Regardless of the outcome, Alabama baseball hit a figurative home run Friday night as the Crimson Tide unveiled the 2016 edition of Coach Mitch Gaspard’s team, and also opened the latest jewel in Bama athletics facilities, Sewell-Thomas Stadium. Here are some notes from opening night.
Alabama missed playing in Tuscaloosa last year, playing home games primarily at the Hoover Met in suburban Birmingham, while construction of the new stadium was going on.
It is difficult to determine how many are in a stadium unless it is full or empty (or close to one of the other), but for a sold out game there were a number of empty seats when Alabama opened its baseball season in the rebuilt stadium. (To be fair, the accompanying photo was made prior to the start of the game. By the third inning it was about ¾ full.)
Students, however, cannot be faulted for their attendance. The line for standing room only adjacent to the right field terrace was long and arrived early.
Alabama Athletics Director Bill Battle gave pre-game dedication comments thanking those who had taken part in the effort to build the $42.5 million facility, including former Athletics Director Mal Moore and members of the Board of Trustees, including former Trustee Paul Bryant, Jr., who has a baseball background having begun his career as general manager of the Birmingham Barons.
Foots Parnell III, the grandson of former Alabama Coach and Hall of Fame player Joe Sewell, threw out the first pitch. The game notes included the history of the stadium, originally Thomas Field, being constructed in 1948, and then being razed and rebuilt in 1978. According to the notes, Coach Paul Bryant, athletics director at the time, suggested adding Sewell’s name to the stadium, which was done in 1990.
(Some may suspect that if Bryant wanted the name change in 1978, it would have been done then, not 12 years later.)
Alabama started three freshmen in the game – Gene Wood in left field, Kobie Vance at second gase, and Chandler Taylor in right field.
Wood led off the game against Maryland All-America Mike Shawaryn. Wood struck out, but it took 11 pitches against a pitcher probably on a pitch count in the season-opener. An important part of being a leadoff hitter is to try to get the opposing pitcher show as many pitches as possible.
Two batters later Chandler Taylor saw a pitch he liked. He lined a home run into the right field terrance, the first hit and first run in the new stadium. Students reacted with a foamy celebration of cups of beverage launched high in the air.
Although the stadium has shorter fences due to moving home plate further from the grandstand to improve sightlines down the foul lines, Taylor’s homer had room to spare. The distances are now 320 down both the left and right field lines, 360 in the power alleys, and 390 to straightaway center.
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Speaking of straightaway center, Bama centerfielder Georgie Salem had a fantastic diving catch of a long fly by Kevin Smith in the fifth inning. Sewell-Thomas’s new video scoreboard got an ‘A’ for its quick replay of the catch.