Baseball has a flair for the dramaticBy Brett Hudson | 04/21/2012 7:29pm
Early in the season, Sewell-Thomas Stadium saw a lot of dropped jaws exiting the building after losing numerous games it should not have, like to Florida Atlantic and Oral Roberts.
Today, the Joe is still seeing dropped jaws. Now, they are followed with screams of excitement as they see the ball leave the park and clinch a win for the Crimson Tide.
Alabama got its third walk-off homerun of the season, this time from sophomore Austen Smith, in an 8-6 win over Vanderbilt that clinched the series win.
The reason behind it all is unknown. Some would say there might be angels in the outfield. But, oddly in enough, in Tuscaloosa, there are no angels in the outfield.
But there is a penguin.
Whenever the Tide is at home and in desperate need of a rally, the baseball support staff puts student intern Hunter Goodwin on the big screen in left-center field, dressed in a penguin suit with the words The Rally Penguin surrounding him.
A member of the baseball staff said the tradition started with a home game against Samford on March 14th, in which the Tide was down four runs going into the bottom of the ninth inning.
Goodwin asked if he would get displayed on the big screen if he had a friend bring him a suit to the stadium. The staff was reluctant, but was eventually was convinced when Goodwin put the suit on anyway. Alabama won the game 6-5 and the Rally Penguin was born.
“Every time the Rally Penguin steps out, we get a win on Saturdays,” Smith said.
The Tide is now 4-0 in games that The Rally Penguin has an appearance in. The Rally Penguin is a hit with the players, as freshman catcher/right fielder Ben Moore tweeted, “Shout out to @BamaRllyPenguin 4-0!”
As Smith mentioned earlier, maybe it is the day of week. Alabama got its first walk-off homerun of the year from Brett Booth against Ole Miss on March 24th, a Saturday. Its second walk-off homerun came from the bat of Taylor Dugas on April 7th, also a Saturday. This was the third straight home Southeastern Conference weekend series in which Alabama has won the Saturday game with a walk-off homerun.
“I don’t think I’ve seen that in 24 years of coaching,” head coach Mitch Gaspard said. “I’ll certainly take it.”
However, this could all be an effort by Smith to get himself out of trouble with the coaching staff. In the Friday night game of this Vanderbilt series, Smith tried to slide into first but did so in awkward fashion, bouncing his stomach off of the base and ended up with some swelling on his hand.
We have a piece of tape up in the dugout right now that says, ‘Do not slide into first again. Anybody.’,” Gaspard said.
Smith added, jokingly, “I’ll practice before I do it again.”
Smith was questionable for the Saturday game due to the injury, but Gaspard said X-rays revealed no broken bones. Smith said he felt fine in betting practice before the game and that nothing was bothering him.
Smith could have been getting himself out of trouble in more than one way. After a breakout freshman campaign, Smith has experienced a sophomore slump this season. The three-run homerun gave Smith his 14th RBI of the season, after hitting 44 in 2011.
“He certainly has struggled,” Gaspard said. “It’s big for him. Hopefully this will get him going in the right direction.”
Smith added, “It’s a huge boost of confidence. It means a lot.”
Gaspard identified confidence as one of the biggest problems in Smith’s season up to this point.
“In our game, that’s one of the biggest things,” Gaspard said. “When they lose their confidence, it’s tough to get back. They need a couple of big hits to get going and hopefully this is the one.”
Smith will get the opportunity to string good games together tomorrow as Alabama goes for the sweep of the Commodores on Sunday with first pitch scheduled for 1:05 p.m.