Arizona Baseball: Hi Corbett helps 'significantly,' says coach

Lopez believes stadium switch will show recruits UA is 'serious' about sport
2011-08-11T00:00:00Z Arizona Baseball: Hi Corbett helps 'significantly,' says coachRyan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 11, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Andy Lopez pulled a wrinkled index card from his rear pocket and scanned the names written down.

All eight verbally committed to join the Arizona Wildcats this year only to be selected in the Major League Baseball draft. With five days left to decide between college and the pros, they're on the fence.

Lopez, the UA's longtime coach, can now play his trump card.

Members of the Tucson City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve a letter of intent that will relocate the UA baseball program off campus, from Kindall/Sancet Stadium to Hi Corbett Field.

The UA athletic department will spend between $250,000 and $300,000 over the next six months rebranding the historic stadium, mounting the block "A" logo and adding splashes of cardinal and navy paint. The Wildcats will hold their first game there in late February.

To Lopez, the decision to move to Hi Corbett - the former spring training home of the Cleveland Indians and, more recently, the Colorado Rockies - is a game-changer. He said outside of Oregon, which "still has that new-car smell," Arizona will have the best baseball facilities in the Pac-12.

"An 18-year-old kid is going to look at it and say, 'Wow, these guys are interested in baseball here. These guys are serious about baseball here,'" he said.

Lopez addressed the move at a Wednesday news conference attended by athletic director Greg Byrne, mayor Bob Walkup and interim UA president Eugene Sander. All four were hopeful that the UA's five-year lease and subsequent five-year option will renew fan interest.

So far, results have been mixed: Former Wildcats J.T. Snow, Shelley Duncan and Chip Hale have all spoken in favor of relocation, while others bristled at the idea of moving off-campus.

Lopez met with former coach and stadium namesake Jerry Kindall on Tuesday to discuss the move; after a long talk, they parted with a prayer and a hug.

Kindall offered his support.

The Wildcats assume the lease from the Tucson Toros, whose deal was voided by the city last month. The Toros were on hiatus but still putting on occasional events and concerts. The UA will guarantee 30-plus home games and daily practices at Hi Corbett.

"Hi Corbett is a baseball field - not a soccer field, not a place for concerts, it's a place for baseball," Walkup said. "There's no greater team that we'd like to have playing at our historic Hi Corbett than our University of Arizona."

The move is expected to boost a program that loses about $750,000 annually, Byrne said. At Hi Corbett, the UA could cut those losses to about $500,000 a year without factoring in a jump in attendance. Ticket prices will be slightly higher this year, though season tickets cost roughly $4 per game.

The UA will benefit from beer sales through the first five innings, a rarity at college sporting events.

Lopez said Wednesday that with a few exceptions - "I'd like the fences moved in," he said - Hi Corbett is ready for its new tenants.

And the UA is hoping for a windfall of new players.

"This helps significantly," Lopez said, "as hard as that may be for someone to swallow."

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