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Trib: 'The Red' had its moments for USF baseball


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'The Red' had its moments for USF baseball


46408_0512mcewenfield2.jpg


By SCOTT CARTER | The Tampa Tribune

The place doesn't exactly inspire majestic wonder like, say, Fenway Park or Wrigley Field.

In fact, it's easy to imagine someone could drive down Bull Run Drive on the University of South Florida campus and not give Red McEwen Field a second glance.

"The Red," as they call it around campus, has been the USF baseball team's home since 1967. It's an intimate and modest ballpark by today's standards - some might even say that's a kind description - for a Big East Conference program such as USF.

The place can hold about 2,500 fans, but make sure to bring your own seat back, because The Red consists mostly of metal bleachers. Up until a few years ago, it wasn't that unusual to see a player waiting in line for the restroom behind a guy holding a beer, since the dugouts didn't have bathrooms attached.

The Red might not be a modern marvel such as the new Yankee Stadium, but it certainly has had moments worth savoring.

Derek Jeter called it home when he won the 1994 Florida State League MVP award playing for the Tampa Yankees. One of his teammates that year was a guy named Mariano Rivera. In the late 1970s and early '80s, late Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts manned the home dugout as USF's coach.

More recently, Bulls right-hander Randy Fontanez did something not even Rivera did at The Red: he threw a no-hitter. Fontanez tossed his gem March 26 against Notre Dame.

"There have been a lot of great memories there, a lot of great games there, and a lot of great players played there," Bulls coach Lelo Prado said. "It's a sad day that The Red is going, but it's a great day for the future of our baseball program. We're in a hotbed of baseball, so we have to do this if we ever want to get to the next level."

The Bulls officially check out of The Red this weekend after a three-game series against Big East foe Connecticut. The final game is Sunday afternoon at 1.

Originally named the USF Baseball Stadium, The Red was born in March 1977 when USF officials renamed it after James "Red" McEwen, a longtime Tampa civic leader and Hillsborough County State Attorney. McEwen didn't attend USF - he was a running back at the University of Florida and later attended UF's law school - but he worked tirelessly to promote USF after he settled in Tampa.

McEwen's brother, former Tampa Tribune sports editor Tom McEwen, recalls attending the dedication ceremony with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner a few months after his brother died.

"It was a big deal," McEwen said. "(Red) had always supported the university, and they respected him. It was a delight they named it after him. He was a good man."

The night Steinbrenner and McEwen attended the dedication ceremony, they stood under lights that Steinbrenner had donated the previous year. The first night game at the stadium was Feb. 25, 1977, an 8-7 USF win against the University of Tampa.

There were other upgrades over the years. A concession stand was added in 1982, a press box in 1983, and a new lighting system in 1997.

In recent years, USF officials have worked to improve the school's facilities, and a new baseball stadium was near the top of the list.

"I think what (former coach) Eddie Cardieri, Robin Roberts before him, and Coach Prado have been able to achieve in a very marginal college baseball stadium is pretty remarkable," USF executive associate athletic director Bill McGillis said.

McGillis said the Red McEwen name will be retained in some capacity when USF opens a new 2,500-seat stadium next spring. Demolition of the current stadium and construction of the new facility are scheduled to start the second week of June.

"We think this will be the best college facility in the state of Florida," McGillis said. "There will be bigger facilities, but in terms of sight lines, proximity to the field, the overall venue, we don't think this facility is going to take a back seat to anybody."

Before the first pitch is thrown in the new ballpark, USF wants to give Red McEwen Field one last salute. The school has invited former players and coaches back for an on-field ceremony before Saturday night's game.

David McEwen, a St. Petersburg attorney, plans to make it out for the final weekend at the old ballpark named after his father. If his father had been around for the past 34 years, David said Red would be fine with a piece of history fading away.

"I don't think Red would be sad," he said. "He lives on in the memory of so many people he touched, not by having a building named after him."

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lol @ most of the comments on facebook about this story being along the lines of "Good riddance tear it down already!"

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i didnt get an invite to come back on the field

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i didnt get an invite to come back on the field

should tell you something :-)

but serious, you should contact kemel thompson in the AD, if you are interested, there are events for the baseball alumni Friday night at game and Saturday day (golf) and night at the game.

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i cant make it up there. im down in fort lauderdale. was just up for my bros graduation last weekend.

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Here's Greg's article:

May 13, 2010

USF Bulls baseball team bidding farewell to Red McEwen Field

By Greg Auman, Times Staff Writer

The baseball team plays its last series at Red McEwen Field this weekend after 43 years.

TAMPA - Before the Big East, before even the NCAA, before football and basketball came to USF's campus, there was a dusty baseball field with a chain-link fence the Bulls called home.

"That first time, we felt like we were walking into Yankee Stadium," said Marvin Sherzer, ace right-hander for the Bulls from 1966-69, who remembers USF wearing blue pinstripes, before the current days of green and gold.

For the past 43 years, it has been the home of USF baseball, the last 33 as Red McEwen Field. But this weekend, the Bulls will play their final series at the Red, hosting Connecticut as a farewell before a new stadium is constructed just down the rightfield line.

"It's something that we've needed to do for a long, long time," USF coach Lelo Prado said. "You've got to have it if you're going to make a run at things. You're sad to see something go, but I'm glad it's going to happen."

In truth, baseball was never king on USF's campus. In 1967, when the Bulls moved into the stadium, soccer and swimming were the big sports. Players proudly remember modest crowds in the single set of bleachers that sat behind home plate.

"If we got 50 fans, we were fortunate," said John Jolinski, 63, a centerfielder who now lives in Orlando. "We got the girlfriends and parents that cheered for you, but we didn't get many spectators. The grass was crabgrass, the wind was really bad, but the camaraderie was great. You were playing for the enjoyment of the game."

USF's attitude toward intercollegiate athletics was much more adversarial then - the university did not allow games during the week, and road trips were capped at 48 hours. USF was not a member of the NCAA, and the school's president, John Stuart Allen, explained why not.

"They just police the games, and why should we pay the expense just to follow the rules," he told the St. Petersburg Times in 1968. "Besides, we can't win national championships if we just play on Saturdays."

It was five years before the Bulls played a game outside Florida, a full decade before Yankees owner George Steinbrenner donated lights to allow for night games. It was renamed in 1977 for James "Red" McEwen, a former Hillsborough County state attorney and civic leader. Prior to his death in 1976, McEwen, brother of former Tampa Tribune sports editor Tom McEwen, had worked extensively to establish and promote USF.

"It was just the beginning," Steve Bledsoe, 61, an infielder in 1967 who works for the State Attorney's Office in Jacksonville, said of the field.

Phillies ace and Hall of Famer Robin Roberts, who died last week, coached the Bulls there for nine seasons from 1977-85. The Florida State League's Tampa Yankees called the Red home in 1994-95 while Steinbrenner Field was being built, with Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera among those who played there.

The stadium has seen modest upgrades in its 43 years - more stands, a press box, concessions - but nothing like what the Bulls will have next spring, with a stadium estimated at $8 million, with 2,000 seatbacks and up to 4,000 capacity for tournaments.

As they bid farewell to Red McEwen Field - the school has invited all former players back for Saturday's game - the new stadium is a source of excitement, with the hopes that better facilities can help the Bulls in recruiting, elevating a program that hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since 2002.

"We don't need the biggest in the state. We just need a nice one," said Prado, who saw the impact of a new stadium as coach at Louisville in 2005. "I know our guys are excited."

USF (22-27, 13-8 Big East), limited by injuries and inconsistency all season, is fifth in the league with six games left. Prado is optimistic a strong finish can build momentum heading into the Big East tournament, May 26-30 at Clearwater's Bright House Field.

"I'm just hoping we can do something to get them started and see if we can make a little run," he said.

Times staff writer Greg Auman can be reached at auman@sptimes.com.

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I love that place

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