After undergoing open heart surgery and missing the Arizona baseball team’s fall season for the first time in his 13 years at the helm of the program, head coach Andy Lopez is finally ready to make his highly-anticipated return to the baseball diamond.
“It means a whole lot having him back,” junior pitcher Mathew Troupe said. “The amount of respect that each and every one of us has for him — shoot, the amount of respect everyone has for him,– whether it’s fans, opposing coaches, opposing players or our players — it’s tremendous. He’s our ultimate leader.”
The three-time national coach of the year had quadruple bypass surgery on Oct. 7 at Tucson Medical Center. He has been recovering since and will resume regular coaching duties starting Wednesday.
With just under a month left before the start of this year’s season, Troupe said that he and his teammates are extremely enthusiastic to get started on a quest for another NCAA championship.
“The excitement is starting to build up,” Troupe said. “These next few weeks are going to be about the slowest weeks because we’re just so excited for the season to start; but, we’re still going to go as hard as we can in these practices and get ourselves ready.
“This year, it feels like we are all on the same page. We have been able to make those young guys grow up really quick. Our team chemistry is fantastic, and we all mesh really well together.”
The club returns to official practices beginning Jan. 24. Opening Day is set for Valentine’s Day evening, when Arizona hosts Kent State — a 2012 College World Series participant.
Arizona’s 55-game schedule includes 38 games at pitcher-friendly Hi Corbett Field with 17 contests occurring on the road.
“We have a great home schedule this season,” Lopez said in an interview last month. “Our fans have done a marvelous job supporting us at Hi Corbett these last couple of years, and I think they are going to see some of the best baseball in the nation this season. There are some tremendous coaches, players and championship-caliber programs coming to Tucson.”
Wildcats tabbed No. 24 in preseason rankings
Arizona will enter this year’s season ranked No. 24 in the nation according to Collegiate Baseball’s preseason poll, after missing out on postseason play just a year after winning the College World Series.
Although Arizona wasn’t given the opportunity to compete in the playoffs to defend its title, the Wildcats ended the season on a strong note: winning five of their final six conference games and taking two of three from then No. 15 ASU.
“I was really disappointed in last year’s decisions,” Lopez said. “But that’s the reality; for the young guys, I tell them all the time, ‘You’ve got to do it on the field because if you leave it in the committee’s hands, you don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors.’”
This year, the Wildcats boast one of the nation’s best home schedules and return 19 players led by sophomore standout Kevin Newman and senior James Farris. Newman, Arizona’s starting shortstop, is coming off of a breakout season last year, which earned him Pac-12 All-Conference honors as a freshman. Farris, a 15th round selection by the Houston Astros in last year’s MLB draft, decided not to sign but, instead, return to Arizona. His veteran experience is expected to be a driving force for the team as the Wildcats take strides to return to Omaha.
“This year, strengths are going to be a couple key arms [in] James Farris, Tyler Crawford and Mathew Troupe,” Lopez said. “Those guys are proven veterans, were part of a national championship and [were] very big reasons for that national championship.
“There’s a good balance, too; but I think the main thing we have [are] guys that have experienced a national championship, know what that’s all about and want to get back there.”
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