Pepperdine's Malibu diamond is baseball paradise
My first year out of college, I took a job with the Los Angeles Times and was given my first real beat: college baseball. I had no idea at the time, but Southern California is mecca for college baseball fans. UCLA, USC, Cal-State Fullerton and Long Beach State are powerhouse programs, regular producers of major-league talent and each has a gem of a stadium. As I visited those schools to cover games, I fell for each of their stadiums. I particularly liked Jackie Robinson Stadium, which is crowded by towering trees, and Blair Field, with its bright blue overhangs. But then I drove north on Highway 1 to watch USC play at Pepperdine and discovered what is widely believed to be the best college baseball stadium in America.
Eddy D. Field Stadium sits in the middle of the Pepperdine campus, which is just off of Highway 1 in Malibu. I'm sure there are cloudy days in Malibu, but I've never experienced one. And I'm sure there is a better smell than the Pacific Ocean on a warm spring day, but I can't think of any. On my first visit to Eddy D. Field Stadium, two thoughts overwhelmed me: First, I was an idiot for going to school in South Bend, Ind., rather than Malibu. And, second, there is no place in the world I'd rather watch a baseball game.
The stadium seats about 1,800 but is rarely full -- $8 gets you almost any seat you want. On my first visit, I didn't sit in the press box. I sat in one of the blue chairs along the first-base line. The backdrop for the game is the Pacific Ocean, with Catalina Island in the distance, obstructed only by the spindly trunks of palm trees. To the north and east are the Santa Monica Mountains, an understated Southern California attraction. I'd bet that some fans don't notice the view, their attention squarely on the game or on the dazzling coeds bouncing around the stands between innings. But from the nearly dozen games I've taken in there, my strongest memories are of the vista and the way the wind blew in from the ocean.
That's not to say that the baseball isn't memorable. Pepperdine has not had a losing season since 1974, the Waves second season playing at this site, and win at home 70 percent of the time. The school has become a pipeline for big league pitchers like Randy Wolf, Dan Haren and Noah Lowry. Last year, you could watch All-America Barry Enright pitch in his final season before becoming a second-round pick of the Diamondbacks. This season, you can watch preseason All-America Brett Hunter.
During one game I witnessed, an opposing player struck a ball deep to left field that, for a moment, was framed by two palm trees, the white of the ball set against nothing but the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean. I don't recall whether the ball cleared the fence. I don't remember who won the game. But, damn, I remember the view.
2. Alex G. Spanos Center, Stockton, Calif.
3. Williams Arena, Minneapolis, Minn.
4. Notre Dame Stadium
5. Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, WI.