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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Softball attendance as good as ever

    Questions on the field have surrounded the 2009 Arizona Softball team, but thus far, the fans have yet to become skeptical.

    As far as the Hillenbrand Stadium attendance goes, the Wildcats are looking to build on their current three-year streak as the most popular team in NCAA softball. To understand why attendance is so high, one must look no further than to the success of the program.

    “”We built the stadium in ’93, and I thought the minute that we built this facility that we had a good product,”” UA head coach Mike Candrea said of the fan base. “”We’ve been able to sustain that group of people because of the success of the program.””

    That success in drawing a large home crowd is supported by the numbers.

    Hillenbrand Stadium pulled in an average of 1,939 fans during last year’s Pacific 10 Conference home schedule. This year, in three games against the so-so competition of the Oregon schools, that average has been an astonishing 2,321 fans per game. On Friday against the Sun Devils, 2,794 fans packed into Hillenbrand Stadium.

    Comparing those statistics to games against rival UCLA – who has seen equal on-the-field success throughout the years – and Washington, shows that winning doesn’t automatically bring in the fans. At Washington on April 3, the Huskies managed to attract 970 fans and in UCLA the following two days, Arizona only faced 1,297 and 1,124 opposing fans.

    Softball marketing coordinator Alixe Holcomb said the infield stands have been completely sold out for the past couple years, but the outfield stands, dubbed “”Candrea’s Corner,”” are still relatively open on game days.

    The crowd atmosphere in the infield sells itself because of the loyalty to a winning tradition and also the bonds that form within the crowd itself.

    “”In softball, it’s more of a family,”” Holcomb said. “”People come back because they’re friends with the people they sit around. The weather is great by the time softball hits, so people really enjoy coming out and watching.””

    Also adding to the appeal, the closeness between the crowd and the playing field is one that can’t be replicated in many other sports.

    “”It’s a sport that’s in such high demand right now,”” Holcomb said. “”They want to come out for that poster and get it autographed, or that rally towel that says Arizona Softball on it or that chance to take a picture with the players. That helps drive it as well.””

    Nonetheless, all that can be traced back to the tradition that Candrea has built during his tenure. Winning cures all ills, not only on the field, but off it as well.

    “”That’s something I don’t take for granted,”” Candrea said. “”I like to tell the girls all the time, ‘You got to come out here and produce – if you don’t, the seats get empty’.””

    He has had the rare opportunity to not only keep his job in a cutthroat profession but to watch his program grow into a powerhouse, winning eight national titles in the process. That’s without mentioning that he has put softball on the map, not just in the Old Pueblo, but across the world.

    Hillenbrand Stadium and its fans are a product of that; they are the material evidence of his success.

    “”Tucson is a beautiful place to have that happen because U of A is it,”” Candrea said. “”U of A is the attraction.

    “”I really thought that softball could be one of those sports that could draw people and have a pretty good base of season ticket holders,”” he added. “”We’ve been able to gain those and been able to keep them. It’s a great place to play.””

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