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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Schwartz on sports: Catch some baseball, why don’cha?”

    Michael Schwartz
    Michael Schwartz

    Last year the Arizona baseball team enjoyed its most successful regular season since its glory days.

    With a dynamic offense that led the Pacific 10 Conference in nearly every offensive category, two aces at the top of the rotation, one of the conference’s best closers and a player’s manager, there was only one thing the 2005 version of Arizona baseball was missing: fans, students in particular.

    While students have rioted for basketball tickets and pack the bleachers to watch a losing Division I football program, students seem to forget about the national pastime, the other major professional sport that happens to have a squad on campus.

    College football and basketball are undoubtedly bigger sports in bigger venues, but it should not be to the extent that baseball averages about 1,100 fans, as it did last year, while football’s attendance hovers around 50,000 and the basketball team has sold out every regular season game for almost 20 years.

    Maybe it’s the aluminum bats, but for some reason the more than 11,600 students who coughed up $40 to proudly own the Zona Zoo pass seem to care less about the collegiate version of baseball, even though the pass that earns them free admittance to Arizona Stadium has the same pull at Sancet Stadium.

    It’s understandable that fans weren’t so hot on the Wildcats during their recent down period, reaching the postseason only once between 1993 and 2002, when head coach Andy Lopez took over.

    But after Lopez has taken his last three squads to the tournament, with a College World Series berth to top it off and a plethora of big league draft picks, the time is now to jump on the bandwagon marked baseball.

    Things got so bad last year that Arizona rescinded its bid to host the regional round of the NCAA Baseball Championships in late May despite being ranked No. 6 in the nation at the time– in large part due to attendance issues.

    “”If we have a regional and no one shows up at a time when our athletic department is laying people off, that doesn’t add up,”” Lopez told the Arizona Daily Star last May.

    In a perfect world, a No. 6 ranking combined with a tough non-conference schedule would make the Wildcats a viable option for hosting not just a regional but also a super-regional.

    Instead Arizona was sent to the Fullerton Regional, where they lost to defending national champion and top-10 team Cal State Fullerton. The Wildcats were the only team ranked in the top 10 not to host a regional.

    By contrast ASU, ranked No. 25 in the final regular season poll, lost four of five games to Arizona including 16-7 and 18-1 drubbings at home and finished behind Arizona in the conference standings, yet earned the only regional host bid as a No. 2 seed in the pairing that likely would have gone to the Wildcats.

    The Sun Devils beat up on the college baseball’s easiest regional, with the best team being a mediocre Coastal Carolina squad. This gave them the momentum to take out the Titans in the super-regional on their way to a College World Series run that could have belonged to Arizona.

    In some part, the lack of a bid had to do with facilities, but the Wildcats have improved their playing surface while making it more fan-friendly by putting grass berms in the outfield seats instead of metal bleachers.

    For one day all of Arizona’s attendance troubles vanished during March 4’s 5-4 loss to eventual national champion and then-No. 2 Texas, when 4,644 fans packed the stands.

    The combination of great baseball and a “”Mess with Texas”” promotion, which included free team posters, prizes, t-shirts and a Left Field grill, brought in more fans for that game than any other weekend series all year. There was an electricity in the ballpark during that game that had been absent during the rest of the season.

    Things were worst during Sunday games when less than 900 fans attended the games, few of them students. “”The Hot Corner,”” Arizona baseball’s student section, forgot that the baseball team plays on Sundays (or even Saturdays generally).

    Nothing could be better than taking in an afternoon game in the Tucson spring weather with some peanuts and Dippin’ Dots and a little bullpen heckling to boot.

    The drama of good competition didn’t do much to boost attendance, as Arizona drew an average of just about 1,330 for a crucial three-game set against eventual conference champion and College World Series participant Oregon State.

    Even the allure of being on national television for an ESPN Sunday game could only bring in an average of 1,150 fans for the series against Southern California, a late-season lack of attendance that contributed to Arizona’s decision against hosting a regional.

    By contrast ASU averaged about 3,400 fans against the Wildcats in Tempe and Stanford drew about 2,800 per game in Palo Alto, Calif., when the Wildcats went on the road late in the season.

    Nobody expects a sellout, but all those fans crying about not getting basketball tickets would be well suited to walk across the street to see big-time college baseball.

    If last year’s draft class was any indication, you might just see a future major leaguer.


    Michael Schwartz is a journalism sophomore. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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