Arizona softball coach Candrea hopes to improve Hillenbrand
As Arizona softball celebrates the 20th anniversary of Rita Hillenbrand Memorial Stadium, head coach Mike Candrea hopes to upgrade it to keep up with the Joneses.
In 1993, the UA replaced its little league-type softball field where they painted the dirt green, with Hillenbrand Stadium, the first regular stadium in college softball, but it is no longer the top facility in the country.
“Now we’re 20 years old and need a facelift to try and keep up with the SEC and some of the other conferences,” head coach Mike Candrea said. “Like everything else, you have to continue to progress and get better and that’s kinda where we’re at right now.”
Candrea hopes to improve the press box, add fan amenities, like some shade, get indoor and air conditioned batting cages, expand the meeting room so it isn’t “15 or 16 people packed in there like sardines” and other improvements for the student athletes.
“We’ve never really had a locker room down here and it would be nice to have something that we could get into from the dug outs, a bathroom would be nice,” Candrea said. “That’s a little more convenient than running down beyond the stands and hoping no one’s in there.”
Hillenbrand Stadium has great history, 580 wins and a .898 in 20 years, but recruits now are too young to remember much of it.
“It has a huge effect on myself but we need something that has a huge effect on the kids,” Candrea said.
Candrea recognized the facilities at Tennessee, Florida, Alabama, Arkansas and Kentucky. Tennessee’s clubhouse is about 7,000-square feet and features a team room, whirlpools, training area, conference room, kitchen, 30-seat theater, trophy room and recreation room that has a big-screen TV, pool table and video games.
Florida’s “all-purpose, all-weather batting cage facility” has space for hitting, pitching and defense and features a sound system and video analysis capabilities.
Alabama’s stadium was named the 2010 NFCA/Stabilizer Solutions Division I Field of the Year. Arkansas has six skyboxes.
The baseball team moved from Jerry Kindall Field at Frank Sancet Stadium on campus to Hi Corbett Field last season and won the national championship.
“Coach Candrea has a lot of plans for Hillenbrand, as he should,” vice president for athletics Greg Byrne said. “But, in all seriousness, it’s showing its age. Our softball program has been an important part of our university’s history and we need to make sure we can ensure long term success.”
Sophomore first baseman Hallie Wilson was surprised to hear that there is talk of improving Hillenbrand Stadium.
“It is an honor to play at Hillenbrand,” Wilson said.
Candrea said Hillenbrand was the elite facility when it opened, but newer stadiums have passed it.
“You look at Yankee Stadium, you’d never think that they would get rid of Yankee Stadium to build a new facility,” Candrea said. “In this day and age, I think kids today like the new things.”
Candrea said that the top athletes that UA is recruiting have many good options and are at the point where they are looking for reasons not to come.
“At one time this was the best and kids walked up here they’re in awe of it and now it’s not the best,” Candrea said. “If you want to be the best, you gotta kind of do what you need to do.”
Wilson thought that the stadium’s lure was more appealing to high schoolers than the lack of bathrooms being an issue.
With more games on television now, 10 regular season Arizona games are bring broadcast live this year, after none were in 2012, Candrea hopes to make the stadium more accessible to television crews and look better as it is shown across the country.
“I’d like it to be a little more TV friendly,” Candrea said.
Kyle Johnson contributed to this report