Since he enrolled at Sacramento State, senior outfielder David Del Grande has tried to get a handful of family and friends from his hometown of Eureka to watch him play.
They finally showed up March 18 but only because Del Grande and the Hornets were playing at Raley Field.
Ive been trying to get them to come watch us play a weekend series at our place for five years, Del Grande said. Instead, they show up during the week, but only because its at Raley.
Its the same with some of my classmates. Theyll say, Hey, we saw you at Raley the other night. But theyve never seen us play at Sac State.
Last year, in its lone appearance at Raley Field, Sac State drew an announced crowd of 1,212 for its game against Fresno State nearly four times the average the Hornets drew at John Smith Field on campus.
This spring, the Hornets scheduled six games at the home of the River Cats. They have played Nevada, Fresno State and Pacific. Still ahead are games against USF on April 1, USA Today No. 7 Oregon State on April 21 and UC Davis on May 13 in a Causeway Cup rivalry game.
A seventh game that had been scheduled for tonight against Air Force at Raley Field was moved to 11 a.m. at Sac State because of potential rain.
Its part of a bid by Sac State coach Reggie Christiansen to increase exposure and attendance for a program that is trying to raise its profile within the community while persuading some of the areas top high school players to stay close to home.
Raley Field is a great venue. It gives us a chance to play under the lights, helps us create some excitement, and its great for recruiting, said Christiansen, the Hornets fourth-year coach.
Sac State has drawn its three biggest home crowds this season at Raley Field, including a best of an announced 711 against Nevada on Feb. 25. The Hornets March 5 game against then-No. 24 Fresno State drew 528 on a rainy night. The Pacific game on March 18 drew 520.
In 11 games at John Smith Field, the Hornets have averaged 329 fans. But for the Hornets, it isnt only about playing in front of larger crowds.
Sac States campus stadium lacks lights, which Christiansen said puts the Hornets at a competitive disadvantage in the Western Athletic Conference, where every other school has a lighted stadium.
Christiansen also said playing midweek games at Raley aids the teams academic performance. He said the teams 3.17 grade-point average is the highest of any male sports team on campus.
It allows our players to take afternoon classes, Christiansen said. In the past, they were limited in what majors they could take. Playing at night has been a huge relief for them. They dont have to miss class.
There has been one additional unforeseen benefit of playing off campus. While the Hornets are 12-11 overall, they are 3-0 at Raleyafter defeating Nevada 7-4, Fresno State 2-1 in 10 innings and Pacific 4-2. All featured late-inning heroics by the Hornets.
Freshman Brandon Hunley (Christian Brothers High School) hit a tiebreaking three-run home run in the bottom of the eighth against Nevada. Del Grande had a walk-off, run-scoring bloop single to center to beat Fresno State. Redshirt freshman Ryan Locke (Bella Vista) had a go-ahead, two-run pinch-hit double in the eighth against Pacific.
Freshman Sam Long (Del Campo), who started and pitched well against Nevada and Fresno State, said there is something special about the atmosphere at Raley, where players have their photos and statistics flashed on the big screen in center field.
It was a pretty cool experience to be out there pitching on a pro field, said Long, who is 3-0 with a 2.17 ERA. More family and friends can come out because its at night. It just makes things a little more exciting.
Del Grande said playing at Raley gives Sac State a feel for what its like to be a big-time Division I program.
When we go to places like Texas A&M (where the average announced attendance was 4,550 for the Aggies three-game series against the Hornets in February), we play in front of huge crowds in big stadiums under the lights, said Del Grande, the WAC Hitter of the Week for batting .636 in the Hornets last four games. Usually, that means the crowd is against us. But with Raley, we get a taste of having a home-field crowd in that type of atmosphere.
Butch Humphry seconded that. The Modesto resident is a regular at Sac State home games, as he follows his grandson, freshman reliever Sterling Humphry.
Butch Humphry has attended all three games at Raley this season.
Its the big time over there, Humphry said while watching the Hornets play Northern Colorado on Friday at John Smith Field. Its really a beautiful ballpark. You can see why the players like to be out there.
But Humphry also likes Sac States field. For one, he doesnt have to buy a ticket at Sac Stat .
Even if you are a senior citizen, you have to pay at Raley, Humphry said. Seniors get in free here. And this is a nice ballpark, too. They really keep it up.
Perhaps the only drawback to playing at Raley is that Sac State loses out on the home-field ticket and concession money. The River Cats keep all parking, concession and ticket revenue. If Sac State hits a targeted attendance for the six games, it costs the college nothing to rent the facility.
Its not about profit for us, Christiansen said. The contract with the River Cats is very, very fair to us.
Christiansen said it wont be long before Sac State has lights at its field. But even then, he hopes to continue the relationship with the River Cats and play some of the bigger-drawing games at Raley Field.
He hopes to bring in a Top 25 team from Texas to play a three-game series at Raley Field next year.
In playing at a venue like Raley, we can bring in those types of programs, Christiansen said.
IF YOU GO
• What: Sacramento State baseball games
• Where: Raley Field
• When: April 1, vs. USF, 6:35 p.m.; April 21, vs. Oregon State, 6:35 p.m.; May 13, vs. UC Davis, 7:35 p.m.
• Tickets: $10 ($5 for students and children)
Call The Bees Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.