So, what’s a run to the national championship game in college baseball worth? How about $1 million?
It’s probably not just coincidental that right after the University of Arizona baseball team advanced all the way to the finals of the College World Series a $1 million pledge came from an anonymous donor. The matching-gift challenge was announced by the school just over a week ago.
The money is earmarked specifically for the baseball program and will be used in making renovations to Hi Corbett Field where the team plays, fan amenities, and other improvements for the student-athletes.
“This gift is a major difference-maker for our program,” said head coach Jay Johnson, who was hired away from the University of Nevada last year. “It reaffirms to me how great it is to coach at Arizona, where people care so much about out program and especially the student-athletes.”
Arizona began playing at the Tucson City-owned Hi Corbett in the 2012 season, moving from their on-campus home at Frank Sancet Stadium that the program had used for 44 years. Since moving into Hi Corbett, which seats 8,665 and is used for Major League spring training and minor-league games, the Wildcats have been one of the nation’s top draws, averaging 3,043 fans a game last season – which led the Pac-12 Conference. In one game, they drew over 8,000 fans.
Those numbers could grow even larger next year following Arizona’s ‘Cinderella’ run through the post-season to finish just one game shy of its fifth national title. The Cats were playing under a first-year head coach who had just three years’ experience as a college head coach and had been picked by the other Pac-12 coaches in the pre-season to finish ninth in the league.
They beat Coastal Carolina in the first game of the three-game championship series in Omaha, only to drop the next two as the title slipped through their fingers.
But on the way to the title match-up they accomplished enough to re-energize a dedicated fan base that has been waiting four years for their team to get back to the CWS. The last time the Cats went to Omaha, under Johnson’s predecessor, Andy Lopez, they brought back the 2012 national championship.
There was no title this year, but much for Wildcat Nation to cheer about.
The 49 wins this season were the most since 1986 when Arizona won its third national championship, and the 11-4 post-season record is the best in program history. The team went 6-1 through the regionals and super regionals to earn their berth in Omaha.
And the team’s ERA of 3.18 is the best from an Arizona pitching staff in the last 42 years.
As a result, Johnson was named the ABCA West Region Coach of the Year and earned a place in the school record books since the 49 wins were the most in program history by a first-year coach. He was also just the second first-year Arizona baseball coach in almost 70 years to qualify for the post-season.
Now the attention turns to that matching pledge. Fans can contribute to the challenge through the website that has been set up for that purpose: https://beardownchallenge.com/campaigns/arizona-baseball-match.
“Like all of our sports, it is critical that we re-invest in our baseball success,” said Arizona AD Greg Byrne. “This was the second time we have been to the College World Series since we moved to Hi Corbett Field, and we want to continue competing for championships in the coming years.”
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)