UC Irvine, hosting an NCAA Division I baseball regional for the first time, erected temporary bleachers to accommodate an overflow crowd expected for today's games.
They'll be needed, because some of the most intriguing story lines on the road to the College World Series will play out among the four teams competing at Anteater Ballpark.
UC Irvine plays Fresno State at 8 p.m. in today's second game, a marquee matchup featuring this year's No. 1 team as ranked by Baseball America, the Anteaters, against the defending national champion.
But in terms of interest, the game of the day might be San Diego State-Virginia, the 4 p.m. opener of today's nationally televised doubleheader. The notables in that game will include college baseball's biggest star, a former major league star and, in all probability, a famous local star-maker.
The main attraction is San Diego State pitcher Stephen Strasburg, who has dominated for an Aztecs team coached by Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn.
Strasburg, expected to be chosen No. 1 by the Washington Nationals in next month's major league draft, said Thursday that he did not know whether he would start. Gwynn declined to reveal his plans.
Regardless, expect agent Scott Boras, an Orange County resident who will represent Strasburg, to be seated behind the backstop screen when the 6-foot-4 right-hander starts firing his 100-mph fastball.
"I don't think there's any debate," Irvine Coach Mike Gillespie said. "This is one tough regional." Maybe the toughest in the 64-team tournament.
"It's a very, very strange combination to put four teams together like this on one weekend -- and we all know the story," Virginia Coach Brian O'Connor said after his team practiced Thursday. "No. 1 team in the country, ACC champion, greatest pitcher in the history of college baseball and the defending national champion.
"So if you love baseball and you want to watch talent, this is a pretty good spot to be."
Senior shortstop Ben Orloff, the Big West Conference player of the year, leads a 43-13 Irvine team vying for its second College World Series appearance in three years.
Fresno State (32-28) could not be more comfortable in its role as the fourth-seeded team in the regional.
Last year, the Bulldogs occupied the same spot at Long Beach, where they started a postseason run that ended in a dog pile near the mound at Omaha's Rosenblatt Stadium after they defeated Georgia for the College World Series title.
Fresno State earned its bid, and a matchup against top-ranked Irvine, by winning the Western Athletic Conference tournament at Hawaii.
"You get through that first [regional] game and anything can happen," Fresno second baseman Danny Muno said.
San Diego State (40-21) is in a regional for the first time since 1991, a goal that Strasburg said was the focus of Gwynn's recruiting pitch.
"All these guys have heard that spiel," said Gwynn, a San Diego State alumnus who starred for the San Diego Padres before becoming the Aztecs' coach in 2003. "This is where you hope to get, and now that we've gotten there, we'll see how far we can go."
Virginia (43-12-1), winner of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, boasts the highest team batting average (.333) and lowest earned-run average (3.33) in the regional.
Meantime, up the freeway, Cal State Fullerton (42-14) will host a regional that features three teams largely unfamiliar with a Titans program making its 18th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.
A 10-member NCAA Division I baseball committee that included Fullerton Athletic Director Brian Quinn refrained from the tradition of stacking Southland or West Coast teams in the same regional.
Fullerton, seeded second nationally, opens against Utah (26-29). The Utes made the field for the first time since 1960 by winning the Mountain West Conference tournament. They have played Fullerton only once, in 1976.
Georgia Southern (42-15), winner of the Southern Conference tournament, has never played Fullerton.
Gonzaga (35-16) earned its bid by defeating Loyola Marymount to win the West Coast Conference's automatic berth. Gonzaga last played Fullerton in 1995.