UA baseball at Hi Corbett Field

Olde Tyme Base Ball Photographe
Photo by Gary Gaynor/The Tucson Daily Citizen

The college baseball season is still more than a month away but the University of Arizona unveiled the rebranded Hi Corbett Field, both to the media and the fans.

The marketing push has given the UA baseball program a higher profile than in recent years and increased season ticket sales.

It also uncovered a forgotten record.

The Wildcats’ connection to Hi Corbett stretches back for decades and, on a Friday night in the spring of 1940, the old stadium witnessed one of the greatest pitching performances in school history.

The college baseball season was an abbreviated affair back then. When the schedule was announced it only contained 10 games, including one with the Bisbee Bees, a professional team in the old Arizona-Texas League (a league that included the Tucson Cowboys, another Hi Corbett tenant).

The UA, coached by J.F. McKale, opened the season with the Arizona State-Tempe Bulldogs (and the Cats swept the two-game set, 17-1 and 22-4). The season ended with a home series against the University of New Mexico and that’s when history was made.

It was billed as the “mythical Border conference baseball championship.” The series began on April 26, 1940 in the first UA night game ever at Hi Corbett Field (then known as Randolph Municipal Park). Wildcat pitcher Kenny Heist made the final start of his college career. The Tucson Daily Citizen wrote:

Heist, who never pitched better, retired 21 batsmen by the strikeout route and limited the Lobos to four hits. He was believed to have set a new University of Arizona strikeout record.

It’s a record that hasn’t been equaled since. Dan Schneider and Leon Hooten each had a 20-strikeout game in the 1960s but no one has matched Heist’s blackjack under the lights at Muny Park.

The highlight of the night came late in the game:

In the seventh inning an error, a single and a walk choked the cushions with none away. But Heist, cool as a cucumber and with plenty on the ball, sent the next three willow wielders back to the bench as strikeout victims.

The Arizona Daily Star read:

HEIST STRIKES OUT 21 AS CATS WHIP LOBOS, 8-0
Arizona Righthander Ends Collegiate Career in Scintillating Way

…Burning ’em over with rocket-like velocity, Kenny mowed the Lobos down in almost mechanical manner….

The crowd of 500 fans cheered loudly at the finish.

…the [New Mexico] boys would have been just as well off waving flags as bats.

Hi Corbett Field and Kenny Heist have now both returned to the Arizona Baseball spotlight.

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I wish I could say I was smart enough to have come across this record on my own. The UA media relations department put out a request for a look at the Tucson Citizen archives to verify the result. I heard about it and asked myself: “Would I like to research a record that was set a long time ago on a baseball field?” Would I?? Did Pop McKale wear funny little hats?

I took my family to the Select-A-Seat event on Saturday, another great move by Greg Byrne and the athletic department to bring much-needed attention to the UA baseball program. My kids each got a picture taken with Wilma Wildcat (my youngest isn’t sure about that Wilbur character).

The field looks beautiful, as if the season were starting tomorrow. The additional chairs with seat backs will be a welcome change for fans from Sancet Stadium, as will the shaded section behind home plate during those Sunday afternoon games in May.

Hi Corbett Field will be a great place to watch college baseball games.

What record-breaking performances await?

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Scott Terrell likes to talk about old stuff on new stuff like Twitter and Facebook.