In February 2013, the University of San Diego cut the ribbon and unveiled its newly redesigned ballpark, Fowler Park and Cunningham Field, to rave reviews. The USD stadium, with great amenities, lights and seating that brings fans closer to the action than ever before, has, in a short time, been just about everything USD Athletics Director Ky Snyder and baseball head coach Rich Hill hoped.
And now, in its second year, Fowler Park has experienced yet another major achievement.
On March 28 and 29, two Major League Baseball teams, the San Diego Padres and the Cleveland Indians, met in a pair of spring training games. The two-game series, in which the teams split, produced a lot of offense — Cleveland outscored San Diego 24-13 — and strong crowds on Friday night and Saturday afternoon.
“The weekend went well from all sides, including Major League Baseball and the university,” said Josh Lawrence, associate athletics director for facilities and operations. “While we recognize the impact the event had on our students and campus, this was a great honor for our university and an opportunity to bring people to our gorgeous campus. Well over 5,000 people attended the games, with many of them coming to our campus for the first time.”
“It’s a great ballpark, a first-rate facility,” said Black, who believes Fowler Park, along with Tony Gwynn Stadium at his college alma mater San Diego State, gives the local baseball community plenty to be proud of facility-wise.
“It’s wonderful, I think the sightlines are great, the fans are right on top of the action and it plays fair,” Black said about Fowler Park.
Francona, talking after Friday’s game, a 16-4 Indians victory, was all smiles.
“It’s a terrific ballpark … very, very nice,” he said. “They are (The University of San Diego baseball players) lucky.”
The offensive output was to Francona’s liking Friday. Several Indians had strong at-bats, including home runs by Yan Gomes, Carlos Santana and Asdrubal Cabrera, and Ryan Rabrun, who collected three hits and drove in four runs. The Indians scored seven runs in the first inning and did it again in the second to run away with it. Yonder Alonso hit a solo homer for the Padres.
Homers from Chase Headley and Seth Smith and a bases-clearing double by Alonso highlighted the Padres’ 9-8 victory on Saturday. Matt Carson hit two homers and Jason Kipnis had a solo shot for Cleveland.
This series gave USD a chance to showcase the ballpark to the community, including those who sat in the temporary seating sections that enable the university to seat more than 3,000 fans, a requirement in order to bid to host NCAA Regional and Super Regional postseason tournaments. The temporary seating was situated behind Section 8 and on the Torero Deck, which is located down the third-base line.
“The additional seating worked out perfectly,” Lawrence said. “It was a great way to provide more San Diego fans an opportunity to experience Major League Baseball in the finest college ballpark on the west coast! This weekend provided us the experience we needed when bidding on a regional or super regional. It showed that Fowler Park and the university are ready for an NCAA event!”
Fowler Park returns to its college baseball setting this week when USD hosts San Diego State at 6 p.m. Tuesday, followed by a weekend home West Coast Conference series pitting the Toreros against Gonzaga. Friday and Saturday’s games are at 6 p.m. and noon on Sunday.
— Ryan T. Blystone
All photos courtesy of Tim Mantoani