It’s the least they can do for the UA alum.
In January, the Indians’ skipper pledged $1 million toward the construction of a new hitting facility for his alma mater.
The Terry Francona Hitting Center, as it’s named, will be completed in January, but is usable now, and is already making an impact for the UA.
“You can’t quantify it yet, but being in there for a week, it’s been pretty nice,” Johnson said.
Located beyond the right field wall at Hi Corbett, the new facility has four bays for hitting and a bunting station.
“When you walk in, it looks like a special facility,” Johnson said. “One that was well thought out. One that really passes the eye test, if you will. But functionally, we can use it for a lot of different things.”
While inclement weather usually isn’t a problem for the Wildcats being in sunny Tucson, Johnson said the UA can now hold bullpen sessions and simulated games indoors, if necessary.
And batting practice, of course. Lots of that.
“We really pride ourself on offense, and for two years when you stack up basic or simple statistics with our program with, not just the programs in the west, but across the country, we’re towards the top in a lot of categories,” Johnson said.
“And so offensive player development is a priority to me and to our program. It’s something that we take a lot of pride in. And so now to have that facility as a place to enhance that, as a place where our players are going to want to spend time in, it meshes well with what we believe in player development, which is work ethic, solid fundamentals, and to have that facility to do that, I can’t thank Terry enough.”
Johnson said the new facility should help the Wildcats on the recruiting trail, too.
Arizona currently has the 10th-ranked recruiting class in 2018 and the 24th-ranked class in 2019, according to Perfect Game USA.
“We’re in a great period as a program right now where the caliber of player that we’re attracting and going for is probably at the highest level that it’s been, at least since we’ve been here,” Johnson said.
“Now with that, there’s some really competitive battles. You’re recruiting against the top programs in the country, not just regionally. I think [the new hitting facility] will only help us, and we need it to help us if that’s the caliber of players we’re going to pursue.”
Arizona baseball also had its clubhouse and locker room renovated this offseason, while Hi Corbett got a new backstop, new bullpen, and new seats in a few sections.
The Wildcats are 74-40 in two years under Johnson, and were national runners-up in 2016, Johnson’s first season in Tucson.
As our Jason Bartel wrote, Arizona’s quick turnaround under Johnson has been “remarkable,” and Francona’s investment in the program will only help continue that upward trajectory.
“Let’s just say we’re pulling hard for Terry Francona and the boys tonight in terms of gratitude for that,” Johnson said.
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire