“You may be winning, but you have to go back to Cal Poly! We get to stay here in sunny Santa Barbara, how does that make you feel? You suck!”
The balmy Santa Barbara afternoon is pierced by the mocking voices of the Bush Bums, Caesar Uyesaka Stadium’s very own group of heckling homers perched out behind the right center field fence. They lean over the eight-foot wall and ruthlessly jeer at Gaucho opponents, as they have for many weekend series. A large turnout is expected for this weekend’s pivotal three-game set against Cal State Fullerton, beginning Friday.
“Besides the fact that they’re very funny, their presence definitely does lead to a great atmosphere,” UCSB baseball Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “At times they can be very distracting, mostly to the opposing team’s parents, who usually get bent out of shape.”
Ex-Gauchos remaining in the Santa Barbara area retreat to the outfield haven to relax, have a few beers, barbecue and bestow upon everyone within earshot their knowledge of the game. They do their homework on the opposition, however, scouring the web for choice tidbits of information that, when yelled out, can get under the skin of all but the toughest of players.
“The Internet has become a wonderful source,” one Bum said. “That and a phone call to an assistant athletic director claiming to be a fellow alum from the team in question have always proven to be invaluable.”
The Bush Bums focus their attention on the right and center fielders of the opposing team and turn it to the other team’s bullpen, which is conveniently located down the right-field line, when the Gauchos take the field.
“Any outfielder with a brain will know better than to turn around and acknowledge us,” the same Bum said. “Letting us know you know that we’re there is the kiss of death.”
They’ve had outfielders flip them off or answer their sarcastic questions, and umpires call time to ban the use of megaphones or back them off the fence. One opposing coach bought them pitchers of beer after a series and another gave them an autographed baseball after they threw a baseball cover full of junk to the center fielder. They’ve had conversations with the likes of Mark Kotsay and Jeremy Giambi when they roamed the outfields of Big West programs.
“After we berated him for three games about not being as good as his brother [Jason], Giambi told us that at least his brother bought him a BMW,” another Bum recalled. “We had Kotsay in a four-inning conversation about his girlfriend, who was standing next to me drinking our beer!”
It’s all in good, pro-Gaucho fun, and any comments are acceptable as long as they aren’t vulgar or insensitive.
“The guys who used to play realize and maintain a level of sportsmanship,” former Gaucho and occasional Bush Bum Nic Rodriguez said. “The ones who have played the game know what’s kosher and what’s not.”
Still, the atmosphere out behind the wall is rated PG and that is one reason why they stay out there. Alcohol is not allowed in the stadium, but the separation from most of the fans in the grandstand has yielded little legal regulation.
“Obviously, a big part of the appeal of going out there is that you can drink and have fun,” Gaucho junior right fielder Matt Wilkerson, who has endured his fair share of ribbings, said. “It’s not really a family section out there; you can be rowdy and have more fun.”
Having those fans out in right center improves the Gauchos’ home-field advantage; the Gauchos know that they’re there and the opposing players can hear the Bums whether they let on or not. That some of them are former players lends to the continuity of the UCSB baseball program and might offer a bit of extra Gaucho pride.
“The veterans would tell us stories of them in their glory years,” one Bum said. “It’s weird how much you come to appreciate a bunch of guys like that. They definitely make you pick it up a notch, especially later in the year.”
Last year’s home series against Long Beach State, which witnessed an exciting ninth-inning comeback victory by UCSB, saw about 20 Bush Bums for each of the games. The Gauchos need to win this series against Fullerton, a high-quality program, so the outfield fence ought to be loaded and loud, leaving fans in the stands wondering what those Bums will say next.