University of Arizona alumnus and current Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona has committed $1 million to the Arizona baseball program. Francona's donation will be targeted for the baseball capital projects fund, which will include an indoor hitting facility that will be named the Terry Francona Hitting Facility.
"Since I moved back to Tucson four years ago, it has been a priority of mine to give back to the University of Arizona," Francona said. "The reason I am doing this is because of the impact the University has had on my life. The people at the University of Arizona gave me an opportunity to go to the professional level, and not just survive but be prepared. That's a big reason why I want to give back."
Francona's donation comes in addition to a $1 million matching gift made by an anonymous donor in June for stadium capital improvements. More than $300,000 already has been matched toward last summer's gift, but there is still an opportunity to contribute toward the remaining $700,000. The Wildcat Club has created a webpage with more information and a link to donate (https://beardownchallenge.com/campaigns/arizona-baseball-match).
"We couldn't be happier that Terry decided to support our baseball program and assist in its continued return to prominence," said Erika Barnes, the UA's interim director of athletics. "He is one of Arizona baseball's all-time greats, and it's a wonderful thing to see a former student-athlete, especially one as highly regarded as Terry, invest in the success of our department. While we've made, and continue to make, significant improvements at Hi Corbett, Terry's generosity will assist in keeping our baseball facility one of the best in the country, which will also go a long way in helping us provide a first-class experience for our student-athletes."
Construction on the hitting facility will begin this summer, with the goal of being completed by the fall. It will be located in the current footprint of the batting cages, beyond the right-field wall at Hi Corbett Field.
Current projects at Hi Corbett include an installation of a new backstop, the replacement of seating in certain sections behind home plate and a renovation to the home clubhouse, which is expected to commence after the 2017 season.
The UA baseball team moved to Hi Corbett, part of Tucson's Reid Park complex, before the 2012 season. Fans have flocked to the historic park — formerly the spring-training base of the Cleveland Indians and Colorado Rockies — to watch the Wildcats. In 2016, Arizona led the Pac-12 Conference and all West Coast schools in attendance, averaging 3,043 fans per game, topped by a single-game high of 8,067 in May.
The most decorated player to ever suit up for Arizona's baseball program, Francona had a remarkable three-year stay in Tucson. The Wildcats qualified for the NCAA Tournament in all three of his seasons, culminating in an NCAA championship in 1980. Francona, an outfielder, batted .321 as a freshman in 1978 and .378 as a sophomore before enjoying the finest season ever by an Arizona player as a junior.
"Terry Francona makes a Hall-of-Fame impact with everything he does," said UA head baseball coach Jay Johnson. "I am beyond thankful for this gift to our program, and I can't think of anyone's name I would rather have on the facility than Tito's. This is a special day and a great step for Arizona Baseball in our pursuit of producing one of the best player-development platforms in the country."
During his junior season in 1980, Francona batted .401 with nine home runs, 26 doubles and 84 RBI. On top of leading his team to the national championship, Francona won the Golden Spikes Award, given to the top player in college baseball. He is the only Arizona player to win the award. He also was named the Sporting News Player of the Year, along with being a unanimous first-team All-American. He was the College World Series MVP.
"The University of Arizona has always been exceptionally proud of Arizona Baseball and our long tradition of champions," said UA President Ann Weaver Hart. "I am so glad to see one of our most successful and renowned Wildcats continuing to take part in the UA community. This gift will further the impact of Arizona Athletics and ensure that the UA continues to be an incredible source of community and regional pride, and I am so grateful for Terry Francona's generosity."
Francona's No. 32 jersey is retired and displayed at Hi Corbett. The 10-year Major League Baseball veteran left his name all over the record books at the UA. For a career, he is fifth in hits, third in RBI, ninth in total bases and 10th in extra-base hits. His 105 hits in 1980 rank fourth for a single season, and his 104 hits in 1979 are tied for fifth. He also holds the single-season school record for multi-hit games and is tied for third in doubles with 26.
Francona played in the majors from 1981-1990, totaling more than 400 hits. He began his managerial career in 1997 and has since blossomed into a two-time American League Manager of the Year (2013, 2016) and potential Hall of Famer. He is a two-time World Series champion with the Boston Red Sox (2004, 2007) and led Cleveland to a memorable seven-game World Series last year against the Chicago Cubs. He has 1,381 wins to his credit.
"Terry Francona is a champion at every level, and we are grateful that he is giving back so that Arizona players can have even more opportunities than he had as a student-athlete," said John-Paul Roczniak, vice president of development and chief development officer for the UA and president and CEO of the UA Foundation. "It's investments like these that fuel excellence at our institution."
Arizona Baseball will open its season Feb. 17 at Hi Corbett versus Eastern Kentucky. The Wildcats are coming off a 49-24 season in 2016 and a trip to the College World Series finals. Johnson's team is ranked No. 7 in the Collegiate Baseball preseason poll and No. 15 in the USA Today coaches poll.