Chicago Cubs fans experienced it for the first time on August 8, 1988. UCSB fans and players got a taste of it Friday night.
Baseball under the lights.
The Gauchos hosted their annual Alumni game in what was the first night game in the history of Caesar Uyesaka Stadium. Scores of former UCSB players showed up for a night of baseball. It was a group that included former Gaucho standout and current Cleveland Indians All-Star pitcher Shane Bieber.
“It’s pretty special,” the right-hander said of playing under the lights at his old home park. “It’s different being out here at 5:05 p.m. and being able to see. It’s a different feel. It’s a great thing to have and it’s a great thing for the program to be able to have night games here. It’s a lot more pitcher-friendly, too. I’m excited to see what they do this year.”
Bieber was a key contributor in UCSB’s memorable run to the College World Series in 2016. So too was infielder J.J. Muno and pitcher Noah Davis, both of whom are playing pro ball, and both of whom were part of the alumni team.
“It’s definitely cool,” Muno said of the Caesar Uyesaka Stadium lights. “Usually, it would be about time to end practice here as the sun goes down, so it’s a little different feeling. It’s pretty cool to see what (coach Andrew) Checketts has done with this place. Every year there’s something new that makes the program a little better, and makes it more of a top program. It’s just going to keep going with him here.”
Muno added that the Gauchos’ 2016 run will always be a top highlight in his ongoing baseball career.
“It’s something we’ll cherish forever,” he said. “Those 23 days we were on the road going up against the giants of NCAA baseball and taking down some of the big teams, was something that I’ll remember forever, for sure.”
Davis, who was drafted in the 11th round by the Cincinnati Reds in 2018, was thrilled to be a part of the alumni team, even though he protected his arm by not pitching.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “This is my first time being out here at the alumni game. It’s just kind of crazy to see all the generations of talent that have come through this program, and kind of see it all culminate together in one place at one time, especially under the lights.
“It’s something that we’ve all been working for it seems like years, decades maybe, (to get lights). It’s awesome. I’m really looking forward to seeing that first pitch and see it get underway.”
Eric Yang, who was also drafted by the Reds in the seventh round last June, became an instant trivia question answer when he launched the first home run under the lights at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium in the second inning.
“I’ve been looking forward to this day for a long time,” he said. “It’s nice to be on this side of the field, for once. It’s been fun so far. It’ll be a good weekend.”
As for coach Checketts, his team had its way against Bieber’s bunch much like it did in last year’s alumni game. Checketts felt his team had a better than average chance after seeing the alumni guys live it up a little too much before the game.
“It’s not sober baseball (with the alumni team) but it’s exciting,” Checketts said with a laugh. “I just hope those guys swing at the (ball) in the middle and throw it at the catcher who’s in the middle.
“It’s always fun seeing the guys and having them come back. I think everybody is excited about the lights. There’s some buzz around the program because of it.”
Bieber’s strategy was much the same as last season, and like last season’s game, it didn’t work. The Gauchos pummeled the alumni team in what was a good time had by all.
“A couple of more beverages and the boys are going to be coming out with some energy,” Bieber said with a laugh before the game. “I think we came out a little flat last year, but it seems like we’ve got a pretty good turnout this year.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have everybody going, myself included, but I think we’ll have a good time out here, and that’s really all that matters. It’ll be a good showing for UCSB in general.”
That it was.