SAN DIEGO – The University of San Diego finally has a sweet little ballpark to match its national reputation, even if construction workers have to hammer, saw and paint right up until the first pitch tonight.
Fowler Park more than rivals Tony Gwynn Stadium, the jewel nestled onto San Diego State’s campus a few miles to the east.
“It’s like going to Disneyland,” said Rich Hill, who is entering his 15th season as coach and has led the Toreros to five West Coast Conference titles and seven NCAA regional appearances. “I mean, the attention to detail throughout the structure, it’s crazy. I’ve never seen anything like this.”
The ballpark cost $13.8 million, the bulk of which was donated by Ron Fowler, the executive chairman of the San Diego Padres, and his wife, Alexis. Fowler, who’s made a fortune from his beer distributorships, also is chairman of USD’s board of trustees and has a daughter who graduated from the university.
Fowler Park opens under the lights tonight with the first of a three-game series against SDSU, which is coached by Gwynn.
The nationally ranked Toreros are led by third baseman Kris Bryant and right-hander Michael Wagner, both juniors.
It was built in just more than nine months on the site of Cunningham Stadium, which was embarrassingly basic for such a good program. Tucked into a natural bowl-like setting, it had no lights, simple dugouts and metal bleachers that stretched 34 rows uphill, with no handrails.
“Let’s just say the playing field itself was the best part of it,” Fowler said.
Hill feels he now has the best college ballpark on the West Coast, maybe in the country, one that’s suitable for hosting NCAA regionals and super regionals. That’s a good thing, because when USD hosted the first NCAA regional ever played in San Diego, in 2007, it was at Tony Gwynn Stadium because USD’s field was so sub-par.