A CHARMING MINOR LEAGUE ATMOSPHERE IN A MAJOR LEAGUE CITY
Being an alumnus of UCLA who has long regarded baseball as my favorite sport, seeing the Bruins’ baseball team at their home ballpark, Jackie Robinson Stadium, has not been a new endeavor for me as my attending games there dates back to my student days in Westwood, spanning over 20 years.
So when I recently went to Jackie Robinson Stadium to see UCLA take on Cal State Northridge, it was sort of like seeing an old friend at an annual reunion, and I was looking forward to it.
Before I go on about the place and its charms, however, I must get this out of the way and mention the only negative thing about the stadium:
Jackie Robinson Stadium – named after UCLA’s greatest Bruin who played on the school’s baseball team in 1940 – is located on the Veterans Administration grounds in West Los Angeles, just across the 405 freeway from the L.A. National Cemetery.
Consequently speaking, as there are no bus lines or bus stops anywhere near the place, in the grand tradition of Southern California culture you definitely need a car to get there.
If you don’t have a means of transportation and don’t have any friends who like Bruin baseball and who can give you a ride, the only other option is to walk, and it’s not a short one whether you’re coming from Westwood, Culver City, Santa Monica, or pretty much anywhere else as the nearest bus stops to the ballpark are pretty far away.
In other words, JRS (short for Jackie Robinson Stadium) doesn’t make it easy for Bruin baseball fans to get there to support its top-ten team.
But once you get there, it’s more that worth the effort.
Because that’s when its appeal takes over as with eucalyptus, palm, and other types of trees surrounding the field and its small seating capacity of just over 1,800 (the all-time record crowd is 2,917 set in 1997), JRS is a most charming place to watch a baseball game, giving off a small-town atmosphere befitting a single-A minor league team in a big city that supports two major league franchises.
The first thing that I noticed was the new scoreboard in right-center field featuring a big video screen, which after the spartan no-frills scoreboard of years past was a HUGE improvement.
The grandstand seats were renovated a few years back from bleacher-like benches to stadium-style chairs with drink cups in front, another big improvement to enhance the fan experience.
As for the food, JRS offers the basic baseball eats – hot dogs, peanuts, Cracker Jack, hamburgers, nachos – but the big highlight of the menu, the dish worth the price of the $8 admission, was a tri-tip chili cup that was so delicious and warming on a chilly night, which is common at that stadium (bring sweatshirts and jackets for night games), the chili practically melts in your mouth. I put onions in my chili cup and enjoyed a wonderful dinner as I watched my Bruins get it on with their San Fernando Valley neighbors from Northridge.
In short, I highly recommend the tri-tip chili cup – but be sure to go to a weeknight game to get it as it is only served then.
If you have kids, you’ll like Jackie Robinson Stadium as they do a great job at catering to your young-uns, scheduling events ranging from inviting little leaguers to run out onto the field with the UCLA players for the National Anthem – a team of seven and eight-year olds wearing Cardinals uniforms had the honor at the game I attended – to contests like churro eating and a bat derby race where kids spin themselves around on a bat before they run, to picking a youngster to announce batters for an inning.
Judging from the groups of kids racing after foul balls, it’s safe to say that they find going to a game at JRS enjoyable.
As did I as although the Bruins sorely lacked clutch hitting and lost to Cal State Northridge, it was a good time all the same.
I especially liked it when they played Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” – the Boston Red Sox’s anthem – in the middle of the 9th inning. Excellent touch!
THE BOTTOM LINE: If you want to enjoy a baseball game and are frustrated by the Dodgers and Angels’ ticket costs, food prices, and lack of success, go to Jackie Robinson Stadium and see UCLA play. They are among the nation’s top ten teams, and the ballpark and the game experience can best be described in one word:
Trust me on this one; it’s well worth it.