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What a Difference a Stadium Makes

By Jason Bartel -- June 14, 2012 8:04 PM EDT


The University of Arizona baseball team spent 45 seasons at Jerry Kindall Field at Frank Sancet Stadium, during which they won 3 conference championships, made it to 7 College World Series and won 3 National Championships. In late 2011, new Athletic Director Greg Byrne had a vision of turning this baseball program into something that would rival SEC programs (Byrne was previously the A.D. at Mississippi State). The baseball team was going to relocate to an off-campus facility, historic Hi Corbett Field.

The move wasn't without its fair share of controversy. The Golden Baseball League's Tucson Toros still technically inhabited Hi Corbett, even though they hadn't been playing regularly since the Tucson Padres showed up at crosstown rival park Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium in 2011. A whole bunch of legal proceedings later, the Toros were out, and U of A was in. But would people support the university's baseball team more now than when they were on campus? One move in the concession stand world definitely helped boost the attendance figures: selling alcohol. Finally, people that enjoy beers and other beverages at their sporting events could finally go out and support a U of A team and drink at the same time.

The Hi Corbett era started with a bang, literally, with fireworks night after that first Friday night game against North Dakota State (U of A won 3-1). The team went into a series at national powerhouse Rice with a record of 13-2, but not really having played any major baseball programs. They came out with a split of the 2 game series in Houston, and that is when people started getting the idea of potentially being good enough to not only be in the tournament, but host a regional.

Arizona went on to go 20-10 in Pac-12 play, good enough to share a regular season conference championship with UCLA after having two walk off wins in the final weekend at home against rival Arizona State. That weekend, they officially found out that they would after all be hosting a Regional, with New Mexico State, Louisville and Mizzou coming to the desert, and all of the games would be broadcast on ESPNU so the nation could get its first look at what was happening to baseball in Tucson. U of A had already increased its ticket revenues to 5 times that of what they made in 2011 at Sancet Stadium, and had the highest average attendance in the Pac-12 at 2,460 per game, compared to the barely over 1,000 in 2011.

Arizona went on to dominate in the regional, outscoring their opponents 47-10 in the three games needed to advance to the Super Regional. The biggest drama was during the first game Sunday when Mizzou and Louisville were playing for the right to play Arizona in the night game. St. John's, who had already beaten North Carolina the day before, was beating them again in a tight game. This only mattered to the people in Tucson because North Carolina was the 6th national seed, and the winner of the Chapel Hill Regional would play the winner of the Tucson regional the next week. St. John's ended up beating UNC, which secured Tucson the chance to host a super regional for the first time ever.

The NCAA didn't do Tucson any favors though, scheduling the games to start at noon each day, when it's about 105 degrees. This definitely dropped the attendance numbers for the weekend, but it didn't stop U of A from providing some drama. The first game, they were down 5-0 early, but slowly came back, and forced extra innings. St. John's scored in the top of the 10th, but U of A came back one more time, and finished it off in the bottom of the inning with a Trent Gilbert walk-off single. The second game had a little less drama with Arizona leading the entire time, clinching its first College World Series birth since 2004 where they will face Florida State in game 1. It has been a great year for the baseball program at the University of Arizona, and hopefully there is still some magic left and will turn this into an historic year in Omaha at TD Ameritrade Park.


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