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Irvine’s diamond gem

Playing surface at Anteater Ballpark is universally praised as major league quality.

May 29, 2009|By Barry Faulkner

The folks at Rosenblatt Stadium like to call the College World Series the Greatest Show on Dirt.

The NCAA baseball regional being contested this weekend at UC Irvine’s Anteater Ballpark, may have a claim as the Show on the Greatest Dirt.

The playing surface at the 3,200-seat home of the nation’s No. 1-ranked team has also earned elite status, according to those who know it best, the UCI players and coaches.

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“Our surface is better than any field we play on,” UCI senior shortstop Ben Orloff said. “It’s the best infield we play on all year.”

UCI Coach Mike Gillespie is among the legion of admirers of head groundskeeper Scott Lupold, assistant Micah Ramsay and a handful of student assistants including former players Reid Suitor, Tom Callahan and Mike Pugliese.

“I told the ESPN [broadcasters] that I hoped they would walk our infield and I told [ESPN analyst Phil Nevin, a former major leaguer and a former star at Cal State Fullerton] that he didn’t play on a better major league infield and he played on all of them,” Gillespie said. “I know the guys who come in here, certainly the infielders, love it.

“It’s not an excuse, but the field was an issue at LSU last season [in the Super Regional won by the Tigers]. That was a pinball-type deal.”

UCI junior All-American pitcher Danny Bibona and junior starter Christian Bergman also were happy to sing the praises of their home venue.

“We got to play at Rosenblatt [in the 2007 College World Series] and I want to go back there so bad,” Bibona said. “But this [Irvine] playing surface is way better.”

Added Bergman: “I’ve played in Angel Stadium [in high school], we played at Minute Maid Park [in Houston] and I’ve played in triple-A parks in Texas and New Mexico. And this is still the nicest surface I’ve played on.

“I definitely don’t take it for granted,” Bergman said. “I notice it every day.”

Bibona said opposing players notice the quality of the surface and visiting coaches here for the regional were very complimentary after working out on the field Thursday.

“I hear guys on the other team saying ‘The ball is bouncing funny here,’ ” Bibona said. “I told the guy ‘That’s how the ball is supposed to bounce.’ [Lupold] says he hasn’t seen a bad hop here in five years and I believe him.”

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