Arizona baseball's permanent move to Hi Corbett Field has been in the works for more than 70 years.
Jan. 20, 2012
Hi Corbett/UA Baseball News Clippings
By Blair Willis
Arizona Athletics Media Relations
It is said that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Those words especially hold true for historic Hi Corbett Field and the Arizona Wildcats.
On Aug. 10, 2011, the University of Arizona Department of Intercollegiate Athletics announced that the baseball program was moving its plant permanently to Hi Corbett Field. The move became official months later when a lease agreement was singed by the school and the City of Tucson.
The decision was met with mixed emotions from fans, alumni and baseball letterwinners. After all, the school had won three national championships by playing on campus at Wildcat Field, later named Frank Sancet Stadium and eventually Jerry Kindall Field at Frank Sancet Stadium in honor of the legendary coaches.
The change was motivated by a number of factors. At the forefront was improving the facilities in place for current and future ballplayers to aide in player development. Other strong consideration was given to improving the overall fan experience, providing a stadium with more shade, better seating and increased space for concessions, restrooms and parking. All of these factors also played into increasing chances to host postseason games, something the school has not done in nearly 20 years.
Those opposed to the move had strong emotional connections to the old ballpark, and for good reason. Decades of traditions for players, fans and alumni are not easy to look past. The baseball program, one of those most storied in NCAA history, had defined itself by playing in front big crowds on sunny spring days and pleasant evenings on campus in the months before the seemingly annual trip to the College World Series.
But in recent seasons, something had changed. The once large crowds dwindled and students found other things to do on Friday nights and weekday afternoons. While the winning tradition continued into the 2000s under coach Andy Lopez, postseason appearances have been made in far-away locations such as Coral Gables, Fla., Ann Arbor, Mich., South Bend, Ind., and a handful of cities in Texas. The closest stop since 1992 has been Fullerton, Calif.
Arizona had a couple of options to consider. One such solution would be to begin an expensive renovation of the on-campus facility. The second was to explore the possibility of moving into an off-campus facility at Hi Corbett Field, which already had Major League-caliber facilities in place.
Hi Corbett Field became a viable option after the Colorado Rockies moved out of the facility officially at the end of spring training in 2010. The Tucson Toros, an independent league baseball team, played at the park that summer, but was then put on hiatus when the Tucson Padres, the Class-AAA club for the San Diego Padres, opened play at Kino Sports Complex in 2011.
Director of Athletics Greg Byrne and city officials saw Hi Corbett Field as a solution to improve the Wildcats' facilities as well as provide a permanent tenant for the mostly unused venue. Discussions between the two parties began last summer and by the fall an agreement was in place.
It was a perfect match for Tucson and the Arizona Wildcats. And as history tells us, it was something in the works for more than 70 years proving that while a whole lot has changed, much will stay the same in this baseball town.
A Local Attraction
The legacy of Hi Corbett Field is not defined by single games or seasons, players or mangers, decades or eras. Instead, what makes Hi Corbett Field special is that it appeals to an entire community.
Hi Corbett Field sits in the heart of mid-town Tucson and is nestled inside Gene C. Reid Park. Over the left field fence is the Reid Park Zoo and to the east behind the third-base grandstands are the greens to the second hole at Randolph North Golf Course and the fourth hole at Dell Urich Golf Course - yes, two 18-hole municipal courses.
Tucson's most centrally-located park, walking and biking paths, a lake, picnic areas and ball fields complete the spacious confines of Reid Park. Other nearby attractions includes Randolph Recreation Center, the El Con Mall, shopping centers, and dining establishments.
It was not always that way, though. Before the park and the zoo, the field provided a desert oasis for baseball. Lush desert vegetation created a natural border between the field and the surrounding neighborhoods. The only hustle and bustle in those days came from the crack of the bats and the cheers from the crowd at the diamond.
Hi Corbett Field was built in 1927 and originally named Randolph Municipal Baseball Park. The initial home teams in the early years included the Tucson Waddies and the Tucson Cowboys of the Arizona State League. In 1931, the Tucson Missions played in the Arizona-Texas League and the Tucson Lizards were the name in 1932. From 1933-1958 the Tucson Cowboys occupied the ballpark.
But the big news for the stadium came in 1946 when the Cleveland Indians moved their spring training operations to Tucson. Hiram Steven Corbett, a long-time Arizona state senator and president of the Tucson Baseball Commission, played a key role in luring the Indians. Corbett worked with Bill Veeck, then owner of the Indians, to make the deal happen.
"If Horace Stoneham will bring the New York Giants to Phoenix to train, I will bring the Cleveland Indians to Tucson," Veeck is quoted as saying on the Cactus League official website.
In the Cactus League's inaugural opener on March 8, 1946, Bob Lemon got the win as the Indians defeated the Giants 3-1. In 1951, the city of Tucson renamed the ballpark in honor of Corbett and it has since been known simply as Hi Corbett Field.
For 46 years, it was the Indians' home for spring training. In 1992, the Indians announced they were moving their spring training location to Florida. The Colorado Rockies, a new expansion franchise, immediately moved into the facility in the spring of 1993. The club remained there through the 2010 spring training season.
The ballpark was the home of the Tucson Toros, a Class-AAA affiliate, from 1969-1997. But when the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago White Sox opened the Kino Sports Complex as a spring training site, the Tucson Toros permanently moved to the new park and became known as the Tucson Sidewinders. Thereafter, USA baseball, the Arizona Heat of National Pro Fastpitch and the Golden Baseball League's Tucson Toros have been headquartered at Hi Corbett.
The last year and a half has seen the historic ballpark go mostly unused in an eclectic part of a town that once rallied around the teams that called Tucson home, even if just for a month or two during the year. Still, the history and legacies of the old ballpark remain and await new chapters to be written in the years to come.
Under the Lights
The Chicago Cubs scheduled their first night game at Wrigley Field for Aug. 8, 1988. That game with the Philadelphia Phillies was rained out after three and a half innings and the Cubs played their first official night game the next day against the New York Mets, a 6-4 Cubs' victory.
Flashback - yes back in time - 48 years to the first collegiate night game ever played in Tucson. On April 26, 1940, the Arizona Wildcats hosted the New Mexico Lobos at Randolph Park - now Hi Corbett Field - for the final series of the season that was to determine the winner of the Border Conference championship.
The Tucson Daily Citizen wrote in its April 26 issue that "the game will start at 8 o'clock and a large crowd is expected." The crowd - estimated a day later at 500 by the Arizona Daily Star - witnessed a game for the ages.
Not only was it the school's first night game, but hurler Ken Heist, throwing in his final collegiate game, struck out 21 batsmen. At the time it was believed to be a school record and remains the top mark in program history to this day.
"Burning `em over with rocket-like velocity, Kenny mowed the Lobos down in almost mechanical manner," wrote the Arizona Daily Star a day later. Heist had yielded just two base hits all night long until the ninth inning before giving up a pair of singles, "but Heist turned on the steam and sent the next three men down swinging."
Heist's remarkable performance has been documented sporadically throughout Arizona baseball annals. However, it has never been consistently documented as the top mark for whatever reasons. Even when referenced in some old media guides, the year has been listed as 1941, and the Arizona Daily Star once referred to the record as occurring in 1942.
Without Heist's mark, past archives have listed two players sharing the school record. In 1962, Dan Schneider struck out 20 against Utah and Leon Hooten matched that tally against New Mexico in 1969.
Alas, Heist's 21 will prove to be the record going forward.
Let's Play Two
One of the Arizona baseball traditions from decades past was to play day-night double-headers. The first game was often scheduled for early afternoon on campus at UA Field and the nightcap slated for a 7 o'clock or later first pitch just a few miles down the road at Hi Corbett Field.
On April 11, 1959, the Wildcats hosted upstart Arizona State in a highly anticipated series. The Sun Devils, in their first year under coach Bobby Winkles, were a program on the rise and posed a potential challenge to a UA program bidding for a 10th-straight trip to the NCAA district playoffs.
The Arizona Daily Star previewed the series by writing, "the clubs tangle at 2 o'clock this afternoon at the UA field and conclude the twin-bill with a game under the lights tonight at Hi Corbett Field, beginning at 7:30."
Arizona won both games by scores of 10-1 and 6-3, respectively. Catcher Alan Hall blasted a home run in each game, one at UA Field and another over at Hi Corbett Field. His battery-mate for the nightcap was ace hurler Dave Baldwin.
"Fastballer Dave Baldwin went all the way for Arizona last night picking up his sixth victory," wrote Dick Casey in the Arizona Daily Star. "Baldwin was erratic at times but continued his torrid strikeout pace with 12."
Perhaps the big moment came on Hall's homer in the fifth inning, and Casey described the play as such: "Last night under the lights at Hi Corbett Field before a crowd of 1,226, Alan Hall's leadoff home run in the fifth inning capped a four-run Wildcat uprising that brought them from behind to take the win."
The following week the Wildcats played host to the Sull Ross Lobos, a small institution in Alpine, Texas, with an enrollment of 2,000 and known as much for its rodeo as any of its athletic programs.
Arizona defeated the Lobos 4-1 in a whirlwind game that lasted just one hour and 37 minutes on a Friday afternoon at UA Field. Birdie Morago hurled a two-hit masterpiece and faced only 29 official batters, retiring the final 18 in order.
The next day the two teams were set for a twin-bill. The Wildcats captured an easy 11-5 victory at UA Field in the afternoon, highlighted by an ejection of the Lobos starting catcher. Casey noted the incident and wrote that "George Martin was thumbed out of the afternoon game by umpire Bill Long after protesting too vigorously on a call while Arizona was batting in the fifth inning. Martin became so angry he tossed the baseball he was holding over the fence and into the street."
The nightcap was at Hi Corbett Field and featured an interesting pitching duel. Arizona's Jim Ward squared off against a former Wildcat, Herman Hudson, who "shackled the Cats for four innings" as Casey mentioned in his game story. But the Wildcats' bats awoke in the middle stages, tying the game and eventually taking a 3-1 lead in the sixth inning en route to a 6-1 win to capture the series sweep.
One week later, on April 25, the UA was again up to it's usual double-dip winning ways. After Morago hurled a four-hit shutout in a 13-0 victory over Air Force at UA Field in the afternoon, Baldwin took to the mound and fanned 18 Falcons in a 23-2 rout at Hi Corbett Field in the evening. Casey called Baldwin "a fire-balling strikeout artist" in the next day's paper.
College Baseball's Spring Training
Arizona's dry and warm climate affords the opportunity to play baseball year round in the Old Pueblo. The chamber-of-commerce spring afternoons are no exception, but are sometimes easy to take for granted - unless you're from the colder climates.
Indeed, teams from the Midwest migrated annually to Tucson to enjoy outdoor baseball in the sunny southwest. Michigan and Iowa were two regular visitors to Tucson, often traveling out west to play as many as eight games against the Wildcats.
The Hawkeyes first traveled to Tucson for a six-game series in 1952. Despite winning just one game, they returned for the next 10 seasons. A few years later, the annual vacation resumed and from 1964-1974 they played at least two games in Tucson every year.
It was customary for the Wildcats and Hawkeyes to play single games on four-straight days and then take a day off before playing a double-header on a Saturday to wrap up the series. Often times the double-header was capped at night at Hi Corbett Field.
The same held true with the Wolverines from Michigan. UM first came to Tucson in 1960 and was a regular visitor in the 1960s and early 70s. In 1963, the Wildcats and Wolverines tussled for six games, playing three at Hi Corbett Field. It was a familiar slate between the schools in most seasons.
While Oklahoma, Southern Illinois and others traveled to play in Tucson, some years felt like the Wildcats belonged in the Big 10 Conference. The Wildcats played six games with Iowa, two with Michigan and four with Wisconsin, including two at Hi Corbett, in 1965. A year later, Ohio State was on the slate four times and again for two contests in 1969.
In 1972, the Wildcats played the Wolverines eight-straight games and then turned around to play Iowa eight times. A tilt with Tulsa was mixed in, but otherwise 16 of 17 home games were played against the two Big 10 schools.
The week-long visits by the Big 10 schools were like mini-spring trainings for teams that sometimes were playing outdoors for the first time when they arrived. Usually the lack of outdoor practice proved burdensome to the visitors. For instance, Iowa collecting a mere 19 wins in 118 chances against the Wildcats from 1952-74. Even so, sometimes luck fell on the side of the visitors and that was certainly the case in 1959.
In the opening game of a six-game series, the Hawkeyes mounted an improbable rally to tie the Wildcats 6-6. The Tucson Daily Citizen's Carl Porter noted in an article dated March 24, 1959, that "the odd part of yesterday's series lidlifter was the fact it was perhaps Iowa's lack of outdoor workouts that came through for the visitors in the 11th hour."
Arizona was leading 6-4 in the ninth inning with top arm Dave Baldwin on mound. Porter described Baldwin "hot as an August afternoon at the time, striking out the first two men in the ninth for his 11th and 12th whiffs of the game."
To make matters worse for Iowa, late afternoon "shadows engulfed UA Field except for a few rosy streaks of setting sun" and Baldwin's "flashing fastball looked as pale as the misty moon in left field."
"We haven't been out of our field house for six weeks," a Hawkeye player told Porter before the game. "And man, is the light bad for hitting in there."
But the Hawkeyes, used to hitting in poor lighting, mounted a two-out rally to tie the game at 6-6. Playing at UA Field, the game had to be called after 10 innings and three hours and 31 minutes of action, illustrating why so many games had to be played at Hi Corbett Field in those days. Arizona won the series 3-2-1 that year in what was one of the most closely contested series with the Hawkeyes over the years.
The days of the extended visits has long since passed, however. Michigan has returned to play in Tucson as recently as 2009 (a three-game UA sweep), but otherwise Iowa (1974), Wisconsin (1972) and Ohio State (1969) have not been back since the old UA Field/Hi Corbett years and the collegiate version of spring training.
Friend Turns Foe
The Cleveland Indians played a big part in Tucson's baseball history during the middle half of the 20th Century. After all, Tucson was the Indians' home for spring training since 1946, which helped cultivate a supportive baseball culture in town.
But in the late 1950s, Arizona coach Frank Sancet found the business operations of the Indians to be bothersome. In early March of 1959, one of Sancet's top players, third baseman Gene Leek, abruptly signed a professional contract with the Indians. The Tucson Daily Citizen's George McLeod wrote that the contract was estimated at nearly $50,000 over the next four years.
Sancet was left disgruntled at the signing. According the Tucson Daily Citizen, Sancet banned his players from working out with the Indians and announced that he would do all possible to keep his players from signing with Cleveland.
Sancet told the newspaper, "I'm angry over one thing ... that Leek was signed during the season. This is the first time in the history of the school it has happened. Lots of kids, in fact, just about all of them, have signed with remaining eligibility. But I don't get mad at that. They sign between seasons when we still had time to make our plans."
Within hours of signing, Leek collected a pair of hits and assisted in a rally-killing double play for the Indians A team that defeated the Chicago Cubs A team, 10-5, in Mesa. Two days later, Leek and the Indians A team were scheduled to return to Tucson and play the Boston Red Sox at Hi Corbett Field.
Leek teamed with former Wildcat Carl Thomas as local sensations during spring training that year. Lou Pavlovich wrote in the Tucson Daily Citizen that Leek was the "most exciting bit of news to hit a Cleveland spring camp since the days when Herb Score was discovered. This University of Arizona performer got a running mate in the `surprise' department yesterday when big Carl Thomas, also an ex-Wildcat, hurled three spectacular innings to help Cleveland bounce the Boston Red Sox, 7-5, with 5,106 fans - about 1,000 less than the record turnout at Hi Corbett Field - watching."
The situation is not so different from what college coaches face today battling the professional ranks. With the Major League Baseball First-Year Player draft annually held in June - at the same time of the NCAA postseason - draft-eligible players are often selected by organizations before their college seasons are over. Sometimes, as was the case in 2011 for a handful of Wildcats playing in the College Station Regional Championship game, players are drafted without their knowing during the course of a game.
None, however, traded their jerseys in quite as quickly as Leek did some 50-plus years ago.
Fighting for the Playoffs
In the 1950s, Arizona was fighting with perennial Texas powers for the right to host the District 6 Playoffs. The stadiums and crowds were, as the saying goes, bigger in Texas.
That began to change, however, when the Wildcats started playing postseason games at Hi Corbett Field. Arizona was actually awarded postseason tournaments in 1951 and 1953. The Wildcats were beaten by Texas A&M and Texas, respectively, in each of those seasons.
Arizona caught a bit of break in 1954 when it participated in the 1954 District 7 Playoffs at Northern Colorado and at Wyoming instead of playing the Texas schools from District 6. The Wildcats broke through for their first trip to the College World Series that season, and again did so after playing on the road at Texas A&M in the 1955 District 6 Playoffs.
By then Arizona had established itself as a premier program. One of the missing ingredients was the big home crowds, and those started to turn up in the 1956 season. To boot, the Wildcats had arguably the best starting pitching staff in school history with aces Carl Thomas and Don Lee, and Ernest Oosterveen was an outstanding No. 3 starter who once suffered a loss that year despite pitching into the 15th inning of a contest.
One of the highlights of that 1956 season came in mid-April in a night game at Hi Corbett Field. In front of a crowd of 1,200, ace hurler Lee earned a win of his own with a three-run blast in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Wildcats a prevailing 5-2 victory over San Diego State. His pitching and hitting heroics extended the school's winning streak to 24 straight games, and eventually a then-school record 25.
Bud Tucker of the Tucson Daily Citizen said the large and boisterous crowd "serves to indicate Tucson will support college baseball - if the games are staged at working men's hours." Tucker added in his column that UA graduate manager Bumps Tribolet was "elated over the large turnout." Indeed, night games were a hit in the town.
Hosting playoff games required at least that much support and financial considerations were an issue then as they are today.
As Abe Chanin cited in the Arizona Daily Star on May 10, 1956, "Last year the NCAA district six playoffs in little Bryan, Tex., drew almost 18,000 for three games between Arizona and Texas A&M." Chanin added, "It will cost some $2,500 to bring the TCU baseball team here and that calls for hefty attendance to make the `nut', as they say in the entertainment business."
By season's end, Arizona was hosting the playoffs and fans came out in droves to support their club. It was a highly anticipated series against the Horned Frogs that forced UA officials to bring in extra bleacher seating as sellouts were expected.
Those that packed the stands for the series opener on May 21 were treated to a classic contest. As Tucker described, "With two out in the bottom of the ninth inning and Cat centerfielder Lee Myers on second base, [Craig] Sorensen jumped on the three-and-two offering of Frog pitcher Doug Balkum and parked it over the 360-foot left field wall to break a 5-5 tie and send 4,635 fans - the largest throng ever to watch a UA baseball game - into near hysteria."
Arizona won the series in two games and went on to a third-straight College World Series appearance. The next two times the Wildcats hosted the District 6 Playoffs - in 1958 and 1960 - they also clinched appearances in the College World Series.
Some Unusual Foes
Arizona baseball schedules in the 1950's featured some unusual opponents. Williams Air Force Base, the San Diego Marines, Camp Pendleton, Oakland Acorns and Darr Aero Tech are just a few of the many opponents that show up in the year-by-year schedules.
One of the more memorable series was held in Tucson in May of 1950. Arizona, which had suffered just two losses all season long, hosted a three-game set against the National University of Mexico.
The opening game was held at night at Randolph Park on May 15. Dale Edwards led an offensive explosion with four hits as the Wildcats trounced the Pumas by a score of 17-1. Left-hander Dick Corrigan struck out 18 on the evening to earn the victory.
The Arizona Daily Star's Abe Chanin wrote in the next day's paper that "the young sophomore hurler came within three of tying the University of Arizona strikeout record in handcuffing the Mexico U. Pumas last night."
Interestingly, Chanin noted that the strikeout record of 21 was set by Kenny Heist - which it was - but that it occurred in 1942. It actually was set in 1940 against New Mexico at Randolph Park.
Perhaps the biggest news to come from the Wildcats' victory that night, however, was that Arizona was awarded the school's first ever NCAA Tournament berth before the game. The Wildcats were tabbed to go up against Texas in Austin for the right to represent District 6 at the College World Series. The Wildcats lost that playoff two games to one.
But from that year on, Arizona became a household name in college baseball as the Wildcats emerged as regular participants in the district playoffs and eventually the College World Series. In fact, it became such a common occurrence that the Wildcats would often add unscheduled games prior to playing in the postseason.
In 1959, Arizona had secured a spot in the District 6 Playoffs and had wrapped up the regular season. But with a couple weeks before the playoffs, Coach Frank Sancet did not want his club to develop any rust before heading to College Station, Texas, to play at Texas A&M.
A year earlier, Arizona took two weeks off before packing up and heading to Austin, Texas. The Wildcats dropped the opening game and eventually bounced back to win the series, but the Wildcats struggled offensively.
"Maybe that hurt our hitting," Sancet admitted to the Tucson Daily Citizen about his 1958 squad. After escaping Texas in the District 6 playoffs, Arizona quickly was dispatched in two games at the College World Series in a performance that the paper described as "most anemic plate performances" of the season.
So in 1959, Sancet gave Wildcat fans one last treat with a tilt against a club team - Jameson Sporting Goods. The contest was set for 8 p.m. at Hi Corbett Field and a game the Wildcats would win, 6-5.
Interestingly, Jameson had defeated the Case Grande Cotton Kings earlier in the year, the reining state championship semi-pro team. The Cotton Kings were a regular on the UA schedule and happened to be the only team to sweep a series from the Wildcats in 1959.
The Wildcats also played games against Jameson and Casa Grande in the extra time leading up to the College World Series. Arizona won its first three games of the World Series that year, before dropping two-run decisions to Fresno State and Oklahoma State, putting an end to the program's bid for its first national title.
The Rivalry Games
Perhaps no Arizona baseball tradition at Hi Corbett Field was as strong as hosting Arizona State at the big ballpark under the lights. Fans filled the stands for the big rivalry games, particularly in the 1960s when Bobby Winkles was leading the Sun Devils to national prominence and giving Frank Sancet and the Wildcats a true rival.
In 1960, the Wildcats hosted the Sun Devils for a day-night double-header to close the regular season collegiate schedule (another game against the Casa Grande Cotton Kings was scheduled a few days later at Hi Corbett Field) with the nightcap taking place at Hi Corbett Field. The Wildcats won both games, hosted the District 6 Playoffs against Houston and went on to the College World Series.
Five years later, Arizona hosted all three games of an April set against the Sun Devils at Hi Corbett Field in 1965. The Wildcats took two out of three, but dropped all three games in Tempe a few weeks later and finished second in the Western Athletic Conference South. The Sun Devils won their first national championship that year while Arizona was kept out of the postseason.
The Wildcats extracted some revenge the following year. After dropping two of three games up the road in Tempe in April, Arizona hosted the Sun Devils for the regular season finale and, as was usually the case, the WAC South race came down to the season-ending showdown between the Wildcats and Sun Devils.
While not as strong as the national title team, Arizona State's roster boasted Reggie Jackson and posed a legitimate threat to the homestanding Wildcats. But Arizona's players and fans answered the bell in the biggest games of the year.
The Tucson Daily Citizen's Carl Porter summarized the frenzy that surrounded the series.
"[Pat] O'Brien pitched and batted the University of Arizona to a breathtaking 1-0 victory over arch-rival Arizona State University at Hi Corbett Field as 6,373 partisan fans screamed their approval."
John Lindblom would add that the crowd "strained the seams of Hi Corbett Field" and set UA attendance records for a single game as well as the season.
The 1-0 series-opening victory was hard fought. The Sun Devils out-hit the Wildcats 8-5, and Jackson, the starting center fielder, had two hits. But the Wildcats work was far from complete.
The series would be decided in a wild double-header at Hi Corbett Field a day later, when the Sun Devils rallied for a run in the seventh and another in the eighth to overcome and eventually hold off Arizona, 5-4, to tie the series.
The rubber match later in the evening saw a crowd of 5,368. The Sun Devils took a 1-0 lead in the second inning, but UA starter Mike Paul shut down the rivals the rest of his way as he went the distance for one of his five complete games of the season. The UA offense broke through for four runs in the fifth and two more in the sixth to pull away with a 6-1 series-clinching victory.
Arizona went on to defeat Wyoming in Laramie for the WAC Championship, swept Idaho in two games of the District 7 Playoffs in Tucson and ultimately went onto yet another College World Series Appearance, while Arizona State missed the playoffs.
Hi Corbett continued to be a big draw for the series in the 1970's. Before UA Field opened up in 1975, the final Arizona-Arizona State series to be played at Hi Corbett Field was in 1974, a year in which the Wildcats set a school record with 58 victories.
The three games to end the regular season were 14-3, 14-9 and 11-1 Wildcat romps over the Sun Devils. The series drew a then school record 22,786 fans for the three games. A few years later, at the newly revamped and lighted Wildcat Field, the series drew a new record 23,090 on campus in 1978.
In 1967, the Arizona baseball program proudly opened Wildcat Field. It was a much needed upgrade and moved the baseball facility from the current library location to where the structure remains today. However, Wildcat Field opened without lights and the baseball team still hosted plenty of games at Hi Corbett Field, accumulating a 37-15 record from 1967-74.
The need for lights at Wildcat Field was apparent even in the early stages of the1975 season. On Feb. 22, Arizona played a double header against San Diego State at Wildcat Field. UA won the scheduled seven-inning first game 7-6, and then won a shortened second game 6-3 after the game was called after seven innings due to darkness.
A month later, the campus diamond was still waiting for the installation of the lights to be completed. On March 23, UA and Southern Illinois tied 4-4 after the game was called after 10 innings due to darkness at Wildcat Field. The Wildcats had prevailed the night prior, 15-0, before a crowd of 1,047 at Hi Corbett Field.
The 1975 season also included some of the school's frequent double-headers, with one game on campus and another in the evening at Hi Corbett Field. On March 15, Arizona defeated Northern Colorado, 7-3, at Wildcat Field. Later that day, UA defeated Northern Colorado, 8-3, before 1,159 fans at Hi Corbett Field. Pitcher Steve Powers doubled, scored a run and had an RBI as he improved to 7-0 in the season with a complete game four-hitter highlighted by 10 strikeouts in the nightcap.
A few weeks later, Arizona opened a three-game series with UTEP at Hi Corbett Field. The Wildcats won the opener 23-4 behind a complete game, 10-strikeout performance by Craig Gioia in front of 2,087 fans. The next day, UA won 11-4 in an afternoon game at Wildcat Field, before winning 20-1 in a nightcap at Hi Corbett Field in front of 1,566. Powers improved to 9-1 with eight strikeouts in seven innings.
But by season's end, the Wildcats were ready to turn on the lights at Wildcat Field. The first night game at Wildcat Field was played on April 18, 1975 when Arizona State beat Arizona, 9-1, before a record crowd of 9,118 fans. On that night, ASU's Floyd Bannister struck out 17 Wildcats and had a no hitter going until one out in the eighth inning when UA pinch hitter Scott Russell doubled.
While not the start the Wildcats had hoped for, they finally had an on-campus facility with lights to host night games, doubleheaders and NCAA postseason tournaments. The venue was renamed Frank Sancet Stadium in 1986 and later to Jerry Kindall Field at Frank Sancet Stadium in 2003. All added up, the ballpark hosted 1,604 games from 1967-2011, with the Wildcats winning 1,114 games against 486 losses and four ties.
Returning To An Old Home
For Arizona baseball, the numbers speak for themselves. The program boasts three national championships, 15 College World Series trips, 36 postseason appearances and 2,573 all-time victories. Only six schools have more titles and only six have more wins.
The rise to national prominence began in 1950 with the program's first-ever trip to the NCAA District Playoffs and it has continued for more than six decades. In that span, Arizona has had just four head coaches - Frank Sancet, Jerry Kindall, Jerry Stitt and Andy Lopez. It is a select group of men that has connected eras and generations of players to one great lineage of success. They have coached ball clubs at Randolph Municipal Baseball Park, UA Field and Wildcat Field.
Randolph Park eventually became Hi Corbett Field. UA Field was often referenced as University Field or the University Diamond over the years. Wildcat Field was renamed Frank Sancet Stadium and later Jerry Kindall Field at Frank Sancet Stadium.
As the years have rolled by and Arizona has upgraded its facilities on campus, the need to play night games at Hi Corbett Field has long since faded. From the mid 1970's through the 2000's, Arizona baseball's home as been at Frank Sancet Stadium at Jerry Kindall Field. It has become a sanctuary for Wildcat baseball that was the foundation for three national championship teams. Players from those years know no other home.
Going forward, however, Arizona has a chance to reinvent itself in today's college baseball landscape. Hi Corbett Field will provide the Wildcats with a venue full of amenities that is perhaps second to none in college baseball. Players will practice and play in a Major League-caliber facility used recently by the Colorado Rockies. Fans will enjoy giant grandstands with outstanding sightlines, free parking and the familiar big league ambiance that spring training offered for so many years.
In doing so, everything that Arizona baseball has accomplished in the years away from Hi Corbett will not only be remembered but celebrated. The history and tradition of Arizona baseball is too significant to ignore or forget. The program will always be defined by the legendary coaches, the outstanding ballplayers and the tremendous fans, whose support has accompanied the Wildcats no matter where the games have been played.
When the Wildcats take the field this spring, they are not moving into a new stadium. Instead, Arizona baseball is returning to an old home that has been the site of many special moments in the past and surely plenty more in the future.
Regardless of the name of the stadium, Arizona baseball will continue its tradition of excellence.