STILLWATER — UC Irvine might be able to stop superfan Keith Franklin from attending home games, but it can’t stop him from traveling halfway across the country.
If that’s what it takes to watch Anteaters baseball, that’s what Franklin will do. That’s why he was at the Stillwater Super Regional on Friday to watch UCI play Oklahoma State in a best-of-three series for a chance to go to the College World Series.
It’s hard to miss the upbeat yet controversial figure at the park. Friday he rolled into Stillwater clad in an unbuttoned UCI baseball jersey with a yellow Anteaters shirt underneath. He wore blue shorts, one yellow sock, one blue sock and he talked to everyone he saw.
Franklin said he’s just doing what he loves. But that’s exactly what has put him in a swarm of attention.
Franklin, 49, started going to UCI games in the mid-1990s after someone handed him a flier promoting the reinstitution of the UC-Irvine baseball program.
“I went over there and checked it out,” Franklin said. “It was Dallas Baptist versus the Anteaters on a Friday night, and I was hooked ever since.”
Franklin said he’s at peace when he’s watching baseball. It’s what helped him overcome problems that haunted his past. Franklin said he spent time in prison for drug and burglary charges. Now, he’s married, moves furniture for a living and watches baseball.
“It was a way to escape,” he said. “I’m always looking for more because it helped me relieve the stress.”
Slowly, a release turned into an obsession. Franklin said he’s loud by nature. He wanted to bring some noise to quiet UCI games. He started giving players nicknames, creating his own chants and celebrations. Other fans, kids especially, caught on.
Now, he’s affectionately known as Superfan. He shows up with his tattoos skin and long hair and screams from the first pitch to the final out.
“It’s like rock ‘n roll, heavy metal, punk rock meets baseball,” he said.
It’s the time he celebrated after the final out that caused the trouble. Franklin ran onto the field to congratulate UCI coach Mike Gillespie on his 1,000th career win. He said he did the same for his 800th and 900th.
Security guards took issue, and the school officially banned him from games. Other UCI fans came to his defense. They wrote letters, made T-shirts, started #FreeSuperfan on social media. Soon, local newspapers picked up on the story. Then the TV stations. Then the Wall Street Journal.
“It just started getting momentum,” Franklin said. “I can’t believe all this has happened, but I think it’s because of the people who say, ‘Hey, Irvine does stuff like this.’”
Franklin was banned seven games into UCI’s season, but he didn’t forget his Anteaters. He followed the team and went to some away games, and other fans and alums even helped pay for him to go to Corvallis, Ore., for UCI’s regional and Stillwater this weekend.
Friday, he made his debut to Allie P. Reynolds Stadium, and didn’t hesitate to be himself.
He screamed his nicknames for players — “Sparkplug,” “Baseball Elvis,” “Outlaw” and many more.
But he also shook countless hands, talked and tailgated with OSU fans and took pictures with a line of people who asked. Some might have been put off by Superfan’s outrageous antics, but he promises he means no harm.
“I don’t really ever have a problem with opposing fans,” Franklin said. “Like Oregon State. I think the people loved me. A lot of people just think it’s novelty and it’s kind of fun. Some might listen to me and wait for me to say, ‘Hey you (stink),’ but it never happens. It’s all positive.”
Franklin and UCI are still working out whether he will be allowed to return in the future. For now, he’s taking the experience in and cheering his team on.
“Dignity is overrated,” Franklin said. “When I’m at the ballpark, I’m letting my hair down, interacting with the kids. At a game, if I can put a smile on peoples’ faces, that’s a good game for me.”