More than 5,000 fans, singing, clapping and cheering in full throat, met the Arizona Wildcats baseball team at McKale Center this afternoon to celebrate the pinnacle of the sport.
After defeating South Carolina, 4-1, to win the College World Series last night, many UA players shunned sleep for a night’s worth of celebration before boarding a charter flight this morning.
The team landed in Tucson a bit before noon and, after a stopover at their Hi Corbett Field clubhouse, arrived at McKale at 1 p.m. The bus had a police escort and pulled into the UA mall beneath a shower of fire truck water canons.
The Wildcats entered the gymnasium to deafening cheers of fans, cheerleaders and mascots, and the playing of the pep band.
“Unbelievable,” Robert Refsnyder said. “We work so hard. For our community to share this moment means so much.”
It stunned coach Andy Lopez, who thought the celebration would be a small, quick affair. He had promised his wife they would drive to the airport and then go to a brief lunch.
“I apologize, Lopez laughed about his first thought. “Oh ye of little faith.”
The celebration featured speeches by athletic director Greg Byrne and Lopez, who honored former UA coaches Jerry Kindall, Jim Wing, Jerry Stitt and the late Frank Sancet, who contributed to the program’s first three national titles.
Tucson mayor Jonathan Rothschild promised to name a street entering Hi Corbett “Championship Way.”
About a half-dozen UA players spoke, including pitcher Kurt Heyer, who drew laughs with a spot-on impression of Byrne.
“I had to humiliate Greg Byrne,” he joked. “It was really nice. I’m just really happy they came out to support us.”
UA outgoing president Eugene Sander, football coach Rich Rodriguez, softball coach Mike Candrea and most the men's basketball team cheered from the stands.
The Pascua Yaqui Boys and Girls Club brought 10 students, who received permission slips, took a bus and made a sign to support the UA.
“We’re excited,” said Tomas Luevanos, 15. “The Wildcats won! When they won, I jumped up and down, and ran around.”