After 44 years, UA baseball moving to Hi Corbett Field

Greg Byrne is at it again.  The University of Arizona athletic director is moving the school’s baseball team out of the home it has occupied for more than 40 years.

While he’s encountering some opposition from alumni who played in the tradition-rich (3 national titles) baseball program and don’t want to abandon a significant part of that tradition, the decision to begin playing home games in 2012 at the city-owned Hi Corbett Field is generally regarded as a good one.

It’s just one of many the energetic AD has made in his 15 months on the job.

“I also spoke with many who saw this as a great opportunity to continue our championship tradition and further establish ourselves as one of the premier baseball programs in the nation,” he said in referencing the push-back he has encountered.

Andy Lopez, the head coach since 2002, admits this was a tough call, but says he is on board with the idea.

This week, the Tucson mayor and council voted unanimously to prepare a Letter of Intent that will enable the university to lease the field for the next 10 years.  The yearly nut is reportedly $250,000 per year for the first five years, with an option to renew for an additional five.

Arizona baseball has used Frank Sancet Stadium since 1967, where the teams have combined through the years for an all-time record of 1,114-486-4 for a .695 average.  It began as Wildcat Field, renamed to Frank Sancet Field in ’86, and then added an additional dedication when it became Jerry Kindall Field at Frank Sancet Stadium in 2003.

But moving into Hi Corbett gives the program a facility to compete with other universities across the country.

Hi Corbett seats 8,665 and is used for major-league spring training and minor-league games.  Arizona’s recruiters can woo potential players with visions of getting to play in a professional facility that includes home and visiting clubhouses attached to dugouts, an annex field for practicing, and a large press box with suites.

And, once the deal with the City has been completed, the university will begin adding upgrades to the facility that include renovations to the clubhouses and locker rooms, a new scoreboard that combines video display, and adjustments to the fence dimensions to conform to college regulations.

The Cats have actually used the facility before, during the 1974 season and before that for a series of night games during the ’60s and ’70s.

It offers players larger, shaded batting cages, with pitching mounds that will allow for year-round use by hitters and pitchers.  And it provides fans with a more enjoyable game-day experience since it has ample parking and an open concourse space that includes shaded patio areas, concession amenities, and numerous spacious restrooms.

More fans will translate to increased revenue, plus the additional income stream that will come with the ability to host large baseball tournaments.

Byrne, no doubt, has that all figured out.

The 39-year-old Arizona State graduate took over the AD position May 1 of last year, and hit the ground running.  He has beefed up the school’s marketing efforts and brought a new vision and energy to the athletic department.

Byrne, who held the same position at Mississippi State before taking over in Tucson when Jim Livengood departed for UNLV, has instituted a number of new programs designed to extend the reach of the “Arizona Experience” throughout the state.

He has been looking at the idea of playing one home game a season at different locales around the state.  First consideration went to extending his reach into enemy territory by holding a game at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, right under the noses of the ASU faithful.

But he has already begun “The Road Trip”, a five-day RV junket toward the end of the summer that takes members of the athletic department, select coaches, notable alumni, and various supporters to cities and towns all around the state.

In February, he formed a working group of local business people and other individuals involved with Wildcat athletics to study future facility needs, including a potential new downtown arena.

He’s also the first UofA athletic director to set up Twitter and Facebook accounts, letting him reach out to the Wildcat Nation via social media.  And he will unveil a new gigantic video board in time for this football season, a 5,356-square-foot display that is being installed in the south end zone of the stadium.

It’s a little more than twice the size of the largest board being used by his rival in Tempe and would be the biggest in the Pac-12 if the Los Angeles Coliseum wasn’t busy erecting a 6,000-square-foot board that will be used by the USC Trojans.

Based on what we’ve seen from him so far, it’s surprising that Byrne hasn’t figured out a way to add another 645 feet to his board.

Guess he’ll just have to settle for having the best baseball facility in the conference.