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April 29, 2004: 'Coach' would have loved the new JOD

April 29, 2004: 'Coach' would have loved the new JOD


(The Quad-City Times is rerunning some of Don Doxsie's most memorable columns from the past. This column originally appeared in the Times on April 29, 2004.)

He would have loved the place. There seems little doubt of that.

John O'Donnell was all about whatever was good for the Quad-Cities. So those $13.8 million worth of improvements they've made on the riverfront ballpark that bears his name would have brought a smile of pride to his face and words of praise to his fingertips.

The man who devoted 43 years of his life to serving as sports editor of the Davenport Democrat would have approved. Wholeheartedly.

"He was always very community-minded," said Skip O'Donnell, his son. "He was born here. He wasn't a transplant. He lived his whole life here. He knew the town and thought an awful lot of the people here."

The people thought an awful lot of him, too.

The general consensus is that John O'Donnell could have run for mayor of Davenport almost any time and won in a breeze.

He had a jaunty charisma about him, camouflaging the fact that he was terrible with names by calling just about everyone "Coach."

He made innumerable friends with the letters he exchanged with local servicemen in World War II. Those letters, which appeared in a weekly column called "Dear Joe," were of such emotional nutrition to the military men involved that they pitched in after the war to buy O'Donnell a new car.

In the 1950s, his Christmas Day column often would be nothing more than a list of the people who had sent him cards that year. Those columns went on for pages and pages.

Probably the first thing he ever did to win the hearts of the local citizens was to lead the charge to have a new ballpark built on the site of an old landfill on the banks of the Mississippi River.

When Municipal Stadium finally opened on May 26, 1931, O'Donnell was like a proud papa. He proudly announced in his "Sports Chats" column that "all is right with the world" and that the local stadium "is head and shoulders above anything else in the circuit."

It was a veritable slam dunk when he died in 1970 that the stadium in which he'd spent so many happy hours would be renamed in his memory.

It undoubtedly would have bothered him to see the old place fall into such disrepair the past few years, but he would have rejoiced in seeing it restored to such state-of-the-art superiority.

He would have stood there tonight amid the gala reopening — probably with a cigarette in one hand and a cold brew in the other — and once again proclaimed that "all is right with the world."

"He would go for anything to help the issue of the stadium," said Dr. John Sunderbruch, an old friend of O'Donnell's. "He was all about sports. He would have thought it was a terrific day for the community."

Skip O'Donnell said his father would have especially liked the fact that the old exterior facade was left in place and that the stadium was rebuilt on the same tranquil, riverfront location that he cherished.

Chances are, John O'Donnell wouldn't even have minded that there are plans afoot to remove his name from the stadium as soon as the Swing of the Quad-Cities — he might not have liked the new nickname — can find a corporation willing to fork over a few million bucks for the naming rights.

Skip O'Donnell figures his father wouldn't have wanted his name on the place to begin with.

"He probably wouldn't have wanted that recognition," Skip said. "He was never in it for the glory."

But while having the name removed might not have bothered old John, it has ruffled a feathers elsewhere in the community, most notably among his descendants.

"Kevin Krause (the team president) doesn't know John O'Donnell from a bucket of hard coal," Skip O'Donnell said. "He doesn't have any idea what my father was all about."

Sunderbruch was a fellow sportswriter in his youth, later became John O'Donnell's physician and is Skip O'Donnell's father-in-law. He is equally appalled at the prospect of a name change.

"I just can't picture another name being placed on that building," he said. "My God, he was sports in this town."

It's apparent that Krause and the Swing already are posturing for the change. They have put up a large sign inside the stadium proclaiming it the "John O'Donnell Press Box."

"When I saw that in the picture in the paper, I just thought 'Uh huh,'" Skip O'Donnell said. "The groundwork is being laid."

Of course, the press box previously was named in honor of Jerry Jurgens, the longtime sports editor of the Davenport Times, which merged with the Democrat to become the newspaper you're reading.

Jurgens' name actually has been off the press box since 1988. That also angers a few people, Skip O'Donnell included.

"I'm greatly upset about that," added Jack Leabo, the longtime baseball coach at Davenport Central, who was a friend and admirer of Jurgens. "They're taking Jerry's name off and putting John O'Donnell on there instead. The stadium was named after O'Donnell, but the press box was named for Jurgens. How can they just take someone's name off like that?"

They shouldn't be able to. But money talks.

If the Swing doesn't get their millions for the corporate naming rights, the fans might be assessed a surcharge on tickets next season, making it that much more expensive for them to attend games.

John O'Donnell, ever a man of the people, wouldn't have wanted that either.

"I just hope they can find a way to do this without taking his name away," Sunderbruch said.


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