Sunday, February 17, 2013

Fowler Park Opens, John Cunningham honored, and other random stuff...

San Diego showed itself quite nicely this weekend, with the unveiling of the brand new Fowler Park and Cunningham field at USD.  The Toreros were swept by Tony Gwynn's Aztecs in three games at the new facility.   More about that later. 

I was blown away upon entering the new park Friday night, to get ready to host Fox Sports San Diego's pre-game coverage, the place looked like a stadium.  Navy blue seats (1700 in all), clean, wide concrete concourses, beautiful green grass, perfectly shaded brown dirt on the infield, bright white chalk lines and a smile a mile wide by the stadium's namesake and the school's Athletic Director Ky Snyder. 

The 38 week project had it's troubling moments, from weather delays to just normal construction delays, and without a noticeable hitch, Fowler Park opened on time and with a great crowd on hand.  Fowler and Snyder were seen roaming the field before the opening ceremonies and just taking it all in.  Fowler admitted to me during our interview on Fox, that he was blown away by how well the stadium turned out.   Snyder admitted to some nervous moments in the days leading up to the opening, but was like a proud new papa during the ceremonies and first game.  Kudos to the folks at USD for doing it right and giving this community a state of the art facility.   A big "thanks" also to the Fowlers, Ron and Alexis, a "power couple" in our community, that truly knows the meaning of giving back.  Mr. Fowler told me that he and his wife feel very fortunate to have made a great living in San Diego, and to give back to the universities in town is a no brainer.  

Here are a couple of random photos from the last week around the Fowler Park project. 

From the first night practice at Fowler Park

View from 3rd Base Dugout on opening night         
John Cunningham Field
While Ron and Alexis Fowler stepped up to the plate to make the new ballpark possible it was great to see that the playing field itself, named for the long time baseball coach, and 50 year employee of USD, John Cunningham.  "JC" as he is affectionately called, was beaming even on Friday night at the marvel of this new stadium.  The 75 year old, Cunningham didn't have this facility as a recruiting tool, and still managed to win over 800 games in a 35 year coaching career.  The Toreros retired Cunningham's number 33 in ceremonies before Saturday night's game, and replica's of the jersey that JC and his team's wore, were recreated by Nike, and worn before Saturday's game.  High praise, and well deserved. 

Cunningham still serves the school as it's Director of Transportation, meaning if there's an athletic team that needs to get to a game within driving distance or to or from the airport, JC is the man to get them there and back.  You might want to give a friendly toot of the horn to JC the next time you see him driving the big blue Torero bus on the streets and freeways in Southern California. 

Cunningham is truly a wonderful human being.  I can't tell you how many times on various USD road trips (for those that don't know, I call the USD Men's basketball games on radio), I've had the pleasure of dining with him to hear him tell stories.  These are magnificent stories, filled with names that many sports fans will recognize, oh, like Bill Russell, and Wilt Chamberlain.  While these names may conjure up images for some of us, JC knew these guys, he played basketball with Russell at USF, and against Chamberlain while "Wilt the stilt" was at Kansas.   JC is not a name dropper, it's just that he happened to get to rub elbows with these "guys" that just happened to be famous.  

After 50 years at the school, you would think that JC's enthusiasm for coming to work may be draining, and you would be wrong.  Cunningham is up on everything that is going on in the athletic department at USD, and for that matter with the Padres, the Clippers, the Lakers and other Southern California teams.  I've tried to convert him into a hockey fan, with minimal succes.  I like to get to our bus trips early to allow time to chat with JC.  He'll ask me about the basketball game from the night before and not just general things.  He gets specific and I appreciate his insight into things.  We will talk about some of the players he's coached and how they remind him of some of the current players. 

Oh and by the way, don't challenge him to a round of golf.  He routinely shoots his age or better at his home course near Escondido   I was recently told about a time where Cunningham shot a hole in one on a medium length par 3, the guys in the group were all amazed.  Everyone else in the foursome applauded and couldn't believe it.  JC however was very matter of fact when telling the group, he had holed out in one on this same hole a few days earlier.  Incredible, but not as incredible as the man himself. 

Tony Gwynn
As long as I'm heaping praise, I don't want to forget about seeing Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn on Friday night as well.  He was obviously getting ready to lead his Aztecs onto the field and time was short, but Tony found some time to catch up.  Gwynn says he is feeling good, and couldn't wait for the baseball season to get going again for a couple of reasons.  First, he loves coaching and he loves his alma mater.  Secondly, it gives him something else to think about other than his health.  It was great to see him. 

Spring has sprung...
Pitchers and catchers reported to Peoria as Padres spring training got underway last week.  There hasn't been a ton of news out of camp yet, which is not a bad thing.  The biggest issue was the arrival of Yasmani Grandal.  The catcher who is suspended for the first 50 games of the season, was implicated in a PED investigation at a Miami area clinic a few weeks ago.  Grandal addressed his teammates and issued what some called a sincere apology.  He then read a prepared statement to the media.  Click here to read Corey Brock's story on Grandal and the statement. 

The Padres also announced they've avoided arbitration with the lone remaning unsigned player, Clayton Richard.  He inks a 1 year deal worth a reported $5.25 million.

Random stuff...

- More worthless the NBA All-Star game or the NFL Pro-Bowl?  Neither features much defense.  I have to give the nod to the NBA game because it features Craig Sager and his hideous jackets.  Who looks in a mirror and says, "man I look great tonight" wearing what he doe? 

- How about my Blackhawks?  Best team in the NHL, off to a 12-0-3 start, grabbing a point in every game they've played to this point.  Enjoyed watching them take care of the Kings again today!  Sorry Kings fans.   Still a game at the United Center (and previously at the Chicago Stadium) is great to be a part of, but make sure you get there early.  There is no better National Anthem in sports.  Trust me.  

- Speaking of the United Center, or the house that Michael Jordan built, happy birthday to #23, who turned 50 today.  I saw many of his games as a fan, and had the privilege of covering him during the 1997 and 1998 seasons.  For a superstar he was a media members dream.  He would take a little time to address us after a game, but would make it worth our while.  Jordan would routinely answer questions for upwards of 30 minutes, to make sure every last person there had a chance to ask his "airness" a question.  An amazing athlete that was so driven to compete it was scary.  I feel so lucky to have grown up watching the greatest player to ever play the game.  Even Magic Johnson admitted that yesterday.  He did say, and I agree with him, that he and Larry Bird rescued the game of basketball, and then said that Michael took it internationally and to a whole new level.  Happy Birthday MJ! 

- USD Basketball begins it's final road trip of the regular season, with a Thursday night game at Portland, then on Saturday the Toreros will be in Spokane to face Gonzaga.  Please join me at 7pm on Thursday and at 4pm Saturday for the games on "The Mighty 1090".  

I'll leave you with a quote from my all time favorite sit-com, "Seinfeld", figured it was appropriate with Spring Training starting and all...from George Costanza interacting with Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams during batting practice at Yankee Stadium...

[At Yankees batting practice
George Costanza: Guys, hitting is not about muscle. It's simple physics. Calculate the velocity, v, in relation to the trajectory, t, in which g, gravity, of course remains a constant. 
[Hits a home run
George Costanza: It's not complicated. 
Derek Jeter: Now, who are you again? 
George Costanza: George Costanza, assistant to the traveling secretary. 
Bernie Williams: Are you the guy who put us in that Ramada in Milwaukee? 
George Costanza: Do you wanna talk about hotels, or do you wanna win some ball games? 
Derek Jeter: We won the World Series. 
George Costanza: In six games. 
Good night all!


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