Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Arizona baseball’s move to Hi Corbett shows vision

This is how Arizona envisions the new entrance to Hi Corbett, expected to be in place for the 2012 season.

Arizona baseball coach Andy Lopez dug into his left pants pocket and pulled out a worn 3 x 5 card with eight names and eight phone numbers on it.

That is his life right now. Those eight signed recruits. Those eight recruits who are also mulling offers to sign minor-league contracts before Monday’s deadline. Lopez says he has to call them once or twice a day, if only to remind them that he loves them.

On Wednesday, Lopez’ life — his job — got a little easier.

Lopez can now tell those eight recruits — and all the other prospects who will consider becoming an Arizona Wildcat — that they will practice and play in a major-league-level spring training facility.

The university and the city of Tucson announced Wednesday that they have agreed to a long-term lease of Hi Corbett Field, which means the Wildcats will leave Jerry Kindall Field at Frank Sancet Stadium — their on-campus home since 1967.

“On the West Coast, it jumps us right to the top,” Lopez said, ranking baseball facilities.

“The University of Oregon has the new-car-smell-type of facility, but in terms of a pure baseball facility, I would say it’s at the top. If it’s not at the top, it’s in the top three without a doubt.”

Athletic director Greg Byrne acknowledged there was some opposition to abandoning the tradition and history of the on-campus stadium. No coincidence that the program that won national titles in 1976, 1980 and 1986 has been located on the east side of National Championship Drive.

“There is great history at Kindall/Sancet. We recognize that,” Byrne said.

“This was not a decision we took lightly. This decision was important for us as a program moving forward, and we had to make sure it made a lot of sense. … As we moved through this, we certainly felt the opportunity here was one we did not want to pass up.”

Byrne later put it this way, more succinctly:

“I want to be at the front end of the Pac-12. I don’t want to be a follower.”

Nobody loves change. But standing still is not an option.

Just as Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has totally transformed the previously sleepy league in his short time on the job, Byrne is taking his home run cuts at Arizona, too. If that means bruising a few feelings in an attempt to take the program from good to great … well, that’s simply the smart thing to do.

“The decision was a tough one,” Lopez said, “but it was a decision of vision.”

Mayor Bob Walkup (right) says Arizona playing at Hi Corbett is a "win-win" for Tucson.

The vision includes a plan to lease Hi Corbett for at least 10 years, starting at $250,000 for year, which is “in the ballpark” for what Arizona would spend to maintain Sancet,” Byrne said. The city will be responsible for upkeep at Hi Corbett, and mayor Bob Walkup said the $250,000 from UA will cover its costs.

Byrne said the athletic department will spend another $250,000 to $300,000 in the short term to brand Hi Corbett as an Arizona facility.

A few other quick items:

1. Beer! Yes, the intention is to sell beer at Hi Corbett through five innings and Byrne said “we will be very strict in how we monitor it.” He also said, “I’ve been told from time to time that a cold beer at a baseball game isn’t a bad thing.”

2. Ticket prices. Byrne said that there will be a small bump, but it’s not as if Arizona baseball tickets are going to break the bank.

3. More revenue. Considering No. 1 and No. 2, Byrne said that even at the current attendance levels, Arizona can initially cut its operational deficit for baseball from $750,000 to around $500,000 per year.

4. Byrne undoubtedly has several ideas on the table, but he said “we do not have any specific plans” as to what to do with Sancet Stadium, which sits on prime real estate in the athletic department’s southeast corner of campus.

5. With ample practice fields and spacious clubhouses/locker rooms, the Wildcats are in far better position to be selected as a host for postseason play.

There will be plenty of other details — including moving in the fences at the spacious former spring home of the Colorado Rockies — but the move is mostly about the message.

Lopez gestured to a poster that showed a rendering of what the new entrance to Hi Corbett will look like and said, “An 18-year-old looks at a photo of that and says, ‘These guys are serious about baseball.’”

Which brings us back to recruiting.

You simply can’t ignore how facilities help in recruiting.

Lopez, who has been Arizona’s coach since 2002, gave this analogy as to what he knows about 18-year-olds:

“If I put a family van in my driveway and I put a Corvette … and I say, ‘Go pick up grandma at the airport,’ I guarantee you they are going to go get the Corvette and try to figure out how to get grandma in the trunk. They are not going to take the family van.”

Hi Corbett might not be the equivalent of a Corvette, but Arizona just upgraded its ride and can take a spin in the fast lane.

Related: Jerry Kindall reacts to the baseball team’s move to Hi Corbett

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