Dec. 2, 2009
TUCSON -- For the first time in its 17-year history, Arizona's Rita Hillenbrand Memorial Stadium will feature a padded outfield wall.
Made by the NCAA's official track and field supplier, UCS, the wall is navy blue in color and covers the entire stretch of outfield and beyond both foul poles.
The new wall is currently being installed thanks to a generous donation from Jim and Molly Hambacher, and should provide some literal and figurative comfort to outfielders in pursuit of a deep fly ball.
"I feel a little bit more comfortable now that the (padded) wall is there," said sophomore right fielder Karissa Buchanan. "Either way, I'm going all out but now it softens the impact."
Recently, Buchanan and former Wildcat Caitlin Lowe suffered facial injuries after running into the wooden wall while attempting to make a catch.
In the first inning of a 2007 Super Regional game against Fullerton, Lowe smacked the right centerfield wall after a long run, knocking her out of the contest.
Last season, Buchanan fractured her nose after going face-first against the wall in a game against Oregon, but robbed a potential game-winning home run.
"I was never was a fan of the wooden wall," said Head Coach Mike Candrea. "We've had a few kids hit it pretty hard, and I just felt that it was time."
Candrea also cited the constant maintenance of the wall as a reason for the change.
"There's a lot of upkeep to wood in Arizona. You'd have to repaint it every year and it would warp from time to time.
"I just think this wall looks better; it looks very nice and clean."
The retired jerseys, championship banners and other program achievements that were once painted on the wall will more than likely be wrapped around the new wall as a banner. "Bear Down, Arizona" has already been printed on the centerfield portion of the wall.
"What was recognized will be recognized again, in some fashion," said Dick Bartsch, assistant director of event management operations. "Whether or not it will be in the same format is up in the air."
This is the second straight offseason that Hillenbrand Stadium has undergone a change. In 2008, a new playing surface was added to the infield, along with a warning track spanning the outfield wall.
Up Next: Arizona will open official team practice on January 11, 2010 in preparation for their season opener against Western Michigan at the Kajikawa Classic in February.