May 11, 2001

Ruffin' It

May 11, 2001

By JACK FERDON
The Santa Clara Sports Staff Writer

They came. They saw. They stayed.

Ruff Riders John Arp, Rob Harper and Sean O'Flaherty showed their support for the baseball team by camping at Buck Shaw Stadium during the weekend series against Gonzaga. The freshmen set out Thursday night, after "Survivor," and pitched their tent on a grassy island just beyond the right field foul pole. And that's where they stayed until Sunday afternoon, leaving their transitory home only for class, work and, of course, all three ball games.

While camping out on our heavily manicured campus might seem simple, like surfing the break off Waikiki, don't be mistaken. This was no small feat. It required outdoorsmen of consummate skill and experience, and these Ruff Riders had no problem footing the bill. John and Rob both spend a good part of their summers camping in the wilds of Oregon and Colorado, respectively. They could have easily caught and skinned a campus squirrel for dinner. But instead they opted for Papa John's, which was delivered two hours late one night, as the delivery guy couldn't find their campsite. So they had to eat cold pizza.

But, perhaps even more than ability, to do what these Ruff Riders did required something that won't show up in the box score - love. But no ordinary love. It called for a love greater than that of a boy for his mom, or his dog, or even Britney Spears. I'm talking about a boy's love for baseball, and John, Rob and Sean had it in abundance.

This was evident at the game Sunday, a 1-0 Bronco win, where the ninety-degree heat and the sun's reflection off Buck Shaw's gold bleachers combined to make a harsh sunburn almost a certainty. But the boys passed on the Banana Boat. Rather, they covered themselves in red paint, as they drew on their chests the numbers of the seniors who were playing their final home game.

"It left Sean with a weird burn, but it was worth it," Rob said.

Along with the paint, they brought a stuffed Gonzaga bulldog with a noose around its neck, as well as a kiddy pool, which they filled with water and was visited by every little kid in attendance.

But what truly sets these fans apart is heckling. They sat above the visitors' dugout, along the third base line, and pounded the Zags' players with a barrage of sarcasm, statements of embarrassing fact and declarations of the Bronco's superiority.

Their main target throughout the series was Barry Matthews, the Zags' best player. In the fourth inning on Sunday, he grounded weakly to first. As the lefty returned to the dugout, Rob yelled, "Way to crank it, Barry." Matthews shot him a mean look. Mission accomplished.

Later, they moved their focus from the field to the stands and the father of one the Zags. When the Riders cheered the announcement concerning George Husack, the marketer from the athletic department who helped them out during the weekend, the player's father said jokingly, "He hasn't gotten up to Spokane, yet."

"Not a lot does," replied John.

Their performance on Sunday was remarkable in light of the fact that they hadn't been to their rooms in two and a half days. That's sixty hours with no lying on a bed, no ESPN, no ESPN.com, no microwave chimichangas, and - worst of all - no showers during the hottest, sweatiest weekend this year. This last deprivation was especially problematic for Sean, who had to work at Adobe Lodge on Saturday. He said his bosses didn't notice anything unkempt about him, but he pined for a shower nevertheless.

"It's gonna be a nice shower tonight," Sean said on Sunday.

All of this begs the question: why do it, why camp out for some baseball games? Their primary reason was to rally support on campus for the baseball team in the series, which was a pivotal one in the Broncos' quest to win the WCC Coast division and take on Pepperdine for the conference championship. Things didn't work out for the team, as they lost to the Zags Friday and Saturday. But the campers may claim victory, as attendance for the series was up 600 for the last weekend series at the Buck.

This pleased Rob, who's sick of seeing Santa Clara support only the basketball and soccer teams. "Other teams need acknowledgment," he said.

It's possible that the weather and a burrito giveaway and not the Riders' camp-out account for the increase. But who's to say?

And who cares? The real reason the guys did it is to have fun, which they did. They packed all the necessary essentials: football, Frisbee, radio, sports section. And what they didn't bring people would have given to them, as others offered food, Sabrecat tickets and beer.

So after the game Sunday, the Riders washed the paint off their bodies with water from the kiddy-pool - which was by now kiddy-contaminated - and, properly, admitted to no regrets.

"Three friends, baseball, sun - it was a great weekend," Rob said.