UC Irvine banishes its biggest fan from ballpark
May 16, 2014
By JOSH FRIEDMAN, CCN’s STATE SPORTS CORESPONDENT
When UC Irvine hosts Cal State Fullerton this weekend in a series that could vault the Anteaters to a Big West Conference championship, the cheers coming from an Orange County living room may drown out the volume of a capacity crowd at Cicerone Field.
Irvine baseball’s biggest supporter, Keith Franklin, spent last weekend in San Luis Obispo cheering on his Anteaters as they took on Cal Poly. Baggett Stadium attendees could not help but see and/or hear Franklin. He was psyching up Irvine players in the dugout, holding banners and donning costumes supporting Anteater pitchers and even singing Yellow Submarine with Cal Poly fans in between innings.
This weekend, though, Franklin is relegated to watching the 2014 edition of the Fullerton-Irvine rivalry from his nearby Costa Mesa home. Franklin, 49, has been a fixture at Anteater home games for the past decade and has followed the team on the road as far as Virginia.
His dedication and stadium antics have earned him the nickname Superfan and have garnered him the support of dozens of players, parents, umpires, scouts and opposing fans and coaches. A publication even ranked Franklin as one of the top 40 baseball fans of all time.
But, Franklin, is no longer welcome at his home ballpark. Earlier this year, the Irvine Athletic Department banished him from Cicerone Field.
“It was like a knife in my heart,” Franklin said. “They took away what I love most.”
On February 23, Irvine Head Coach Mike Gillespie earned his 1,000th career victory. When the game ended, Franklin, who had been planning a celebration of the milestone for nearly a year, jumped onto the field with a banner congratulating Gillespie. Franklin then took a photo with Gillespie, as he had done after the Hall of Fame coach won his 900th game.
This time, though, the photo-op did not end in smiles. Two campus police officers ran onto the field and ordered Franklin to leave, witnesses said.
Two weeks later, Franklin returned to Cicerone Field for an Irvine home game. When he reached the entrance gate to the stadium, an attendant held him up as three campus police officers and two security personnel came running to greet him, Franklin said. The school denied Franklin, a season ticket holder, entrance to the ballpark.
He has not entered the stadium since.
On Thursday, head of media relations at UC Irvine, Bob Olson, issued a one-sentence statement to CalCoastNews explaining Franklin’s expulsion from Cicerone Field.
“Mr. Franklin violated our stadium-fan behavior policy,” Olson said.
Olson would not comment any further.
Franklin said he received on-field permission from Gillespie to come onto the field after the coach’s 1,000th victory.Olson denied a request for a brief interview with the coach.
Several photos indicate that Gillespie approved of, if not enjoyed, Franklin’s fanatics. Gillespie signed the smiling picture he took with Franklin after his 900th win. Gillespie and Franklin are standing on the Irvine field in that picture, too.
In another photo, Gillespie is seen swapping jackets with Franklin. Gillespie is donning Franklin’s leather, punk rock-style vest while Franklin is wearing Gillespie’s Irvine lettered jacket.
Cindy McClanahan, the mother of current Irvine catcher Jerry McClanahan, said Franklin was the only person to honor Gillespie after he notched his 1,000th win.
“The school didn’t do anything for the coach. The parents didn’t do anything for the coach. Keith was the only one who did anything for the coach,” McClanahan said.
While Franklin’s celebration with Gillespie may have spurred his ban from the ballpark, Irvine’s super fan has long been at odds with athletic department staff. Franklin alleges athletics staff have gone so far as to deny a senior pitcher the entrance song of his choice during his final collegiate outing. They did so to prevent Superfan from rocking out to it, Franklin said.
“They don’t like my image,” Franklin said. “They want me to be a normal fan.”
Franklin’s appearance at ballgames often resembles more of a pro wrestler or punk rocker than it does of a baseball fan. He sometimes goes shirtless, showing off his muscular build, and fans can spot his long hair from just about anywhere in the stadium. His voice is so loud and deep that it, too, can be heard across Cicerone Field.
Franklin is unabashed about his background. He had a rough upbringing and served multiple stints in state prison for drug offenses and commercial burglaries. His last conviction was in 1993, Franklin said.
But, dozens of supporters attest that Franklin remains relentlessly positive at baseball games.
Former Irvine pitcher Tad Davis, who played on the school’s only two national title teams, said he has never heard anything negative come out of Franklin’s mouth.
“He is an articulate, intelligent human being that has a heart of pure gold,” Davis said. “I can’t think of a team that wouldn’t embrace a guy like that.”
Off the top of his head, Franklin can state that, in 1974, Davis threw the second of now five no-hitters in Irvine history. Franklin’s knowledge of Irvine baseball history, statistics and records is recognized by numerous observers, even Major League Baseball scouts.
“He knows the teams, the coaches, the records,” said Rocky Craig, a scout with the Seattle Mariners.
Craig likewise was an Anteater baseball player, who in 1970, became the school’s first All American. Craig said Franklin’s energy is contagious.
“As a scout, I’m looking for passion and players that can excite me and get excited about the game of baseball,” Craig said. “I’ve never seen an Anteater fan with that kind of passion.”
Another American League scout, who requested anonymity, said Franklin is sorely missed at Cicerone Field.
“Without him there it’s just dead silence,” the scout said. “His absence is noticed even by guys that only come out there a handful of times a year.”
A reinstatement of Franklin to Cicerone Field could occur, but is unlikely at the moment.
McClanahan, who is petitioning to get Franklin back into the ballpark, said she spoke Thursday with Paul Hope, the director of Irvine athletic facilities and operations. Hope said that Franklin disrespected a major donor to the program and that athletics staff is afraid of him, McClanahan said.
Hope would not comment to CalCoastNews.
The night after police booted Franklin for running on the field, he had a political argument on Facebook with an Irvine donor. The argument ended with Franklin challenging the donor to a fight, Facebook messages show.
“They want him to apologize to the cops, to the staff and to the school before they even think about reinstating him,” McClanahan said.
Franklin said he would not apologize. He said, though, that he wants to collaborate with the school, so that he can root on the team in an acceptable manner.
“It could be something cool if the school worked with me,” Franklin said. “My dream is that I would come to an Irvine game and nobody can hear me because everyone else is being so loud I just blend in.”
For now, Franklin is on his farewell tour as Superfan. Rather than going to all of the Irvine home games, he is attending all of the Anteater road games.
In late April, Franklin took a trip up to Davis as an official guest of UC Davis. Earlier in the month, Franklin watched the Aggies play at Fullerton, and the Davis team invited him to attend their series with Irvine.
UC Davis listed Franklin as a guest of the school and gave him free tickets to each of the three games. Irvine swept the series, Franklin charged the field when Anteater closer Sam Moore set a school saves record and Aggie fans still thanked him for livening up the stadium, Franklin said.
McClanahan said Irvine officials should treat Franklin more like the way UC Davis did.
“That’s embarrassing that our own school won’t let him in, but the opposing team invited him,” McClanahan said.
Last weekend, Franklin attended Irvine’s series at Cal Poly. He walked away with a “#1 Cal Poly Fan” button.
Cal Poly facilities and events director Jesse Latino said a couple fans complained that Franklin was being obnoxious, but he could not find anything that Irvine fan was doing wrong.
“He didn’t use any profanity or anything like that,” Latino said. “He seems like a nice guy. I talked to him a little bit.”
After the Fullerton series, Franklin’s farewell tour will move on to Long Beach, where two years ago he charged the field after Irvine pitcher Andrew Thurman threw a no-hitter. Security then escorted Franklin off the field, but Long Beach State officials let him back in the stadium each of the next two days.
Irvine, which is currently 35-16 overall and first place in the Big West Conference, will begin NCAA Tournament play in two weeks. Franklin will travel as far as the Anteaters will go, he said.
“I will never stop rooting for my guys,” Franklin said. “You can’t take everything away from me.”