 acre sports complex on the university’s campus. Opened in 2001, it shares a concourse with the Bob Jensen softball field, creating a spacious area for all fans to enjoy.
The stadium is named after former Cal Poly catcher (1968-71) Robin Baggett. Though fans do not see his retired number, he is easily one of the most memorable players of the program’s past. His career is mostly celebrated for not allowing a single passed ball in his four years as catcher. His other accolades include Student Body President, All-CCAA catcher, threw out over 70% of steal attempts, and a career fielding percentage of .990.
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Though I was rather disappointed with the concessions at the basketball venue, Mott Gymnasium, the offerings at the baseball stadium were much improved.
The most notable items included burritos ($5), tacos (2 for $5), chili fritos ($5), seasoned french fries ($3), garlic fries ($4), chili fries ($5), sweet potato fries ($4), tri-tip sandwich ($7), Vienna beef hot dog ($4), Johnsonville bratwurst ($4), footlong hot dog ($6), or a junior dog ($2). Side items included nachos ($4), kettle corn ($5), peanuts ($3), sunflower seeds ($3), pretzel ($3), or a churro ($2). Fans could add chili/cheese to just about anything for a dollar.
The beverage options included Dasani Water or canned Coke products ($2), bottled soda ($3), and hot coffee or cocoa ($2). Jamba Juice was founded in San Luis Obispo, and is occasionally available for $4.
If you are interested in a dessert, Dippin' Dots ($4) and the popular "It's It" Ice cream sandwich is available for $4.
As I parked near Baggett Stadium, I was in awe of the surrounding setting. The green Santa Lucia mountain range provided a perfect backdrop to the team colors of green and gold.
As fans entered the stadium, they were offered the opportunity to donate $1 for the "Throw for Dough" competition. In exchange for their dollar, they would receive a tennis ball that they could attempt to throw at a target after the game. The fan who gets their ball closest to the target wins 50% of the proceeds with the other 50% going to Habitat for Humanity. Fans also had an opportunity to pay $1 to spin a wheel and win prizes from many local vendors; a nice touch to incorporate the community.
It was easy to tell that Baggett Stadium was the "place to be" for the San Luis Obispo community on this very evening as there were many fans filling the seats and a constant murmur of conversation throughout the time. With the campus nestled at the foot of many surrounding hills and often beautiful blue skies, it's the perfect serene setting for baseball.
The home runs are certainly exciting as well. Every time a Mustang player hits one beyond the fence, free items are thrown out to the crowd. The PA system would announce the home run and the item to been given away (such as t-shirts or Frisbees), and the fans would go nuts.
San Luis Obispo always proves to be an entertaining visit. The beautiful natural scenery surrounding the town is enough to appease me, but there is something for everyone.
Before every game, I stop downtown and take a stroll through Bubblegum Alley on my way to one of the many bars on Higuera Street. Some of the popular restaurants found in the area include Mo's Smokehouse BBQ, Thai Palace, Firestone Grill, Giordano's Italiano, Novo Restaurant and Lounge, Creekside Brewing Company, Big Sky Café, Buffalo Pub & Grill, or the San Luis Obispo Brewing Company.
If you cannot find something for you in San Luis Obispo, try the nearby towns of Morro Bay, San Simeon, Shell Beach, or Pismo Beach for a variety of entertainment options.
This fanbase was one of the better I've witnessed in terms of college baseball. While it was odd that many arrived rather late, the stadium was near capacity by the middle of the game.
The stadium is a perfect setting for fans of all ages. For the older fans, there was a section along the third base line known as Krukow's Klubhouse. It was a "member's only" area, but it seemed that half of the stadium population was there, so it was hardly exclusive. Throughout the first few innings, it resembled a nightclub, with a line to get in, staff checking passes, and seemingly the only place to get alcohol in the stadium. The children meanwhile take advantage of the large concourse, playing all sorts of games including baseball (with their tennis balls from "Throw for Dough").
There was certainly a group of more passionate fans, who occupied the bucket seats and remained engaged throughout. They seemed to known their players rather well, commenting on stats of specific players as they walked to the plate or took the mound.
San Luis Obispo doesn't seem to have the traffic experienced in many of the larger markets, so getting to the stadium is rather easy regardless of the direction that you're coming from. Most fans will reach the city via the California Route 101 or the famed California Route 1.
The stadium itself is recessed quite a bit inside the university's entrance, so getting around parking is a challenge. Permits for the day cost $6 and I would urge everyone to pay the fee rather than attempt to find a rogue spot on campus as they do seem to monitor it rather closely.
I did find a single restroom facility well down the right field line. For someone sitting down the left field line, this certainly could be a nuisance, but the stadium is small enough to make it a reasonable walk. Inside the restrooms, there were four stations for fans to utilize. I did think this would come up a little short with the crowd on hand, but I did not notice any significant backups.
A few other items I would like to note in regards to access. First was the clarity of the sound system. The music and PA announcer had a crisp sound and was not overbearing. Secondly was the large concourse. It allowed fans to get multiple vantage points of the action, mingle with other fans, and provided a large play-space for many of the children.
Despite there not being many other baseball options in the region, the Mustang program still appears to keep the cost of admission at a reasonable level. The reserved seats went for $10 while general admission was $8. Youth and senior fans could sit in the general admission section for a mere $5. There is also a $2 increase on all prices for premium games.
With parking at just $6 and concessions priced at levels fans would expect at any local eatery, the whole experience turns out to be an extremely reasonable value.
My first extra goes for the scenery surrounding the stadium. I've mentioned the large, green Santa Lucia Mountains all around the stadium providing the perfect backdrop. If fans look closely at Poly Mountain beyond the left field fence, they will notice the 50 by 30 foot Cal Poly "P," a notable landmark of the university.
Another interesting sight becomes evident as fans leave the parking lot and head down the walkway into the stadium. The team nickname is the Mustangs, but on the right fans will spot cattle grazing just a few feet away. California has the High Desert Mavericks and the Visalia Rawhide, yet neither have a herd of cattle in the immediate vicinity of the baseball diamond. The reasoning behind the cattle? Cal Poly has one of the better agricultural programs in the state and the campus boasts an equine center, arboretum, rodeo, organic farm, and swine unit.
The most notable extra is witnessed just as fans pass through the gates. There stands a sculpture of Osbourne Earl Smith, better known to most baseball fans as Ozzie Smith or "the Wizard." He played at Cal Poly from 1974 through 1977 before going on to have a Hall of Fame career with the Padres and Cardinals.
Ozzie is also shown on the imagery that covers the grandstand and backs of bleachers. The large banners have the title "Legends of the Green & Gold" and show images and names of the many notable Mustang players over the years. If you are facing the front grandstand (side closest to field), the right side will list the Conference championships, NCAA Tournament appearances, and Division II Championship. The front also has the retired numbers of Ozzie Smith (3), Mike Krukow (21), Monty Waltz (9), and John Orton (9). The careers of Waltz and Orton took place in the mid-80's, so they both wore and were retired at number nine.
Having now visited most of the Southern California baseball venues, it seems that the stands are usually visited with local parents of players or alumni. At Baggett Stadium however, it feels like a true community outing. I enjoyed watching the interactions among the fans as much as I did the action on the field itself.
There certainly are not a lot of sports options on the central west coast, but even pitted against some of the other experiences throughout the state of California, Mustang baseball is one of the best.
Follow Drew's travels through Southern California on Twitter @Big10Drew.
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