Chancellor Emeritus Ralph Cicerone
Chancellor Emeritus Ralph Cicerone throws the first pitch during the May 19 field dedication ceremony. Eveline Shih-Pitcairn

For those who know his love of the sport, it comes as no surprise that UC Irvine’s baseball field has been named in honor of Chancellor Emeritus Ralph Cicerone.

Cicerone was a driving force behind the return of the baseball program in 2002 and the refurbishing of Anteater Ballpark. In recognition of his efforts, he was invited to throw the ceremonial first pitch at the Anteaters’ initial home game that year.

And on May 19 he did it again, as Cicerone – who moved to Washington in 2005 to head the National Academy of Sciences – returned to Irvine to be honored for his contributions to the university and its baseball program.

Before the UCI-UCLA baseball game at Anteater Ballpark, Chancellor Michael Drake welcomed the crowd to the dedication ceremony and expressed gratitude to Cicerone and his wife, Carol, for endowing a graduate fellowship in earth system science earlier in the day. Then Drake and athletics director Michael Izzi presented the former chancellor with a customized Anteater baseball jersey and unveiled the diamond’s new name: Cicerone Field.

“Ralph had a wonderful vision of what baseball at UCI could be, and that vision has come true with the support and success of the team,” Drake said.

“This is a lot of fun,” Cicerone said of the dedication activities. “And it’s a tremendous honor to continue to be associated with UCI’s baseball program.”

The dedication of Cicerone Field is part of a $2 million effort to expand and improve Anteater Ballpark. The plan includes increasing chaired seating from 900 to 2,500, building a permanent press box and concession stands, and renovating the scoreboard.

With this build-out, the facility will be able to host NCAA regional baseball playoff games, which will come in handy, as the Anteaters enter postseason play ranked No. 1 in the country.

And they have no greater supporter than Cicerone. Although best known for his research on climate change, Cicerone loved baseball before discovering science – and long before becoming a noted scientist and administrator. As a sports-crazy kid in rural Pennsylvania, he chose to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the early ’60s partly because he could also play baseball there.

After establishing himself as a professor, Cicerone got the chance in 1980 to be an announcer for the San Diego Padres. The game’s allure was almost too much to resist. “I had to think: Do I really want to do this? And I came very close to saying, ‘Yes, this is what I want to do.’ It was a real decision point,” he said in a 1999 UCi magazine profile.

Baseball’s loss is the world’s gain, as Cicerone is still a leading expert on the causes of global climate change, and the National Academy of Sciences has an important advisory role in the Obama administration.

“Ralph has an incredible passion for UCI baseball, and he has always been our team’s No. 1 fan,” said Izzi. “It’s a privilege to have athletics associated with our former chancellor.”