Generous donors Ron and Alexis Fowler cut the blue ribbon Friday night under the archway entrance that’s done in 16th century Spanish Renaissance-inspired architecture and bears their name. Former coach John Cunningham was emotionally moved Saturday when his No. 33 jersey was unveiled on the outfield wall and retired while many of his former players were lined up on the field. Sunday, community day, brought out families, military and even San Diego Mayor Bob Filner.
People purchased baseball hats and shirts at the souvenir stand, ate a hot dog, a barbecued brat and snacked on Kettlecorn. Energized children ran and ran and ran around the bases on the mini-replica baseball field on the Torero Deck all weekend. The Toreros wore different uniforms each day, including military camouflague jerseys on Sunday.
“It was awesome as far as the environment goes,” Toreros Coach Rich Hill said. “We’ve never seen that before in San Diego. It was great.”
The only thing missing were USD baseball victories. Crosstown rival San Diego State swept the 12th-ranked Toreros in the season-opening series for both teams. The Aztecs won 8-1 on Friday night, 4-2 on Saturday night and 5-3 on Sunday afternoon.
The Toreros were in a position to win in the bottom of the ninth inning Saturday and Sunday, but came up empty. Saturday’s chance was derailed by a double play that ended at home plate. Sunday, with the bases loaded, no outs and USD’s 2-3-4 batters up, Louie Lechich, Kris Bryant and Connor Joe each struck out swinging, putting an exclamation on a weekend of early-season frustration.
“We’re a work in progress,” Hill said on Sunday. “[San Diego State] is a better team right now. This weekend had nothing to do with the team being nervous, or we were pressing because they wanted to do well in the new place. It’s as simple as this: San Diego State is a better team.”
The Aztecs, coached by Baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, achieved their objective. “Our guys were focused on the fact that there wasn’t much attention on us. The [Aztecs] wanted to prove that we have a pretty good club. We’ve been preaching to them all year that we have a chance to be a really good club and that the way you get respect is to go inside the white lines and get the job done. This weekend, I think we did a good job.”
The Aztecs looked comfortable at the plate — outhitting USD 32-20 with a 10-4 extra-base hits advantage — on the mound and defensively, in which they committed only one error all weekend.
The Toreros, meanwhile, got only three innings from Friday’s starting pitcher Dylan Covey. He gave up six runs (five earned) on eight hits. Michael Wagner went six innings, struck out eight and gave up three runs on eight hits Saturday. Sunday’s starter, Max McNabb, went five innings, struck out six and gave up five runs (three earned) on six hits.
Aside from shortstop Logan Davis’s six hits — three each on Friday and Sunday — and the team’s 16 walks in the series, couldn’t capitalize. Joe and Lucas Hagberg had two RBI apiece. Two of USD’s runs Sunday were scored on wild pitches. The defense committed seven errors in three games.
The Aztecs never trailed. They scored two runs in the first inning of both Friday and Saturday’s games and had a three-run outburst in the third inning on Sunday. Time and again, USD couldn’t catch a break or deliver the big hit to add to the already festive atmosphere in the ballpark. The sweep was the first time USD had lost its opening three games since Cal Poly San Luis Obispo did it in 2005.
Following Sunday’s loss, Davis tried to put the weekend into perspective. “The atmosphere was awesome and we’re blessed to have the facility we have now, but we have to earn it. We’re still getting used to it. It’s early and we have a lot of things to figure out. But USD’s program has a culture of fighting, always working hard and that’s what we’ll do. We’ll be ready to get back after it next weekend.”
The Toreros seek their first Fowler Park win this weekend as they’ll host Kent State, a 2012 College World Series participant. Friday’s game is at 6 p.m., Saturday’s doubleheader begins at 1 p.m. and Sunday’s finale is also at 1 p.m.
— Ryan T. Blystone