Looking back at Cohen Stadium's opening 24 years ago

Opening night at Cohen Stadium, 1990

EL PASO, Texas - There are four days left until opening night at Southwest University Park.

Twenty-four years ago, Cohen Stadium opened its gates for the first time in Northeast El Paso. It was a night the former owner of the El Paso Diablos said he'd like to forget.

The hope is that everything goes smoothly Monday night at the new Downtown Ballpark, but that wasn't the case back on Wednesday, June 13, 1990. Jim Paul, the long-time owner of the Diablos, said he is still trying to recover from that night at Cohen Stadium.

"It was the most stressful day of my entire life," Paul said.

Completion of Cohen was nearly three months behind schedule and there was still a lot to do in the hours leading up to the first pitch.

"There were no sky boxes, there were no dressing rooms, the concessions were open but only half of it could be used," Paul said. "Popcorn, hot dogs, anything that required some cooking of any kind, were done at Dudley Field and put on a van and trucked up to Cohen Stadium."

The teams had to dress elsewhere since the clubhouse wasn't ready, leaving them with no bathroom, except those in the dugouts, which didn't have doors.

"If you're on third base you could watch the guys in the bathroom at first base," Paul said.

Then El Paso Mayor Susie Azar threw out the first pitch.

"She threw out the first ball," Paul said, "went to her seat about four rows up behind the dugout, and a foul ball proceeded to hit her right in the head."

City officials are confident that opening day here at Southwest University Park on Monday, won't be anything like it was 24 years ago out at Cohen Stadium in Northeast El Paso.

Ballpark Project Engineer Alan Shubert issued this statement on Thursday: "Work is essentially complete on the field, concourse, press, and club levels ... most of our attention is now focused on completing the public art components, outfield buildings and sidewalks along Santa Fe Street."

And that should allow the City to avoid a repeat of Cohen Stadium's opening.

"I aged a bunch, I aged a bunch," Paul said. "I was lucky to keep my sanity."

Paul said Cohen Stadium received its certificate of occupancy at 4 p.m. on opening day, three hours before first pitch. He added it was considered "state of the art" 24 years ago, including the much-debated canopy. But he said the new ballpark is "the most magnificent piece of architecture ever built for Minor League Baseball."

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