Newly renovated Rita Hillenbrand Stadium set to open Feb. 14
The University of Arizona’s Rita Hillenbrand Memorial Stadium is known for its remarkable history. It is the home of the Arizona Wildcats softball team, winners of eight Women’s College World Series titles, all led by legendary coach Mike Candrea. Now, it seems only appropriate for the team to see major upgrades to their home field.
With the 2019 season home opener on Valentine’s Day, the ‘Cats will face off against New Mexico in an almost entirely new atmosphere.
Hillenbrand will be completely revamped after undergoing transformations to the entryway, ticket office, concession stands, restrooms, bullpens and dugouts. Additionally, there will be an Alumni Plaza, press box and “Club” seating section as well as a large shade structure and other infield seating-section enhancements.
The goal of the changes will be to heighten the fan experience and solidify Arizona softball's long-term future.
Hillenbrand has experienced minor renovations in the years since its 1993 opening, but its overall appearance has not been altered drastically until now.
“Twenty-five years ago, that was the Taj Mahal. Now, we knew that we needed some work and a remodel," Candrea said.
The remodel comes at an appropriate time, since the team motto for this year is “Honoring our history, honoring our past, embracing our future,” according to infielder Jessie Harper. This is exactly the purpose of the stadium overhaul.
The Alumni Plaza will be located above the stands along the third baseline and will be solely dedicated to honoring the tradition of Arizona softball and providing past players with a space to watch the games together.
“That’s a big thing, having the fans and alumnae come back and see the stadium, because the alumnae are the ones that got us to this point,” Harper elaborated.
Outfielder Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza also expressed what she was most looking forward to about the new stadium.
"Seeing the process from where it was in the fall until now, it’s really coming together and we’re excited to see the finishing touches on it and for the fans to see it as well,” she said.
Although the modern developments to the stadium are far exceeding expectations, there is still one thing Candrea wishes he could add.
“The only thing that’s missing, really is, if I could, I would put the Yankee façade in front of it, and it’d look like a little miniature Yankee Stadium. I mean, that’s how nice it is,” he joked.
Though the refurbished Hillenbrand Stadium is no Yankee Stadium, it will strengthen Arizona’s program by accommodating generations of UA softball alumnae and enthusiasts, while at the same time create an intimidating home-field advantage as the Wildcats further progress in the season, according to Candrea.
“I’m really excited for the fans, because for so many years they’ve followed this program with great loyalty, without any shade. It’s amazing that we haven’t lost more people in May," Candrea said. "I’m excited for those people when they walk into this place and look at it."
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