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HE SIGN ABOVE THE SCOREBOARD reads “AMERICA’S MOST SCENIC BALLPARK.” It’s no idle boast. It’s hard to imagine any ballpark— anywhere—more beautiful than the diamond that sparkles next to the Pacific Ocean at Point Loma Nazarene University. The field itself is pristine —from the well-maintained, dark green grass and reddish brown infield dirt to the white foul lines stretching to the outfield fence. Beyond that is a row of palm trees, and then . . . blue water.

Even if a pitch were never thrown, the view alone is worth the trip. But they do play baseball in this picturesque park.

And the facilities are great for both players and fans. Comfortable plastic seats— not benches—are close enough to the field for fans to hear batters in the ondeck circle whispering to each other about the pitcher, or the catcher jawing with the ump. No seat at the Padres’ Petco Park, or even San Diego State University’s Tony Gwynn Stadium, affords such intimacy.

But perhaps the best thing about Point Loma Nazarene’s Carroll Land Field: The view, the game—even the parking—are free.

Petco is spectacular. But San Diego has so much more to offer. The region’s four universities and five community colleges offer a solid brand of baseball.

Many junior college players are going on to four-year schools, and stars from the university ranks will go on to the pros.

THE UNIVERSITY OF SAN DIEGO has a terrific field with comfortable seats close to the action. But USD’s diamond lacks two things Point Loma Nazarene has: free admission and an ocean view. Still, it only costs a couple of bucks to watch a game here.

USD coach Rich Hill is happy with his Cunningham Stadium, but he’s crazy about SDSU’s. “The feel of Tony Gwynn Stadium,” he says. “The Jumbotron; the seating. I get jealous every time I walk in there.”

With all the trappings of a professional ballpark, Tony Gwynn Stadium is also home to the minor league SurfDawgs. Again, no ocean view, but it’s not exactly dry. They sell beer at Aztecs and Surf- Dawgs games. They also have promotions between innings (and before and after games) to keep the kids entertained.

The field at the University of California, San Diego is great for players—the team works hard to maintain it. But UCSD is not exactly Sports Central; its facilities could use a major upgrade from the portable metal bleachers and the plastic port-a-potties.

“The [UCSD] administration needs to build them some seating, locker rooms and a stadium—but the play surface and location are great,” says USD’s Hill.

UCSD coach Dan O’Brien agrees, but he doubts the university will pay for it.

“We’ve been trying since 1998,” he says.

O’Brien is hoping a baseball fan with a big-league bank account will come to the rescue.

MIKE PARKS is one of dozens of ballplayers San Diego has contributed to the rest of the country.

He grew up in Spring Valley and is now second baseman for Culver-Stockton College in Missouri. He played at Southwestern College when he was on Mesa’s team and says of the school’s field: “It’s like a professional infield—there is not a flaw in it.”baseball players on the field

Most who’ve played ball in San Diego County rave about Southwestern’s field. But fans, beware. The hard metal bleachers will make you wish you’d brought a beach chair.

A Southwestern game is worth attending just to see coach Jerry Bartow, who started in 1976 and has more than 800 career wins. No truth to the rumor Bartow learned the game straight from the mouth of Abner Doubleday.

City College and Mesa College usually field good squads, but their playing fields are cursed by geography. City’s is built on a landfill that’s sinking. The unevenness of the outfield is noticeable from the stands. Outfielders would be advised to beware of sinkholes. Filthy park bathrooms are a long walk from the field, and the bleachers are less than fan-friendly.

The Mesa College field sits in a ravine.

Spectators must choose between bleachers that are the near-equivalent of upperdeck seating, or hike down steep stairs to bleachers that offer limited views.

The best of the best when it comes to local ballparks: Point Loma Nazarene. Indeed, a few innings at Point Loma may be one of the least-appreciated entertainment bargains in Southern California.

“It’s amazing,” says Point Loma Sea Lions pitcher Chris Hill. “Sometimes I just go out to center field to relax and look at the view.” But there’s a catch, he adds: “At times, I can’t concentrate. I’m an avid surfer, and my mind drifts down the cliffs.

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