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Anteaters aim to fill gaps

February 02, 2006|By By Barry Faulkner

By taking advantage of pitcher-friendly ballpark, UCI hopes to contend with perennial Big West bullies Titans, 49ers.Three stories up on the parking structure that sits beyond the right-field fence at Anteater Ballpark looms a three-digit demarcation: 438. The white numerals painted on a green background indicate the distance in feet from home plate.

While similar signage at other baseball venues might tantalize hitters, those who swing for the fences and beyond at UC Irvine's home yard might consider it more of a taunt.

"At different ballparks, you're going to have crazy games where it's 15-12," UCI junior pitcher Justin Cassel said. "But at Anteater Ballpark, it's usually going to be a low-scoring game."

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Cassel and his fellow pitchers appreciate their home park's august dimensions -- a symmetrical 335 down the lines, 380 in the alleys and 405 to dead center, as well as a fence high enough to eliminate leaping attempts at home-run saving catches. Other factors also conspire to accentuate a pitcher's advantage.

"We play mostly night games at home and there's usually a marine layer that comes in," said Cassel, who will start Friday's season opener against visiting Cal at 6 p.m. "One of the great things about playing under the lights on Friday and Saturday nights, is that you don't have to worry about balls being juiced out of here."

Cassel also said the typical wind pattern at Anteater Ballpark hampers homers.

"Every once in a while, you get a breeze blowing out," he said. "But normally it's pushing the other way. I kind of love that, but the hitters hate it."

The last two seasons, there have been 34 home runs in 57 games at Anteater Ballpark, including one inside-the-park homer. That's an average of one home run every 1.68 games. A home run off the bat of an Anteater occurred an average of once every three home games.

In the 28 games in which a dinger has been hit at UCI in those two seasons, only three games have had more than one. Two games last season featured two home runs each, while four were hit in one 2004 game against the University of San Diego.

UCI Coach Dave Serrano, entering his second season, said the Anteaters' offensive approach has been shaped by playing in the pitcher-friendly environs.

"Every lineup would love to have power," said Serrano, who favors the "small ball" bunting game used so effectively by Cal State Fullerton -- where he served as pitching coach before coming to UCI. "But we're going to play for a run an inning.

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