For Marc Peña, a Saturday Texas baseball game day starts well before first pitch.
Hours before the Longhorns take the field for batting practice, Peña arrives at the field to fill the coolers with ice and prepare the tailgate beyond the left field wall. He then heads to Matt’s El Rancho on South Lamar, where he meets up with other members of the Occupy Left Field fan group for lunch and drinks.
After getting their fill of margaritas over a thorough discussion of their expectations for the team’s weekend series, the group heads to UFCU Disch-Falk Field three to four hours before the first pitch to play washers, listen to country music, socialize with neighboring tailgates and chat with the players’ families.
“It starts at 8 a.m. and goes through the end of the day,” Peña said.
The popular baseball tailgate known as Occupy Left Field began in the 2000s with Peña, Jeff Cross and a handful of fellow baseball fans, who decided to move their tailgate from the area that is now the East Campus Garage to the chain-link section behind the left field wall, where Peña found the opportunity to watch games from left field.
“When we first started tailgating out in left field, it was a real informal thing; we didn’t really have a group,” Peña said. “It was whoever showed up to tailgate out there would show up, and it ended up being a small community. It wasn’t really well organized.”
Through the 2000s, Left Field grew in size as the Longhorns became College World Series regulars and racked up conference championships. But at the peak of Left Field’s engagement, then-athletic director DeLoss Dodds boarded the fence for signage in 2012.
“When you take away the ability to see the game and the action, every year after that less and less people would make their way out there,” Peña said.
The installation of the left field wall coincided with a downturn in Texas baseball over the past decade.
The final years of Hall of Fame coach Augie Garrido failed to live up to the championship expectations, which further contributed to gradually declining attendance.
“It’s tough because it’s really dependent on how the team does,” Peña said. “(With) Texas sports there’s a lot of bandwagon fans, and if the team isn’t good there just won’t be interest from the fans.”
The group spent the next seven seasons standing on picnic tables to watch games from left field until current athletic director Chris Del Conte removed the wall in March 2018.
Then, the Longhorns’ magical 2018 College World Series run caused a large spike in baseball attendance and support from Left Field, as the group expanded rapidly during the regional and super regional rounds at Disch-Falk.
“Besides the actual playing, they’re probably the second-best role,” said outfielder Tate Shaw of the team’s 2018 Omaha run. “We watched them grow from 20 people to 100 people out there.”
Although 2018’s inspired run to Omaha grew the hopes of many for the 2019 season, this year was full of disappointment for the Longhorns. An early season sweep of No. 2 LSU and a top-10 ranking gave way to a litany of on-field issues as Texas failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
“Even when we’re terrible, they’re supportive, and that’s the best part about them,” Shaw said. “They really support the players through hard and bad times.”
Occupy Left Field counts 20-30 people in their core group but always welcomes newcomers — with one stipulation.
“It’s really an open tailgate to anyone who’s not an idiot,” Peña said.
If participants follow this one rule, Occupy Left Field is willing to accept anyone.
“Left Field is an open environment,” Cross said. “We’ll invite anyone in. We invite opposing team’s parents and their fans in. It’s all about camaraderie, college baseball and supporting the kids.”