When word got out that the University of Arizona athletic department was considering moving its baseball program off campus the response was mixed.
Those in favor of a move to Hi Corbett Field saw it as an instant upgrade in facilities and a financial boost. Those opposed talked about walking away from history and ignoring tradition.
The thing is, Hi Corbett is a part of Wildcat history. A big part.
The raw numbers don’t show it. How can a stadium that only hosted 50-some-odd games compare to a facility where the UA won more a thousand times?
Hi Corbett didn’t get a lot of Arizona baseball games but, for many years, it got the best ones.
The College World Series started in 1947. The UA made its first appearance in 1954 under head coach Frank Sancet. When the Cats hosted playoff games they did so not at the stadium that came to bear Sancet’s name, but at Hi Corbett.
In 1956 Arizona went 43-6 in the regular season and needed to beat Texas Christian in a best-of-three series to advance to Omaha for the third straight year. The series opener was on May 20 and Bud Tucker of the Tucson Daily Citizen wrote:
Arizona officials happily counted the gate for tonight’s game and announced that a sellout was assured. Well over 4,000 fans will jam Hi Corbett Field and extra bleachers have been erected to handle the throng.
Those fans were treated to a very exciting finish:
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.
Hi Corbett also played host to big regular season games and none were bigger than those involving Arizona State. In 1966, as was usually the case, the WAC South race came down to the season-ending showdown between the Wildcats and Sun Devils. ASU was led by a lad named Reggie Jackson who owned May before he became Mr. October.
In the May 14 issue of the Citizen sports editor Carl Porter summarized the first game of 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.
Frank Sancet made his ninth and final trip to the College World Series in 1970 but not without the help of a Hi Corbett comeback. The Wildcats trailed Denver by a score of 8-4 in the bottom of the 9th of the deciding game before erupting for five runs to win the District 7 championship. On May 29 the Daily Citizen described the postgame scene like this:
Yesterday as they stood around the field signing autographs and accepting congratulations from fans, they tried to explain how they had done it this time.
The Wildcats have roots at Hi Corbett. Long-time Arizona fans have fond memories of the old stadium.
At the very least Tucson is talking about the BatCats again. When was the last time Bud Foster attended a UA baseball press conference?
The biggest absence at the press conference was the program’s living coaching legend, Jerry Kindall. The three-time national champion was the vocal leader of those who favored baseball remaining on campus. But when the final decision was made Kindall took the high road and gave public support to current coach Andy Lopez and athletic director Greg Byrne.
Byrne said both Kindall and Sancet will be honored at Hi Corbett, but the best place to pay tribute will be on the field. Arizona Baseball’s greatest tradition is winning. The Wildcats’ 15 College World Series appearances are 9th all-time. The three national titles are the 7th highest total. That’s where the UA tradition has been lacking the last 25 years.
Arizona had tremendous success at Wildcat Field/Sancet Stadium/Kindall Field. The UA had success at Hi Corbett too.
This isn’t a move to a stadium. It’s a return to a stadium.
The next challenge is to make it a return to winning.
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