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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Time for improvement at Hillenbrand Stadium

Tyler+Baker+%2F+Arizona+Daily+Wildcat%0A%0AUA+Softball+took+on+UCLA+this+weekend+and+lost+the+series+2-1.+
Tyler Baker
Tyler Baker / Arizona Daily Wildcat UA Softball took on UCLA this weekend and lost the series 2-1.

In Hillenbrand’s glory days, it was the premiere stadium for recruits and players. But other other schools have caught up and Hillenbrand is becoming outdated.

The power of facilities is demonstrated by the baseball team. Once an afterthought, it has now has surpassed softball and joined football and basketball as one of the three most popular teams in town.

Sophomore first baseman Hallie Wilson said when she first heard about Hillenbrand needing improvements, she thought it was funny. But the difference between the baseball and softball teams’ facilities is laughable. To go to the bathroom, softball players have to run out to restrooms by the tennis courts, whereas the baseball team has a Major League clubhouse.

A few years ago, the baseball team was pathetic. An average game would bring in only a handful of people. But then last year, baseball won its first national championship since the mid-1980s, in a new stadium no less.

Softball is slumping this year, but is not far off from being one of the best programs in the country once again.

Last Friday, despite the game being late in the afternoon on a weekday, the stadium was almost full. A day later, even though the UA lost by 10 runs on Friday, the stadium was standing room only.

Arizona softball has led the nation in attendance nine times, including an NCAA record in 2011 after averaging about 1,000 fans. Average attendance has been about 2,500 since 2009. How many schools get more than 2,000 fans for a non-conference softball game?

Last year, I went to a softball game against Oregon State. Despite being about 20 minutes early, we had to get standing room-only tickets.

Bottom line, Arizona has outgrown Hillenbrand.

It was built long before softball was this popular, long before televised games or the facilities arms race extended into softball.

After Hillenbrand was first constructed, players for the dominant program at the time, UCLA, sat in beach chairs during its games. The Wildcats outgrew that and outfield bleachers were then installed.

The original stadium, which has been sold out since the early 1990s, only goes halfway up the first and third base lines. Move the bullpens back. How often are they actually used during a game? More seats could be added, which would even allow for a student section.

If you build it, they will come. And if they don’t, then at least there would be enough seats to have as many as 5,000 fans for series against teams like UCLA and ASU.

If Mike Candrea wants to see any new recruits, the UA should think about investing in Hillenbrand’s expansion. The program has more than proven it can fill a stadium but what it needs most is the UA’s support in its future.

— James Kelley is a history senior. He can be reached at
sports@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @JamesKelley520.

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