The Naming of Spartan Yard: It’s a Great Day for Damien Baseball and Coach Carroll

March 14, 2010
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Tom Carroll seated in Seat No. 1

Tom Carroll seated in Seat No. 1

It’s not every day that you have a stadium named after you. But that’s exactly what happened on Saturday afternoon at the newly christened Tom Carroll Stadium, named for Damien High School’s beloved coach and athletic director of 37 years who signed on with the Spartans when the baseball field was no more than a skinned infield and patches of Bermuda carved out of a cow pasture.

Father Pat Travers knew Damien was overdue in naming some athletic facility after Carroll, and with the makeover of the ball field almost complete, he saw it as a match made heaven, courtesy also of little loving human intervention.

A solid core of Damien parents and supporters had gotten together and suggested the baseball park be improved, to which Father Travers agreed under two firm conditions.

“First, it had to look good, and two, don’t ask me for any money,” Father Travers recalled minutes before the start of the official ceremony.

The ceremony was held in the area behind home plate, a lush green lawn of newly minted artificial grass. While Hollywood rolls out the red carpet for its famous and worthy, Damien rolled out the green carpet for one of its own. The scoreboard gleamed, and the newly refurbished green seats from Camden Yards, with their shiny brass donor name plates, sparkled in the afternoon sun.

Father Pat Travers and Varsity Baseball Coach Al Leyva

Father Pat Travers and Varsity Baseball Coach Al Leyva

The ceremony, hosted by the voice of Damien, Chuck Ballingall, skipped along like a well-played baseball game, punctuated by moving tributes to Carroll from Damien Baseball Coach Al Leyva; Tom’s son and Damien faculty member John Carroll; Bobby Sheridan, coach of Damien’s 1987 CIF championship team; and Mike Jacobs, now a New York-based doctor and former player whose words of praise were read by Damien third baseman James Guillen.

Jacobs recounted how on his first game back from injury, he was greeted by a 92-mile-per-hour fastball right in the nose and how coach Carroll was the first person hovering over him to let him know he would be all right. Jacobs called Carroll his silent lion.

“I’m a better man for having known him,” the letter ended.

Damien’s legendary coach Dick Larsen took the mike next, and it was a surprise he ever gave it up, given that he and Carroll’s relationship dates back 55 years when they were both wet-behind-the-ears students at Long Beach State, Carroll having come from Dayton University and Larson from San Jose State to earn teaching credentials that would put them on a lifelong path of coaching.

From left, Dick Larson, Dr. Steven Bast and Tom Carroll

From left, Dick Larson, Dr. Steven Bast and Tom Carroll

It was Carroll who had recommended Larson to Damien’s administration, and Carroll who kept Larson on the straight and narrow.

“When I really wasn’t courageous enough to go the priest for confession, I’d go to Tom,” Larson said. “Absolution was almost a guarantee.”

Larson then turned to this year’s players and told them that in Carroll they had a champion in their corner. “Your biggest booster is this guy right,” he said pointing to Carroll. “He will always back you up. He might criticize you, but it will be corrective criticism. He wants you to be successful.”

Being there for others was the constant theme that each speaker mentioned in sharing their individual stories and anecdotes about Carroll.

Finally, it came time for Father Travers to bless the field. “Let this be a field of joy,” Father Travers said. “Let it be forever remembered as Tom Carroll Stadium.”

Next, former Spartan player, Dr. Steven Bast, who threw three no-hitters for Damien before going on to play for the USC Trojans and the Boston Red Sox, presented Carroll with a large plaque that will be enshrined at the stadium. After presenting Carroll with his own personal “No. 1” seat, he also thanked the many families who made the new stadium and the day a reality, including the Ponce, Lee, Amrhein, Ortega, Hockin, Betance, Leyva, Pertusati, Lord and Young families.

Bast also struck a chord with the faithful on hand, who looked very comfortable in their new stadium seats.

“I always tell people, you can go to (Bishop) Amat and be a Lancer for four years, or you can go to Damien and be a Spartan for life,” he said.

Finally, Carroll was called to the plate to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Although Carroll has always referred to himself as a straight shooter, on this day he elected to go with the curve. Again, he was right on the mark. Then it was his turn to speak.

“It’s really humbling to be given this honor and I am very appreciative of it,” Carroll said, choking up until he was reminded there was no crying in baseball. “I’ve taken more from these kids and this place than I can ever, ever give back. That’s the way I feel about it.”

Carroll thanked a host of people for his joyful journey, from Father Martin O’Loghlen who had hired him almost 40 years earlier, to his wife Nancy for her patience, understanding and all the other special qualities required of a coach’s spouse.

“When you are married to a coach, God knows how you make it,” Carroll said. “I know this, she’s a saint, she’s my best friend, and I love her dearly.”

Then everyone in the crowd stood and applauded one more time, showing they too loved their coach with the same heartfelt affection and appreciation for a job well done.

The 2010 Damien Baseball Team

The 2010 Damien Baseball Team

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