Fall practice begins as UA Coach Lopez has heart surgery

The University of Arizona baseball team got through its opening week of fall practice without a key participant this year – the Cats’ head coach, Andy Lopez.

Lopez, who is beginning his 13th season running the Arizona program, wasn’t on the field Monday morning when the official fall practice schedule kicked off.  He was in a hospital instead, undergoing triple bypass heart surgery.

A heckuva way to have to start a new season.

But, as Arizona AD Greg Byrne noted in his weekly Wednesday newsletter to the Wildcat Nation, the surgery went well and said “we’re looking forward to a complete and speedy recovery.”

Byrned added:  “The family wanted me to pass along its appreciation for the outpouring of support over the last few days and I also want to thank everyone for the kind notes and messages we received.  The show of support is extremely important and we know it will help Coach Lopez as he works to get back to full strength.”

Twice a national Coach of the Year (at Arizona and Pepperdine), Lopez has taken the Wildcats into the post-season eight of his 12 years at UofA and into the NCAA College World Series twice, coming back with the national crown in 2012.  It was the fourth national title for the Arizona program.

Lopez checked into a Tucson-area hospital on Friday the 4th and by Monday was in the operating room.  As he began his recovery in the intensive care unit, his assistant coaches, Shaun Cole and Matt Siegel, conducted the first practice of the season.

Daily practices will run through Nov. 15.

Lopez is understandably anxious to get back out there again this season, after the way the 2013 campaign ended.  His Cats went from a share of the Pac-12 title and national championship in 2012 to failing to make it into the NCAA Tournament last year.

But they came excruciatingly close.

Arizona, which finished 34-21 overall and 15-15 in conference play, was passed over by the selection committee – despite a strong finish to the season, winning six of the last 10 games.

It was particularly disappointing for the fans that turned out in droves all season long to support the drive for a national title repeat.  The Cats drew 103,877 total attendance for the year, which ranked 14th out of 298 Division I programs, and averaged 2,733 per game, which was No. 21 nationally.

The move in 2012 from their on-campus home to Hi Corbett Field, a major league facility in midtown Tucson, has helped boost the attendance, and the crowds that first year reached 105,131 for the second-most in school history.

Arizona is scheduled to open the 2014 season at Hi Corbett on Feb. 14, but a complete schedule hasn’t been released yet.  The full schedule will be made public following Pac-12 Network selections in December.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)