Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks 2 at Texas A&M Aggies 9 (NCAA Baseball) - February 19, 2013

NCAA baseball teams usually have 3-game weekend series and a single game or two during the week, often on Tuesday evening. Such was the case in College Station yesterday as the Aggies hosted Stephen F. Austin in what has become an annual tradition.

Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park

Olsen Field was opened in 1978 and named for C. E. "Pat" Olsen, a 1923 graduate of Texas A&M and a former player in the New York Yankees system. In 2011, renovations made possible through donations by local ice cream concern Blue Bell Creameries were started and this led to the new name which came into effect before the 2012 season.

Amenities provided by these renovations include a larger concourse and concessions area, a new press box, two grass berms, and more seating closer to the field. Interestingly, capacity was decreased from 7,000 to 5,400 to accommodate the changes.

Located on the campus off Olsen Road, the ballpark is surrounded by several parking lots, any of which costs $5 for visitors. Getting in is easy, but it took a few minutes to get out as the stop lights for turning onto George Bush Drive were not well-timed.

Walking over from the parking lot, I was amazed at the size of the ballpark. It is bigger than any college venue I have seen as you might be able to gather from the picture above.

There are two separate seating levels but unfortunately walk-up tickets are limited to the upper deck seats on the 3rd base side ($9) or the berms ($8) when you arrive on game day. The price is reasonable but if you like to sit lower down, you are out of luck. I would suggest getting section 210 or 211 to avoid the netting if you prefer a clear view.  Note that these seats are benches with backs, and not particularly comfortable.

There are large concession stands on each side of the concourse but they offer the same basic choices. An Aggie dog is $3, while Slovacek sausages and bratwursts are just $4 and likely the better bet. I tried a brat and it was more than adequate although the onion dispensers was not fully stocked, a massive disappointment. There are a few smaller specialty stands – one serves kettle corn for $4 or $6 depending on how hungry you are, while a Double Dave’s table boasts 2 peproni rolls for $5.

There is a section of fans that call themselves Raggies as they constantly “rag" opponents, other fans, and even the PA announcer. Sitting in section 202 (second from the left above, not yet filled well before game time), they have a wide repertoire of responses to whatever may happen on the field or in the stands. For example, when a foul ball is hit into the stands and a fan is unable to make a catch, they yell “Eeeeeeeee” as in error. When an opposing player strikes out, they make shooting noises to the theme song of “The Rifleman”. The list goes on and on, and it is worth taking in a game here just for this unique fan group. They are quite fair as well; when a fan made a great catch of a foul ball, they stood and applauded. All fans stand before the game and sing the alma mater and they stay standing for the pregame ceremonies, only sitting after the national anthem. A great group overall that would be fun to join on a regular basis.

Before the game, a number of baseball songs such as “Centerfield” were played, getting fans ready for the show to come. During the game, there are a number of cute little sound effects and songs that are played to match the situation. Often a team will use the same clip over and over, but there they were playing different bits into the ninth inning and it wasn’t annoying. I really enjoyed the banter between the PA announcer and the Raggies, the group of fans that I will discuss shortly. The PA announcer here was on top of the game and occasionally made comments directed to the Raggies, who responded as a group. I’m not sure if they do this every game, but it was good fun and something that I had not seen before.

A train track runs beyond the outfield fence and during the game a freight train passed through (below), adding a nice touch to the proceedings.

There are a number of small additions worth noting. First, banners on the exterior of the façade celebrate Aggie baseball accomplishments over the years.

You will also notice a monument dedicated to Pat Olsen, after whom the ballpark was originally named. Inside, there are photos on the support poles that turn an unsightly necessity into something worth checking out, if only briefly. A playground down in the right field corner was quite popular with the kids.

There are two honored numbers on the fence next to the foul poles. Tom Chandler was coach for 26 years from 1959-84 and the number 26 is on the left field fence in his honor (although he wore number 23). On the right field fence is number 7 for Mark Johnson who coached from 1985-2005 and leads the Aggies in wins.

One thing I had never seen before was a 20-second pitch clock  (on the right above), although this was only used when the bases were empty and it never reached zero.

In 2004, Sports Illustrated ranked Olsen Field as the best college baseball venue in the country. Even though I have been to only ten others, I would say that this title has been usurped. Texas is now better and I would put Rice's Reckling Park above Olsen Field as well. The Aggies have a wonderful facility but as a stadium traveler, I would prefer to have the option to sit closer. Then again, sitting on the 3rd base side does give you a great view of the Raggies and that alone makes a visit to Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park worth the trip to College Station.

The Game

Texas A&M has a cumulative 20-1 record against the Lumberjacks but it was the visitors who got started early when Ricardo Sanchez (above) led off with a double and scored on two wild pitches from Aggie starter Corey Ray (below).

Meanwhile, SFA starter Cameron Gann kept the Aggies off the board for the first 3 frames. Upset brewing? Not really. In the fourth, Gann walked Troy Stein to lead things off and then hit Brandon Wood. Blake Allemand bunted and Gann lost his shoe while trying to field the ball, loading the bases on the error. Charlie Curl followed with a 2-run single and Mikey Reynolds added an RBI knock of his own to make it 3-1 Aggies.

The Lumberjacks got one back in the 6th on another Sanchez double followed by a single from Hunter Dozier, the first pre-season All-American in SFA history.  However, the Aggies tacked on four of their own in the bottom half as reliever Justin Choate walked two, gave up two singles and suffered from another error on a bunt before finally being relieved. By then the game was essentially over, although the Aggies added runs in the 7th and 8th to make the final 9-2.

Reynolds ended up with 4 singles (he was called out on strikes in the picture above) and 3 stolen bases and was the offensive star of the game for the Aggies. Not much of a battle here; the discrepancy between the two programs is obvious. For the visitors though, it is a good chance to play a nationally ranked program close to home and there were lots of SFA fans in the crowd.

Next Up

I'm back in Houston and will be heading to the Toyota Center to see the Rockets take on the Thunder. Check back tomorrow for an update on that game.



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