On a cold, blustery day, that typically would not be conducive to baseball, the Alabama Crimson Tide did something to change that line of thinking. The new indoor facility that is part of a 42-million dollar renovation to Sewell-Thomas Field (The Joe) opened to much fanfare on Wednesday afternoon. The crowd included Athletic Department members, former players, members of The Baseball Steering Committee, media members, and special friends of the program.
The building has four tractable, 20 foot high hitting bays, which with portable mounds can be used for pitching as well. LED lighting, temperature control and a state of the art sound system are some of the many amenities featured. A mini weight-work out room is also available.
The Tide will play their home games in the Hoover Met this year while the New Joe is being built. The team can practice, although somewhat limited, on the field during construction. The indoor facility will allow for hitting, pitching and even fielding drills inside, out of the elements. The New Joe is scheduled to be completed by October of 2016. The season will be a challenge with every game being virtually a road game. Gaspard touched on that by saying, " it is what it is, there is nothing we can do about it, but embrace it and make the best of it." We, as a staff and a team aren't going to let that be an excuse."
In opening remarks, Coach Mitch Gaspard praised everyone involved in the project coming to fruition, starting with Athletic Directer Bill Battle, and the Baseball Steering Committee, led by former player Dr Jeff Laubenthal. Gaspard spoke of the history of Alabama baseball, and mentioned that 67 former Tiders have played major league baseball.Coach Battle spoke and praised the facility, all the while reminding everyone that it has not been paid for yet, and fund raising needs to continue. Laubenthal, who is the team physician, spoke and gave a very heartfelt speech on what The University of Alabama, and particularly the baseball team, has meant to him and his life, saying " next to marrying my wife and our two daughters being born, being a member of the Alabama Baseball Team is the thing I am most proud of." In aiming remarks at the current players, Laubenthal continued, " the thing I miss most is the teammates, and camaraderie, and you guys will learn that as you get older. Y'all are the part of something very special, and you need to embrace it and appreciate it."
Laubenthal was awarded the honor of taking the first swing and hit a line shot. Other former players, including Taylor Dugas, Andy Phillips, Scott McClanhan, G.W. Keller, Brett Taft, Alan Stallings, Ross Wilson, Chris Moeller, Dax Norris and Jayson Cox all took their turns with a bat in their hands. Pitchers Lance Cormier, Ben Short, Mike Sodders, Nathan "Peanut" Kilcrease, and Spencer Turnbull all threw a pitch off of the mound, throwing to catchers, Wade Wass, Ben Moore, Brett Booth and Dax Norris.
All in all it was a festive atmosphere for a much needed, and long overdue, upgrade to the baseball facilities. After the hour-long program the team was ready to get down to business, as they got to use their new digs for the first time. The team is allowed 4 on 1 drills ( 1 coach, 4 players) until practice officially opens next Friday, January 23rd. The players were over joyed to have such a nice place to hit, after using the batting cages under the stadium for all these years, which were much like a dungeon.
The season opens on February 13th at 6:30 p.m. with the first of a three game series with Maryland Eastern Shore. I will have a preview of the team up soon for the coming season.
Roll Tide Y'all. Bama Baseball Fever, Catch it!