Cal Poly has a loyal and committed group of student fans, known as the Krukow Superfans, who show up at each game.
They heckle opposing players and give amusing nicknames to their Mustangs heroes. At times, they’ve received middle-finger gestures from the other team. They also get big smiles and celebratory waves from Mustangs players after a big hit.
On Friday, the beer garden known as Krukow’s Corner was dry because of NCAA rules regarding tournament games.
And being “as mad as humanly possible” about the lack of a cool beer in hand, according to one Superfan, they were just as rowdy as usual.
They referred to Mustangs relief pitcher Reed Reilly as “Big Sexy,” and chanted “Omaha” in reference to the final destination should their team advance in the playoffs.
“The team loves us,” said Superfan Michael Nieporte. “I literally know every player on the team. We come to every game. They tell us we make a difference in the game.”
Cal Poly is hosting an NCAA regional baseball tournament game this year for the first time in school history. The team is ranked No. 5 in the nation by Baseball America and No. 1 in the regional.
The team’s success continues a year of historic achievements for the university’s athletics, following a first-time ever berth in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Tickets sold out for Friday’s opener against Sacramento State in a matter of minutes, said Don Oberhelman, Cal Poly’s athletic director. And the stadium was filled to the brim with more than 2,900 fans.
Staff members Chris Baker and Jesse Latino did “yeoman’s work” in preparing for the big event, which included providing extra bleacher seating.
The regional includes games all weekend in the field of four for a chance at advancing to the tournament’s Super Regional — which also would be a first for the baseball program.
“I was pleasantly surprised by the high demand (for tickets),” Olberhelman said. “There’s a lot of excitement. … A couple of weeks into the season, people knew Cal Poly was nationally relevant. We’re in the tournament. The next step is to win a regional.”
Hot dogs, frozen yogurt, and sodas in hand, fans clad in green and gold still jumped to their feet in jubilation with the game’s first smash hit — a triple off the left center field wall by Cal Poly’s Zack Zehner.
The whiff of peanuts and candy, and sound of happy kids, on a sunny late afternoon with a gentle breeze made the experience all that much more pleasant.
“The school is jazzed,” said Kalei White, a Cal Poly junior business marketing major who handed out Mustang News special sections to fans. “This is elevating our campus to another level. I’m so glad Cal Poly got to play at home because we all get to participate in this.”
As Cal Poly broke out to an early 4-0 lead against Sacramento State, the Krukow Superfans waved their checkered green and gold flag and jumped up and down along the third baseline.
Though students weren’t offered free entry as they were in the regular season, they weren’t deterred and say they plan to follow the team to Omaha, Neb. if the Mustangs continue to win. And they’ll continue their usual banter with the other team.
“We chant ‘left, right, left, right’ with each step back to the dugout after an opposing player strikes out,” Superfan Jack Grace said. “We definitely get in their heads. We know they hear us. … You have no idea how much Cal Poly baseball means to us. This is great.”
Additionally, many of those in attendance were alumni such as David Maxwell of Santa Maria, who said he has attended most of the games this year. Maxwell spent $60 for a weekend pass to all games. He said he got online immediately earlier this week when tickets went on sale to make sure he could attend.
“I’m thrilled about getting to see this,” Maxwell said. “This is a good all-around team. I think they have an excellent chance to make it out of the regional. And who knows? They could go all the way and win it all. People didn’t expect UCLA to do that last year. Why not Cal Poly?”
Oh, and Friday’s game? The Mustangs won, 4-2.