UA BASEBALL

Greg Hansen: Life's good for Lopez, Cats after NCAA title

2012-10-10T00:00:00Z Greg Hansen: Life's good for Lopez, Cats after NCAA titleGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
October 10, 2012 12:00 am  • 

This is what happens when you win the College World Series: People from New Jersey, Minnesota and Indiana arrive on campus asking if they can be part of your organization, asking if they can be, if nothing else, student managers.

"We've got nine managers," Arizona baseball coach Andy Lopez says with a broad smile. "We've only got scholarship money for two, but we've got nine. I had to turn three more away."

He points to the field of his team's training complex at Reid Park. "Look at all of those managers," he says. "Amazing."

This is the residue of winning the national championship: You open fall training camp with a roster of 45 players, even though the NCAA allows a maximum of 35. Lopez must release 10 of those players in November.

"We could've had 70," he says. "We turned away some really good players."

In a typical UA baseball season, the Wildcats can afford to buy one new set of uniforms. Blue one year, red another. It's not the way the Oregon Ducks do it, but it is the way the Arizona Wildcats have been doing it.

But this isn't a typical year. Interest in UA baseball has grown so much that a donor paid for two sets of uniforms, red and blue, for 2013.

When you sit on top of the pile, as Arizona does, recruiting seems to fall into place like never before. Letter-of-intent day is a month away, but already the UA's super recruiter, pitching coach Shaun Cole, is working a year in advance.

"Our Class of 2013 is completed," says Cole. "Things are good."

Monday was the first full day of fall training camp, all hands on deck, but Lopez's presence was delayed 24 hours because he was on his home turf, San Pedro, Calif., receiving an award from Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino.

Modestly, Lopez brushed it off, saying it was a simply a framed piece of paper "with a lot of 'whereas this' and 'whereas that' stuff," but it went way beyond that.

Lopez was given a space on the San Pedro "Sportswalk to the Waterfront" on the same day ex-Dodger All-Star Steve Garvey and three-time Olympic soccer gold medalist Shannon Boxx were added to the "Sportswalk to the Waterfront," which is San Pedro's sports equivalent of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

About 1,000 people attended. Lopez, Mr. Casual, even wore a business suit.

All of this happens when you win it all.

Ordinarily, the coach who is four months removed from unseating two-time defending NCAA champion South Carolina from its reign in college baseball, spends the first week of fall camp fretting about the loss of his club's nucleus, the departures of Alex Mejia, Kurt Heyer, Robert Refsnyder, Seth Mejias-Brean and Joey Rickard.

Those empty uniforms are potentially devastating, but on Tuesday, Lopez was not into an I'm-a-devastated-coach mentality.

"Do you know that in a typical year we lose five of our top recruits to the major-league draft?" he asks. "This year we lost just one. I can't remember a draft like that. It's not like we didn't get top kids - I really like what I see."

And then he rattles off the names of the freshmen who didn't get away: slick-fielding shortstop Kevin Newman of Poway, Calif.; potential star infielder Jackson Willeford of Ramona, Calif.; right-hander Jesse Scholtens of Fairfield, Calif.; righty Dalton Brown of Ponder, Texas; and lefty Cody Moffett of Gilbert, and on and on.

It's entirely possible that Lopez's coveted freshman class was drawn by the juiced up atmosphere at Hi Corbett Field and, of course, by those College World Series championship rings to be worn by older teammates like Johnny Field, Konner Wade and Riley Moore.

Who doesn't want to be part of a winner?

Since returning from Omaha on late June, Lopez's presence has been requested in cities from Tombstone to Flagstaff. Last week, the owner of the Los Angeles Angels, UA grad Arte Moreno, gave Lopez use of Tempe Diablo Stadium for a two-day clinic/camp and for a special game against the Angels' Fall Instructional League team.

"I played host to a recruit two weekends ago," says Field, a junior outfielder who won the Pac-12 batting championship last season. "You could see how excited he was to be here. This program has a chance to take off now."

As Lopez arrived to work Tuesday, he prepared a script meant to get his team's attention and to move past the fun of Omaha: No big heads. Attention to detail. No sense of entitlement.

"The grind begins now," he said.

A few yards away, city workers prepared one of the four Reid Park annex fields for overseeding, stripping away the old turf and scattering grass seed over the infield.

In a baseball sense, Andy Lopez began to overseed on Tuesday, too.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Free Wildcats Sports Newsletter

University of Arizona sports news and blog headlines, delivered daily

Follow the Arizona Daily Star

Deals, offers & events

View more...