TEMECULA – This past weekend, the varsity baseball field at Chaparral High School was packed with fans of all ages as the Pumas Baseball program welcomed back a handful of players for their annual Alumni game.
“The Alumni game is usually a big hit, but this year there were a lot more fans here because of our special guest,” said Chaparral Freshman Coach Dave Dexheimer.
The special guest that Coach Dex was referring to was there as a huge part of the overall highlight of the day, which was a ceremony that took place before the game that focused on retiring the jersey of former Chaparral player and current St Louis Cardinals, World Series Champion, Allen Craig.
Allen is on a very short list of local athletes that have actually grown up here in the Valley, excelled in their sport, and then moved on through the rankings to actually play professionally. Of course, the list is probably an even shorter one, more than likely his name being the only one on it, of local athletes that have gone on to play in the pros and become a World Series champion.
Former Chaparral Head Baseball Coach David Barret as well as present Head Coach Larry Wells, who was also Allen’s freshman coach, were the masters of ceremonies for the presentation and Allen’s immediate family – which included his dad, Ron, his mom Kim, his sister Kendal, as well as his new bride, Marie – were all on hand right by his side to witness the historic occasion
During his high school career, almost everyone who knew Allen had the same things to say when it came to his demeanor on and off the field.
“As his former baseball coach, I remember what a tremendous athlete Allen was in high school, not only was he the Valleys Baseball Player of the Year, but also a star on the Puma basketball team. If soccer was a fall high school sport, he would have been a 3 sport recruit that’s for sure,” stated Coach Barret.
Even two major sport stars in the big high schools are rare nowadays, but Allen’s athleticism helped him be versatile. He played O.F. and first base his sophomore year and moved over to shortstop his junior and senior years.
“I agree with David,” said Coach Wells. “He was a tremendous hitter and had the greatest confidence at the plate. You knew by watching him during batting practice that he had the tools to get to the next level and beyond. Nobody in the schools 15-year baseball history has come close to showing that kind of promise and talent.”
“Allen was also a great student,” added Barret. “His high school GPA made him a highly sought out athlete at highly academic division I colleges. [He finally settled on a scholarship at Cal Berkeley] and his intelligence carried over onto the ball field as he was a very savvy player. He was a student of the game who used his knowledge of the fundamentals to make adjustments in practice and games.”
“I am not surprised to see Allen in the major leagues,” stated Barret. “After coaching against Jason Giambi as a high school coach years ago, I have often compared the two at the plate. Allen was the right handed version of the left handed Giambi in high school…and Allen is better defensively, and more versatile. This, with his athleticism, mental, and emotional strength makes him a good bet to enjoy a very successful pro career as an everyday player in the near future.”
Fresh off of getting married and then having to go through knee surgery soon after winning the World Series, Allen was all smiles throughout the day.
“It’s really special to come out to my old field and high school and see old teammates and close friends that I played ball with. When I look back at my high school paying days, I never thought I would go on to be in a World Series, let alone help my team win a championship. And to be back here being honored and getting my Jersey retired and seeing the people that really influenced my life growing up, well I just can’t tell you how much this means to me,” exclaimed Craig.
Allen’s jersey, which sports an autograph as well as his varsity number, #3, is the first jersey to ever be retired by the school and will hang in the Pumas gymnasium alongside the many other distinguished academic and athletic awards the Pumas have acquired over the years.
Chaparral, along with the Temecula Valley Unified School District, had a couple of other great surprises for Allen and his family. The road that the school district actually owns off of Roripaugh Drive, leading up to the stadium, will now be known as Allen Craig Drive and in a very supportive measure that was taken to the city council, the district also has requested that Jan. 10 be forever known as Allen Craig day in Temecula.
Allen soon will be reporting to spring training and getting on with another hopefully successful year with the St. Louis Cardinals organization, but for now, Allen says his focus is on taking things one day at a time as he gives his knee time to heal. Before jumping on a plane to San Francisco for a dinner with Tony La Russa – the St. Louis Cardinals manager who recently announced his retirement – Allen had this to say to all the up and coming youth that might be looking for some encouragement: “Whatever your sport of choice is, just make sure to always work hard, enjoy your passion, and really take pride in your community, because I know I do. I love where I come from, as well as all the great people that we have here.”