Open the Gates

Artist rendering of USD's Fowler Park


In 2007, the University of San Diego baseball program had what could only be described as an explosive year. The team celebrated its first 40-win season, was ranked as high as No. 4 in the nation, had three players drafted to the major leagues and earned the right to host an NCAA Baseball Regional, bringing one to San Diego for the first time in college baseball history.

But the tournament wasn’t played on the Toreros home field, which was deemed too small to accommodate the big event. Instead, the Toreros were forced to host at San Diego State University’s Tony Gwynn Stadium, which was ranked by Baseball America as the second-best park in the nation’s western half.

“We are happy to be able to assist USD in its effort to host an NCAA Baseball Regional at San Diego State. Their play this season certainly warrants the opportunity to obtain a home-field advantage in the NCAA tournament, and we believe it is important for San Diego State to be a good neighbor,” explained then-SDSU Athletics Director Jeff Schemmel.

Fast-forward five years to this season, and the baseball program remains strong. Even more exciting than the team’s record, however, is the news that plans are moving forward on a new baseball facility — Fowler Park and Cunningham Field — which was made possible by a gift by Ron and Alexis Fowler. The new park will break ground at the end of May and will open in February 2013.

USD Board of Trustees chair Ron Fowler, who played high school baseball and had hopes of playing college baseball had it not been for a knee injury, says athletics programs go a long way toward raising the profile of a university and building alumni pride and alumni involvement.

“The baseball facility at USD wasn’t consistent with the quality of the team and the reputation of the program,” Fowler says. “With a new facility I think USD can achieve great things.”

Sophomore Mike Wagner, the team’s closer, can’t wait to set foot on the new pitcher’s mound. “The new facilities look amazing,” he says. “I feel like we have the chance to go a long way this year. We want to be a great team going into this stadium, live up to our potential and know we are a team that deserves a stadium of that caliber.”

Third baseman Kris Bryant, now a sophomore at USD, first visited the campus in 2008 as a sophomore in high school. He recalls watching Josh Romanski — a pitcher and centerfielder — who was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers just a few months later. “We’ve had some top-notch players,” Bryant says, “but I can’t begin to imagine the talent we’ll get once we have a new stadium.”

Fowler Park is just one component of the Drive for Torero Success, a $30 million endeavor that also includes plans for a softball/golf and club sports facility, the renovation of the Skip and Cindy Hogan Tennis Center, as well as operational and scholarship endowments. Roger Manion, assistant vice president for facilities management, came to USD in 1971.

At that time there were no women’s teams and only three men’s teams. The football field didn’t have lights until the coach made a side deal with SDG&E, the basketball team played in a community gym and then-baseball coach John Cunningham built a baseball diamond without any real budget.

Manion says what is now the Sports Center was originally a residence for Catholic priests before it was repurposed. There were growing pains as priests made way for coaches to set up offices in what used to be bedrooms, and coaches trying to discuss game-time strategies in their offices while priests played pianos in their living rooms down the hall.

Today, the growing pains still exist. The Jenny Craig Pavilion, which opened in 2000, only houses 10 percent of USD’s student-athletes and 12 percent of the athletics staff.

“Our offices are spread out over five different areas,” says Athletics Director Ky Snyder. “Nine of our 17 sports don’t have locker rooms. Sports is about teamwork, it’s about camaraderie and our facilities make functioning difficult, and make recruiting a challenge. We didn’t need another Band-Aid, we needed a master plan.”

Dave Shaffer, chair of the athletics subcommittee for USD’s Board of Trustees, is proud to help transform the athletics master plan from vision to reality. “We’re voting on and supporting initiatives that won’t come to fruition until after we’ve left,” Shaffer says. “We may not be there for the ribbon cuttings, but we know that we’re improving the experience for everyone who comes after us.”

The Toreros have been a major force across all sports in recent years and earned the West Coast Conference Commissioner’s Cup again in 2011 — marking the first time in conference history that a school has won the cup four times, let alone four years in a row. Winning creates excitement and builds momentum. For fans, it creates expectations. And for players — who travel all over the country playing in top-notch facilities — it leads to questions about how much longer USD can remain competitive against programs that have so much more.

“Athletes see the rec centers at places like Gonzaga and Santa Clara,” Snyder says. “They know about the softball facility at Loyola Marymount University. They want to know why those guys have facilities that we don’t have. What do I tell them? Now I can tell them that we have a plan.”

It’s a master plan that provides more locker rooms, gives athletes state-of-the-art equipment, allows coaches and staff to move out of cramped quarters and gives the golf team a short course so players don’t have to drive to local courses to practice.

“We’ve done pretty well athletically, but we can do better,” says Snyder. “We’re not a pro factory, but we turn out pro athletes. With these new facilities, there’s no telling how far we can go.” — Krystn Shrieve