No. 5 ranking and a new home lift UA baseball into 2012

The University of Arizona baseball team now has a spiffy new No. 5 national ranking to go with its spiffy new digs at Hi Corbett Field.

Baseball America just released the results of its pre-season poll and the Wildcats appeared as the second-highest ranked team in the Pac-12, behind No. 2 Stanford.

This could be their best chance in recent years to get back to the College World Series, where they last appeared in 2004.  They fell short of that goal last year when they were beaten by Texas A&M in the Regional championship game, one game shy of 40 wins on the season.

The Cats have 18 players returning from that squad that went 39-21 and made it into the post-season for the second straight time.

Included on the 2012 roster are a couple of pre-season All-Americans, as junior pitcher Kurt Heyer was given that honor by Collegiate Baseball and junior shortstop Alex Mejia was awarded the designation by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.

A team many expect to get back to the College World Series for its 16th time will be a great recruiting tool – as will its new home at Hi Corbett.

The Cats will play 35 games at the historic stadium, located in the heart of mid-town Tucson and featuring many major league amenities.

Hi Corbett has a long history in the Old Pueblo.  Built in 1927, it was named after a state senator and, for 46 years, was home to the Cleveland Indians during spring training, and then the Colorado Rockies took possession from 1969 to 2010.  And during the regular season, the AAA Tucson Toros made the stadium its home from 1969 to 1997.

But in August, the university reached an agreement with the City to use the 8,665-seat stadium as the Wildcats’ new home. (See Phxfan article 8/11/11)

Included in those 35 homes games – which begin Feb. 17 with a series against North Dakota – are nine contests against teams that have also been ranked in the pre-season polls.  That should help draw bigger crowds – something that has been lacking in the past few years, despite the team putting a good brand of ball on the field.

In the 10 years that head coach Andy Lopez has been directing the program, the Cats have made six post-season appearances and went to the College World Series in 2004.

With the new stadium, Arizona can begin hosting post-season games, which will bring out the fans.  And an improved fan experience in a newly-upgraded and renovated facility will further that goal.

The No. 5 ranking is just icing on the cake.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)