I made a rookie mistake Friday night, arriving at Hi Corbett Field at 6:45 for the 7 o’clock Arizona-ASU baseball game. The closest parking place was at the El Con Mall.
The crowd of 5,188 was the largest (by more than 1,100) in the Pac-12 this season.
The game, a 2-1 Sun Devil victory, typified the season, which has become a colossal disappointment in Tucson.
What’s wrong with Arizona? It has not recruited well following the 2012 national championship. That’s it. There’s not a bit of star-power in the lineup.
The UA does not pass the eye test. It doesn’t have more than one or two Pac-12 type athletes. There’s too few 6-foot-2-inch, 215-pound Seth Mejias-Breans in the middle of the lineup. There’s no 6-2, 210-pound ace pitcher, like Kurt Heyer, who won 13 games for Arizona’s national title team as much with an aggressive approach as with “stuff.”
Arizona’s best player is outfielder Scott Kingery, who is probably smaller than his listed 5-10, 175. He is a walk-on. His best offer out of Phoenix Mountain Pointe High School was at Central Arizona College.
The UA’s top pitcher is Cody Hamlin, who is a walk-on times two. Hamlin walked on at Western Nevada College and had to redshirt a year before pitching at WNC. Now he is Arizona’s go-to pitcher.
With the exception of third baseman/pitcher Bobby Dalbec, none of the big-name prospects signed by Arizona during and since the 2012 season have become difference-makers.
Worse, the junior/senior class, those with College World Series experience, is void of leadership.
Do you realize Arizona is on pace to score the fewest runs in school history? It has scored but 221 runs. It’ll need to get to 277 to avoid being the least productive club in more than 60 years of Arizona baseball.
Two years ago, Arizona went 30-10 at Hi Corbett Field. Through Friday, it was 14-16 at home and just 17-24 overall.
There is sad precedence for this post-title letdown. After Jerry Kindall’s Wildcats won the 1980 College World Series, the Wildcats went into a puzzling four-year slump in which they did not qualify for postseason play, 109-110 overall, including the first losing season in school history, 1983.
But by 1985 and 1986, Arizona was not only back at the CWS, but it won the ’86 national championship.
In retrospect, Andy Lopez’s total absence from fall training camp, sidelined for three months after quadruple heart-bypass surgery, pretty much designated this as a season the Wildcats would struggle.
There is no mercy in Pac-12 baseball. The league is so good that any team hitting .285 (only four teams in UA history had a lower batting average) becomes fodder for those on the Road to Omaha.
For now, Arizona has lost its way.