The voice of USF Athletics, Jim Louk, will routinely put down his radio headset and pick up the pen to share his perspective on the history of USF Athletics.
Louk has been broadcasting games for 27 years and is the resident historian in the Athletics Department hallways... So it only seems appropriate that on the final weekend of the current Red McEwen Field, Louk makes his writing debut, providing some Fond & Funny Memories of "The Red"
This weekend we say goodbye to the current version of Red McEwen Field, the venerable home of USF Baseball since 1967.
The new facility will be spectacular. But the old ballpark has been pretty good in its own way, and deserves a proper send off. There will be a lot of special events surrounding the games this weekend, so get there if you can.
A couple of weeks ago I was sifting through some old USF Baseball television broadcasts looking for some video of Ross Gload for a profile Brighthouse Sports Network was working on. I chose a USF/Ohio State game from 1996 and was lucky enough to find a Gload home run right away. But what really stayed with me after watching that 14-year-old tape was how amazingly similar the Red looked compared to how it is today.
Not much has changed over the years.
My first day at the Red was pretty memorable. I’d been assigned to do the broadcast on SportsChannel, a statewide cable TV outlet that was the forerunner of today’s Fox Sports and Sunshine. A pretty big assignment for a young kid, and one I was nervous about.
To my amazement, Frank Messer was assigned to work the game with me. I had grown up listening to Frank on New York Yankees broadcasts; he had recently retired to Florida and was taking free lance projects at that time.
My nerves instantly got worse.
I was in over my head, to say the least, that day. But Frank was the consummate professional and got me through without ever letting on his likely wonderment that he was working with a green amateur like me.
In the years since then, the ballpark has stayed quite the same as everything around it has changed. There have been a lot of great plays, and a lot of great players. It would be easy to do a list of the great USF athletes (Scott Hemond, Ross Gload) or “guys you never thought played at Red McEwen” (Derek Jeter, Pat Burrell).
For me, though, a ballpark brings back memories of smaller things, maybe more random things, and especially, the things that really made you laugh.
So here, in no particular order, are a few memories that will be going through my mind this weekend:
*A USF sports information person in the late ‘80s who wasn’t quite a baseball guy, and wasn’t cut out for the occasional four-hour extravaganza of baseball you sometimes get at the college level. One day a game was really dragging on as an opposing pitcher fiddled around on the mound, working more slowly with each passing moment. Finally, from the press box, the volcano blew. The staffer stood up and yelled “For the love of God, throw the ball!” Funny enough, but he also managed to say it in one of those rare moments of perfect baseball stadium silence. Yes, the whole ballpark heard it; as well as people driving by on Fowler Avenue. Possibly the pilots of some low flying planes as well. Of course it became a classic line in the press box for years.
*Red McEwen has one press box; no broadcast booths. So when doing radio play-by-play, you are often sitting right next to a staffer from the visiting team. I remember more than once the Bulls playing against a team that was just having a terrible day and having the guy next to me glare at me about the way I described the game. I never put down the headsets and said “YOUR TEAM IS AWFUL TODAY WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO SAY?” but I was close a couple of times.
*The time the sewer backed up, right in front of the visiting team dugout. At almost exactly the same moment, their radio broadcaster was knocked off the air when one of the less-than-trusty press box phone lines failed. Welcome to Tampa guys, can we schedule you again next year?
*Taping a broadcast open for SportsChannel with former USF pitcher Chris Welsh, who is now a Cincinnati Reds broadcaster. The visiting team was taking infield right behind us as we faced away from the field and toward the camera near the third base coaching box. A throw got away, and as we taped, the ball came right between us, at head level, somehow missed us both, missed the camera, and sailed harmlessly over a fence and completely out of the stadium. Greatest TV open ever filmed!
There’s a lot more….like when the press box finally got an air conditioner a few years ago. Not sure where it came from, but we’re pretty certain it was the first window AC unit ever made. Looks like it should have the word “prototype” stenciled on the side. But we accepted it gladly, and if it survives the weekend, it means it made it all the way through.
And so will we.
The old ballpark is done this Sunday, and I’ll miss it a lot. It’s served us well though. It’s done its job. And the drawings of that new place look first class.
And for the love of God, throw the ball.