As Cohen Stadium is demolished and transformed into a new entertainment district, my memories of the ballpark date back to the summer of 1990.
That was my only year working for the El Paso Diablos as a bat boy – and it happened to be the same season the team moved from Dudley Field into Cohen Stadium.
I was a high school junior at Coronado and one of my friends had worked for the team as a bat boy. When he asked me if I was interested, I jumped at the chance.
My high school playing career had ended just a few months earlier due to a cracked vertebrae in my back, and I was excited about spending many nights at the Dudley Dome and later, Cohen Stadium.
My memories of the 1990 Diablos are still fresh.
Playing in the outfield
I loved shagging balls in the outfield, and I would get to the ballpark early so I could field while the team hit during batting practice. I befriended a few players on the Diablos. Outfielder Rafael Skeete gave me the glove that he wore the prior season. It was a Rawlings Trapeze and the black leather had been perfectly broken in.
When I put the glove on my right hand for the first time, I felt like it was the only baseball glove I would ever want to use again. Skeete hit .278 for the Diablos in 1990, but his professional baseball playing career ended after that season.
I still have his glove – and it feels the same way it did nearly 30 years ago.
I also made friends that season with catcher Bert Heffernan, who spent eight games in the big leagues when the Seattle Mariners called him up in 1992. Heffernan was a native of New York, and his accent caught my attention early that season.
Not every player treated teenage bat boys well, but Heffernan was always easy to talk to and the kind of player you rooted for to make it up to the big leagues. Dee Dixon and Jesus Alfaro were two others players on that roster that were great individuals to be around.
El Paso’s Fenway
Dudley Field was like walking into El Paso’s version of Fenway Park.
All of the chairs were wooden, the dimensions were short (340 down the lines and 395 to dead center) and I remember the hill in the outfield that led to the center field wall. It was also a small and intimate ballpark, so Paul Strelzin’s voice boomed from the press box.
And he loved to razz the bat boys during games. The Strelz knew everyone’s name, so if we were involved in anything during the game, he would mention us – as well as our family members – by name.
When we moved into Cohen Stadium in June 1990, construction crews were still finishing the ballpark.
The clubhouses did not have working showers, so both teams would bus back to Dudley Field after the game to shower and change.
Cohen Stadium was such a gorgeous ballpark that National Geographic wrote a cover story on the team that season. I still remember the photo sessions for the magazine article at Dudley Field and Cohen Stadium.
The new ballpark was much larger and had all the bells and whistles that you would expect from a $7.8 million facility back then. Luxury sky boxes and a Hall of Fame room, a canopy that was the first of its kind in Minor League sports, and a large parking lot that made it easy for everyone to come and enjoy a Diablos game.
I spent many nights covering the team at Cohen Stadium when I started working in sports media five years later.
I have lasting memories of Cohen Stadium – like the Diamond Girls dancing on the dugouts, home runs blasting over the wall and players collecting tip money from fans in their batting helmets while the game continued.
I will miss Cohen Stadium, but now my family and I are making new memories with the Chihuahuas at Southwest University Park.
Since 1997, Steve Kaplowitz has hosted “Sportstalk” from 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays on 600 ESPN El Paso. You can email him at email@example.com.