FEATURE: For one night, Big A is a Titans dream field

Starting pitcher Mikiah Negrete and third baseman Eli Lopez, both sophomores, played key roles for the Cal State Fullerton baseball team this season.

By Bill Sheehan

As he prepares to face UCLA on Friday night, Cal State throws Fullerton an ace Mikiah Negrete know that this won’t be a typical game. Instead of the game taking place at Goodwin Field or Jackie Robinson Stadium at 6 p.m., it will be held at Angel Stadium.

“This is a great event, with an atmosphere that is difficult to create anywhere else. It’s a blessing that the schools put it on,” said Negrete, a second-year lefthander. “A lot of us see the Big A as the kind of venue we want to play at one day.”

Eli Lopez, the Titans’ third baseman, has similar thoughts. “Playing in a big league park is special. This will be a good opportunity for the team. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Fullerton and UCLA have both struggled this season. The Titans, who are 13-28 overall and 5-16 in the Big West, have lost seven straight games. The Bruins have lost nine of their last 10 and are 14-28 overall and 6-18 in the Pac-12. The evening at the Angel Stadium should provide unforgettable moments for both teams.

“The players are excited to have the opportunity to play in a Major League stadium. The score will be 0-0 at the start and both teams will compete and enjoy the moment,” said Jason Dietrichwho led Fullerton to the NCAA Tournament last season.

The Angels organization led the effort to set up the game, said Greg Paules, Fullerton’s senior associate athletics director. “The Angels are hosting more college and high school games. We have a great partnership with the Angels and this is an opportunity to expand both of our fan bases. Playing on a bigger stage will be a cool experience.”

All fans in attendance will receive a free voucher for a future Angels home game. The teams will also compete at Fullerton on Saturday at 4pm and at UCLA on Sunday at 2pm.

It’s been 25 years since the Titans last played in the Big A. On April 4, 1999, the Angels defeated Cal State Fullerton 2-1 in an exhibition game before 17,745 fans. Fullerton graduate Kevin Costner played seven innings at shortstop and pitched to two batters in the eighth, striking out one.

Dietrich, who is in his third season at Fullerton, said it has been a year of growth. The team lost several key players from last year’s playoff team.

“We have a lot of new guys, and they’re still learning how to win and become more consistent. Sometimes the guys try to do too much. But they’re gaining valuable experience. Growing and maturing is what Division 1 baseball is all about. “

Have the players given up on the season? No way, Lopez and Negrete said.

“We’re in a little bit of trouble, that happens in baseball,” said Lopez, a sophomore from Whittier. “We have to stay positive, keep competing and remember why we play this game: it’s fun.”

The Titans just have to get after it, said Negrete, who is from Oceanside and is called Kai by his family and teammates. “Every time we step on the field it is an opportunity to win and improve.”


The 6-foot-2 Lopez had a promising freshman year for the Titans, hitting .311 while starting 11 games, mostly at second base. This season, he moved to third baseman, hit .300 and led the team in runs (28), hits (48) and doubles (10), while taking first place.

“Eli is a grinder and plays with passion,” said Dietrich. “He’s done a great job this year. He can play second, shortstop third. He’s solid at third, he’s playing hard and learning the position.”

Lopez said he feels more comfortable in the hot corner. “The angles are different. The ball comes in faster, but it can also come in slower. It was a challenge that pushed me to get better.”

His father, Gabe, played baseball at San Jose State before being drafted by the New York Yankees. As a second baseman, he rose to the AA level in the Yankees minor league system for six years.

“He’s given me some good advice over the years,” Lopez said. “He always reminded me to keep my head up and play the game hard. He played it really hard. I try to play like every game like it’s my last game. And I’ve learned to be a good teammate and enjoy the experience.” It’s a game and it’s supposed to be fun.”

Eli Lopez in high school

In Los Altos high in Hacienda Heights, Eli Lopez was First Team All-League as a junior and senior.

Gabe, co-head coach for special education and baseball at Los Altos High School in Hacienda Heights, said he didn’t pressure his son to play baseball. “He has always done his own thing. All I can do is share my experiences. My wife and I support him. As a father sitting in the stands, it was fun.”

Lopez started playing T-ball as a four-year-old and participated in youth football and soccer. But he opted for a baseball career and moved up to the Little League and travel teams. At Los Altos High, he was First Team All-League as a junior and senior and was named the school’s Defensive MVP as a junior and Team MVP as a senior. Los Altos won a league championship his junior year, and he earned Second Team All-CIF as a senior.

Lopez wasn’t heavily recruited in high school. He attended a Cal State Fullerton prospects camp, where it was suggested he spend time in the weight room. In his second camp he made more of an impression.

“I love playing for Deets. He gave me the opportunity to compete. He is a very competitive man and knows what it takes to win. He doesn’t show any signs of giving up on us. He and the entire staff fight for us .” ”

Lopez’s mother, Laura, is an occupational therapist. He has an older sister, Destiny, and a younger one, Emma. Destiny studies child development at Long Beach State, and Emma is a freshman infielder for the University of Texas on the Arlington softball team.

He studied kinesiology and enjoys fishing in the ocean and hanging out with friends and family. The 19-year-old’s goal is to play professional baseball. Moving on, he would like to stay in the sport or work in athletics in general.


Negrete had transferred from the University of San Diego and it didn’t take long for him to attend. He became the Saturday starting pitcher in mid-February before being promoted to the Friday night starting job in early March.

Negrete, whose full name is pronounced muh-KAI-yah neh-GRET-ai, allowed one run in 6 2/3 innings in a 2-1 loss to 11th-ranked East Carolina on March 2. Six days later, in his first as a starter on Friday night, he gave up one run in six innings in a 12-2 win over Jacksonville. He has remained the Titans’ ace ever since.

“Kai decommitted in January and earned a weekend spot shortly thereafter. He then took over the Friday role in March. Since he didn’t throw much last year, he’s doing everything he can to compete and do his best,” said Dietrich. .

The 6-foot-2 Negrete has a fastball, slider and changeup in his repertoire. “I developed the slider this winter and it has been a mainstay in my arsenal. The change is a work in progress,” said Negrete, who is 4-3 with a 4.45 ERA. He leads the team in wins, innings pitched (62 2/3) and strikeouts (49).

“On Friday nights there are a lot more eyes on you, so there’s more pressure. On the plus side, I can build a weekly routine with the lifting and throwing programs. But I have to prove myself every time I take the mound.”

Max Ortega, the Titans’ second-year catcher, said Negrete has been an important figure for the Titans. “Kai certainly had an immediate role as a leader on the field and in the clubhouse.

“He’s done a good job of asserting himself as our Friday night guy. He attacks the hitters. When he’s on the mound, we always have a chance to win.”

“He controls the fastball well and can go in or out. And he keeps hitters off balance with his other pitches,” said Ortega, a Stockton native. “Off the field he is a good presence in the clubhouse and a friend, someone who lightens the mood.”

Mikiah Negrete in high school

Mikiah Negrete pitched and played first base at Servite High in Anaheim. He earned First Team All-League honors as a junior and senior.

Like Lopez, Negrete played T-ball and Little League before joining travel teams. He was a two-way player at Servite High in Anaheim, where he pitched and played first base. He earned First Team All-League and Team Most Valuable Pitcher honors as a junior and senior. Negrete had a 1.54 ERA in his senior year.

He also played water polo at Servite freshmen before going all-in on baseball as a sophomore.

Negrete spent his freshman year at the University of San Diego, where he had a 2-3 record and a 6.48 ERA as a reliever. “I didn’t feel like San Diego was a good fit for me,” said Negrete, who entered the transfer portal after the season. “Fullerton has checked all my wishes and I have had a great time being here. I love the team and the coaches, the field is beautiful and the fans are great.”

Negrete, 20, who wants to play professional football, is a pre-econ major. “I’m excited about the program,” he said.

His father, Eric, owns a commercial patio business, and his mother, Heather, is a homemaker. His older brother, Elijah, works at Mammoth Mountain.

Negrete enjoys backpacking with family members, especially in the Eastern Sierra. And he likes to spend time at the seaside. “I’ve been going to the beach all my life. I pretty much grew up there, and it’s a part of me.”


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WATCH THE TITANS ON ESPN+Titans fans can now watch every home event exclusively on ESPN+. Cal State Fullerton has built a premier production studio to provide viewers with ESPN quality production for all games at Titan Stadium. Additionally, all schools in the Big West Conference strive to produce ESPN-quality streams that allow fans to watch the Titans on ESPN+ for all road conference games.