Last season, Cal Poly Baseball broke old records and set new ones with their home attendance. They were first overall in the state of California, with a total of 60,798 fans flocking to Baggett Stadium.
They were also first in the Big West Conference in total attendance and fans per game, 34th overall in the nation in total attendance and had more fans per game than eight Pac-12 schools.
Last season’s home slate featured a visit from Washington to open the season, as well as a four-game series with Harvard and the marquee matchup of conference rival UC Santa Barbara — all three games of that series sold out.
“I make these schedules three or four years in advance,” 21st-year Head Coach Larry Lee said. “So that’s another thing you’re hoping; the teams that you’re scheduling in advance are going to be good by the time you play them.”
That’s the case for this year’s home slate, as well. The 31-game home schedule makes the upcoming season the Mustangs’ second straight with 30 or more games at home and has already managed to set a record: the 15-game homestand in March will be the team’s longest since moving to Division-I in 1995.
Not only does it feature what could be a pivotal Big West matchup against Cal State Fullerton for the final series of the season, but it also includes a four-game series with three-time national champion Oregon State that opens the 15-game homestand for the Mustangs.
That matchup with the Beavers is one that has been circled on the calendar of Coach Lee for quite some time.
“Well, it’s a payback from when we went up there in 2015,” Coach Lee said. “So that return trip has been scheduled for probably three previous years, and now we finally were able to agree on a year where they could return. It’s important because you know that they’re going to be one of the better teams in the country.”
Much like his manager’s thoughts on the series, junior first baseman Joe Yorke has a broader view of his squad’s schedule, as there are several contests the slugger is looking forward to.
“I mean, Oregon State’s the easy answer,” Yorke said when asked about what he is looking forward to this season. “I always love playing Santa Barbara… UNLV gave us a tough time last year at their place, so it’ll be good to get a little revenge on them this year.”
However, for all of the highlights on the team’s schedule, Coach Lee still has a few things he wishes were different, citing the impact of the team’s rating percentage index (RPI).
RPI is used by the NCAA selection committee that takes into account a team’s wins and losses as well as their strength of schedule to determine their ranking.
“I would always like to try to play teams outside of the west if at all possible,” Coach Lee said. “It’s very difficult to have a high RPI out west because there are approximately 300 Division-I college baseball teams and there are around 40 in the west. So…it’s a lot easier to play against schools that not everybody else plays.”
This season, Cal Poly plays nine games against teams in the Pac-12, the strongest conference on the west coast.
“But [playing the Pac-12] doesn’t necessarily help us,” Coach Lee said. “It’s a strong schedule when you add those teams in, but they play too many of the same teams that we do.”
Both Coach Lee and Yorke also know that with last year’s superstars now gone, there is a chance attendance will suffer. Yorke, however, still has faith that Mustang fans will remain just that at the end of the day—Mustang fans.
“I mean, SLO’s a baseball town,” Yorke said. “The folks in SLO love baseball, they love coming out to support us no matter who’s on the field. As long as we’re wearing the green and gold, they love it.”
One thing is for sure: Yorke and the rest of his teammates are ready to meet whatever expectations the fans will have for them.
“We set the bar pretty high last year,” Yorke said. “I know a lot of people in the town expect a lot of great things from us, and we’re ready to meet those expectations and see what we can do.”
And, with a home schedule that features USC, Xavier, Irvine and of course Fullerton and Oregon State, fans will still have plenty of opportunities to cheer on their Mustangs this season, and maybe even set new attendance records.