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.
The Wildcats held a news conference this morning that also included current coach Jay Johnson as well as interim University of Arizona Athletic Director Erika Barnes.
"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 has already been matched towards this summer's gift, but there is still an opportunity to contribute towards the remaining $700,000.
"I always wanted to make enough money where I could do something for other people," said Francona. "It took me a while. I didn't do it as a player, but maybe as a manager. I was given so much, here. I was given my future."
"We couldn't be happier that Terry decided to support our baseball program and assist in its continued return to prominence," said Barnes. "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.
Current projects at Hi Corbett Field 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 following the 2017 season.
Arizona Baseball moved to Hi Corbett Field prior to the 2012 season and fans have flocked to the historic park to watch the Wildcats. In 2016, Arizona led the Pac-12 and all West Coast schools, averaging 3,043 fans per game, paced by a single-game high of 8,067 in May.
The most decorated player to ever suit up for Arizona Baseball, Francona had a remarkable three-year stay in Tucson. The Wildcats qualified for the NCAA Tournament in all three of Francona's seasons, culminating in a National Championship in 1980. Francona 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 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 a National Championship, Francona won the Golden Spikes Award, given to the top player in college baseball. Francona is the only Arizona player to win the award. He was also named the Sporting News Player of the Year, along with being a unanimous first-team All-American. The outfielder was also named the College World Series MVP after the Wildcats captured the National Championship.
"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 Field. The 10-year Major League Baseball veteran left his name all over the record books at Arizona. Francona is fifth all-time in career hits, third in career RBIs, ninth in career total bases and 10th in extra-base hits. His 105 hits in 1980 rank fourth-most for a single season and his 104 hits in 1979 are tied for fifth-most. He also holds the single-season school record in multi-hit games and is tied for third in single-season doubles with 26.
Francona played in the major leagues from 1981-1990, compiling more than 400 hits. In 1997, he began his managerial career and has blossomed into a two-time AL Manager of the Year and potential Hall of Famer. He is a two-time World Series champion with the Boston Red Sox and led the Cleveland Indians to the World Series last year, claiming his third American League Pennant. He has 1,381 wins to his credit all-time.
"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 opens its season Feb.17 at Hi Corbett Field versus Eastern Kentucky. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. The Wildcats are coming off a 49-24 season in 2016 and a trip to the College World Series Finals. Coach Johnson's team is ranked No. 7 in the Collegiate Baseball Preseason Poll and No. 15 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.