Baseball teams opens season in new stadiumBy Elliott Propes | 02/18/2016 5:14pm
The Alabama baseball team now walks out into a stadium that shines in comparison to what it used to be. After $42.6 million of renovations, Sewell-Thomas Stadium has become a state-of-the-art venue. The Crimson Tide will play its first series in the Joe since 2014 this weekend against Maryland.
“You see people going to class and they recognize you have an Alabama baseball shirt on or something like that, and they tell you how excited they are to get in here [Sewell-Thomas] and cheer you on,” said junior catcher Will Haynie. “Stuff like that is what gets you going. It’s why you play the game.”
Last season, the Crimson Tide played in Hoover and finished with a 32-28 record. The team failed to reach regionals for only the second time in the last eight seasons. The move back to Tuscaloosa and the new stadium may help the team improve. Coach Mitch Gaspard said there is a new energy with the team this season.
“I definitely feel spoiled in this new stadium,” said sophomore pitcher Jake Walters. “We didn’t feel at home last year. Being my first year on the road, I don’t even know what it’s like to play a home game, but it’s really exciting. It’s a real adrenaline rush right now.”
One of the renovations that may change the ballgame most is the shorter fences. The fences before, and at the Hoover Met, were far compared to most ballparks. This year, left field has moved in 10 feet, centerfield 16 feet and right field 15 feet. Gaspard said he believes it will change the way games are played at the stadium.
“Our team is built with power, so we need to hit home runs,” he said. “I think you are going to see significant jumps from our players from an offensive standpoint.”
The players enjoy having the fence closer as well. Hayne said the team has 10 or so players sending a baseball over the fence consistently during batting practice now.
A couple of the starters are returning from last year, such as senior centerfielder Georgie Salem, who was drafted in the 39th round of the MLB Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks but chose to stay another year to play for the Crimson Tide.
“Any time you get guys back for their senior year, I think it is a good thing,” Gaspard said. “George, for one, has been one of the top defensive centerfielders in our league. He kind of sets our outfield for us.”
With the team being a mixture of upper and lowerclassmen, Gaspard said there are three freshmen who will start opening weekend as position players. Both Cobie Vance and Chandler Taylor have won their positions at second base and right field, respectively. Left field, on the other hand, is a battle between three freshmen, including Gene Wood, Alex Webb and football player Keith Holcombe.
“Chandler Taylor and Cobie Vance, I think they’ve had one of the more successful spring and fall from [my] pitching standpoint,” Walters said. “I’m always worried about them. They seem like veterans at the plate right now.”
The stadium has many nuances that Gaspard said has improved the players. There are new batting cages, player lounges and other various technologies designed to help the players. This weekend will be Alabama’s first test in its new stadium, which Walters said will finally feel like he is playing a home game.
“Our players are taking advantage of what is here,” Gaspard said. “I think we are in a much better position right now to advance the program to back to where we want it to be.”