The greatest baseball player in Arizona Wildcats history is also generous.
Terry Francona, who led the 1980 team to the national title as the winner of the Golden Spikes Award, given to the country’s top player, has pledged $1 million to the program, the school announced Tuesday.
The donation will aid the baseball capital projects fund, which will include an indoor hitting facility that will be named the Terry Francona Hitting Facility.
Francona national profile has only increased in the past 13 years, making him one of the University of Arizona’s biggest athletic ambassadors. When he managed the 2004 Boston Red Sox to its first World Series title in 86 years, he wore an Arizona hat in the victory parade. He won another World Series with Boston in 2007 and took the 2016 Cleveland Indians to a surprising run to the seventh game of the Series.
Francona spends his offseasons in Tucson and is a frequent fan, sitting courtside, at Arizona basketball games.
“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 in a statement.
“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.”
"it was the best 3 years of my life, and I'm very happy to give back." –Terry Francona. #MLBTrainingGround
— Arizona Baseball (@ArizonaBaseball) January 31, 2017
Francona recently spoke to coach Jay Johnson’s team in the preseason.
“He said respect your teammates, respect your coaches, respect the way the games played and never back down from a challenge,” said junior Jared Oliva. “Everything’s to help the team, it’s not individual.”
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.
Francona joins a list of former Arizona athletes who have made big, public donations to the athletic department.
Richard Jefferson, in what was believed to the biggest gift ever from an athlete back to his or her university, donated $3.5 million in 2007 to the construction of the basketball practice facility that bears his name.
Steve Kerr donated $1 million toward the now-completed $30 million first phase of McKale Center renovations. And another former basketball player, George Rountree contributed 800,000 to that effort. Golfer Jim Furyk has donated multiple times to UA, likely totaling several hundred thousand.
Other ex-UA athletes have given other amounts or prefer to remain confidential.
According to Tuesday’s press release:
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. Fans can join the challenge to continue matching. The Wildcat Club has created a specific webpage with more information and a link to donate here: https://beardownchallenge.com/campaigns/arizona-baseball-match.
Here is a picture of Francona, with his Arizona hat, from the 2004 World Series of parade: