After years of empty promises and Band-Aids to Sewell-Thomas Stadium, the University of Alabama Board of Trustees has finally approved a "renovation and expansion" for the old, out of date and un-fan friendly facility. The Tide has fallen behind all but one team in the Southeastern Conferences arms race in terms of baseball stadiums. With the scholarship limits (11.7 per team) mandated by the NCAA, and the lack of state lottery money for instate players (i.e. Georgia, Florida, LSU, et la) 'Bama can ill afford to also lack in facilities, which it has for a number of years now.
The $30 million dollar park will be at its current location and will use some of the existing structure. The money is to be raised by private donations primarily. This writer (IMPORTANT) was one of the first outside of the athletic department to see the plans for the stadium, and will also serve on the steering committee.
I was very impressed with the initial drawings and look forward to working to see this project to fruition. Some of the amenities include a free standing indoor hitting facility down the left field line, to replace the dank underground hitting cage the team is now using.(Which a former player jokingly lamented when hearing about the football waterfall in the locker room, "hell we've had a waterfall for years underneath The Joe") It leaks a lot, get it?
Other new features include luxury suites, new sight lines where a fan can actually see plays that happen down the right and left field lines. Club level seats will be a nice touch as well as a much larger awning area for cover from rain and sun. Concessions (or rather lack of) have been another long running problem at The Joe. This will be addressed with concession stands on the inside, where a fan will not have to miss any action while getting refreshments. The quality of selections will also be greatly improved.( Nowhere to go but up, believe me.) Former players and coaches will finally be recognized with banners, jerseys and their accomplishments. Very few people know that Alabama is the winningest program in SEC history, and has the only two Baseball Hall of Fame members (Joe Sewell, Mel Allen) from the conference.
Construction is set to begin as soon as the 2014 season ends, and tentatively would be completed in August of 2015. Logistically this causes some issues, such as summer baseball camps, fall (2014) practice, and the 2015 season. There has been some speculation that the team could play in Hoover for the 2015 season. To me, other than travel and practice issues there is the fact that the 2015 team should be loaded. Freshmen stars from last year, Mikey White, Georgie Salem, Kyle Overstreet and Ray Castillo will be juniors, and poised to have huge seasons. On top of that the freshman class for this year (2014) is very highly touted, as well as the commitments for 2015 are among the best in the nation. Short term pain for long term gain, I know, I just feel that not playing at home for a whole year is not ideal.
Coach Mitch Gaspard is very excited that the University is making this long due investment in the baseball program. The new facility not only will help the baseball team, but the athletic department and University in general. Having a nice structure as you enter that end of campus will only enhance the image of the school. Also for all you football fans, Jamies Winston is said to have placed a lot of his decision to go to Florida State on the lack of nice baseball facilities at 'Bama, so there is that.
With a lot of young talent on board, and the promise of a new park, the future looks bright for the team. This coming season they should build on last year's successful campaign and I look for the team to make noise in the SEC and NCAA.
Bama Baseball Fever, Catch it!