They had barely turned on the new lights at Sacramento State’s ballpark before one of the guys from Pacific tried to make like “The Natural” and break one of them out.
Gio Brusa belted one high and far and way out of John Smith Field toward the light stand in right field. You only hoped the ball didn’t create the same kind of fiery ruckus Roy Hobbs made in the Bernard Malamud novel and Robert Redford movie.
Thankfully, the first-inning monster blast off the bat of Babe Brusa didn’t do any physical damage to the latest infrastructure upgrade on the Sacramento sports scene. But, Brusa being Brusa, he hit one even farther in the ninth inning, in precisely the same direction, again raising fears of an electronic explosion.
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“It’s kind of like your first baby,” Sac State athletic director Bill Macriss said. “We’re treating everything like a China doll right now.”
Much like the electricity that lit John Smith Field for the first time, Brusa’s 850 feet of home runs powered the Tigers to a 9-6 victory over the Hornets.
But the outcome was only an afterthought.
Mainly, Tuesday night was one for the imagination. Close your eyes and you might be able to see the Sac State baseball program breaking through in the not-too-distant future toward national prominence. Plenty of the other Cal States have done it in baseball – Fullerton, Fresno and Long Beach. Why not Sacramento?
If you couldn’t see it before, many of you can now, now that they have the lights, like the Titans, ’Dogs and Dirtbags.
Macriss sure can.
It’s kind of like your first baby. We’re treating everything like a China doll right now.
Sac State athletic director Bill Macriss, on the new lights at John Smith Field
“We’ve got incredible students,” he said. “We’ve got incredible student-athletes. We’ve got a great campus, and we’re going to do everything in our power to make it so that this baseball team has a chance to compete every year for postseason honors.”
A little math helps put Tuesday night’s lights into perspective.
The turnstile count showed 881 in the park, and nobody on the premises could remember Sac State ever drawing more. The figure may not sound like much, compared to the 220,000 cases of beer carried into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway every Memorial Day weekend under the arms of Indy 500 racing fans. But Tuesday evening’s humble gathering still more than tripled the average attendance of 276 for the previous 23 Sac State home games this year.
If the Hornets could just pack a few more into the seats, the cry will soon be going up around the Guy West Bridge to double deck John Smith Field.
“Won’t that be a nice problem,” Macriss said.
Right now, John Smith Field holds 1,200 – or about the same as Hornet Gym, where Sac State plays NCAA Division I basketball. Speaking of which, the Nest, as they call it, could go for a makeover, too. Once they finish the expansion project on the baseball field, they can go cut the roof off the gym and add another tier. Maybe they can use the old one from Sleep Train Arena that is no longer in use by the Kings.
Sac State is an engineering school. They should be able to figure these things out fairly easily.
One thing the Hornets have figured out on an unlit baseball field is how to win. They’re about to complete their fifth consecutive winning season under sixth-year coach Reggie Christiansen. In 2012, the Hornets tied for the Western Athletic Conference regular-season championship, and in 2014, they won the WAC outright and the conference tournament to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, where they finished among the final 32.
This year, Sac State is 28-24 overall and tied for third in the WAC at 15-9. The Hornets host conference-leading Seattle in a three-game series starting Thursday to finish the regular season. The WAC playoffs begin next Wednesday.
“Last year on Senior Day, Grand Canyon beat us and they dog-piled on our field,” Christiansen said. “I can assure you we don’t want to see that happen on our field again.”
881 Attendance at 1,200-seat John Smith Field for Sacramento State’s first home baseball game under the lights
Thursday’s and Friday’s 7 p.m. games will be under the lights, which can always be turned off in case of a Seattle dog pile. There’s nothing Christiansen can do if Seattle clinches in nature’s glow of Saturday’s nooner.
Forecasters say the weather isn’t supposed to be as nice as it was Tuesday night. As long as it doesn’t rain, you’ve got to think there’s a good chance the attendance Thursday and Friday can reach quadruple figures.
Like his boss, Christiansen views the illumination as a game changer.
On the recruiting front, the local high school players he wants to bring into his program can now come out to watch the Hornets after their own afternoon games.
Then there is the current anomaly of Sac State being an engineering school but not being able to have engineering students play on the baseball team. The problem, Christiansen said, is that engineering-class offerings, like Tijuana bullfights, are only in the afternoon.
Now, with the lights installed, a .300-hitting engineering student will be able to work on the expansions of the baseball field and basketball gym by day and still get in his rips at night.