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Tuesday, May 29, 2007 | When the NFL recently awarded the 2011 Super Bowl to Dallas over Indianapolis, San Diego was never in contention to host its fourth Super Bowl.
No city leaders have had the vision needed to build a new stadium to house the Chargers, San Diego State, college bowl games and the future Super Bowls.
On a much smaller financial-windfall scale, let’s look at college baseball.
No one in San Diego had the vision to build a facility suitable of hosting an NCAA regional until Padres owner John Moores donated funds to build Tony Gwynn Stadium, named for the Hall-of-Famer who played for the Padres and SDSU and now coaches his alma mater.
Moores built it, and the NCAA regionals have come, to paraphrase the movie “Field of Dreams.”
I’ve always thought that line from the movie corny, but in this case, it’s been proven true. The NCAA tournament might even be here twice on consecutive weekends.
The University of San Diego, ranked No. 5 in the nation, is the No. 1 seed for the four-team, double-elimination regional that begins Friday with the Toreros facing Fresno State and Minnesota meeting Cal State Fullerton.
But the Toreros, gathered Monday morning at Jenny Craig Pavilion to watch the NCAA tournament selection show on ESPN, also learned they were awarded the No. 8 national seed.
USD head coach Rich Hill, who walked the room with the enthusiasm equal to his college-aged players, beamed, pumped his arms and thrust a fist into an open palm.
What the No. 8 national seed means is that, if the Toreros win their regional, they stay “home” the following weekend at SDSU to host the NCAA Super Regional for the right to advance to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
“To even think about being a No. 1 seed a few months ago was a dream,” Hill said. “Then we were thinking about hosting, and that came about. People were throwing our name around with Texas, Rice, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and North Carolina. It was special to see our name up there today.”
Moores built it, and USD and San Diego college baseball in general can thank SDSU’s athletic director, Jeff Schemmel, and Gwynn for not standing in the way. Previous small-minded San Diego civic leaders and SDSU administrators might have done so.
USD’s picturesque Cunningham Stadium only seats 1,200, so the Toreros asked SDSU for permission to bid for the NCAA regional at 3,000-seat Tony Gwynn Stadium.
“Jeff Schemmel and Tony Gwynn have shown extreme class and sportsmanship,” Hill said. “We’re educators and we talk about working together to achieve a common goal in our profession. That’s what those guys did. They see the big picture. They see we can get 2,500 to 3,000 fans into Tony Gwynn Stadium, and many of those fans have never seen a college game before.
“When you walk into that stadium, your jaw drops; for me it does, every time. It’s a great place to play baseball and to watch baseball.”
Some SDSU fans might complain that the Aztecs are aiding their rival, but having the NCAA in town benefits both the SDSU and USD programs, which feature homegrown recruited talent. ESPN is planning to televise some of the San Diego games, which benefits USD and SDSU if recruits are watching.
USD has two of the finest left-handed pitchers in the nation in sophomores Brian Matusz and Josh Romanski.
Matusz (10-3, 2.73 ERA) turned down a $1 million signing bonus as a fourth-round draft pick by the Los Angeles Angels coming out of high school at St. Mary’s of Cave Creek (Ariz.) in 2005 to play for USD.
Romanski (9-1, 3.16 ERA and batting .336 as the regular center fielder) turned down a chance to sign with the Padres coming out of Norco High in Corona, as a 15th-round pick.
“This is huge for us to be home,” Matusz said. “We don’t have to travel and we’ll have our local fans. We never thought about having a home regional. We’re in a spot to do something great.”
Hill, in his ninth season at USD, has grown the program so fast, it has exceeded plans to fundraise and expand Cunningham Stadium. I light-heartedly mentioned to Matusz that he might someday be in position to spearhead fundraising efforts if he becomes a successful major leaguer.
“That would be nice,” he said. “I hope I’m in that position some day.”
Moores took care of that for San Diego State when no one else in San Diego had vision.