"The Hank" is home to the Port City's minor league Mobile Bay Bears (AA affiliate of the San Diego Padres) and is only in its sixth season. The 6,000-seat facility is the Jags' home away from home, as they've faced the Tide, Auburn and Mississippi State there. USA normally plays at on-campus Eddie Stanky Field, which seats 3,500. Tide fans were a'plently in the announced crowd of 5,000 at the stadium named for one of Mobile's most famous natives, all-time major league career home run king Henry Aaron. Visitors are greeted by a large statue of Aaron and his prolific swing.
"The Hank" is a state-of-the-art minor league park, complete with a stadium club down the right field line and a "Baybear Beach" in left field. To the categories:
WE WILL ROCK YOU: UA skipper Jim Wells trotted out six pitchers against the Jags. Four were not effective. Former Tuscaloosa Academy star Jared Woodward drew the start, but lasted less than three innings. Granted, the Tide hit a few shots off Girardeau, but many of those became "at 'ems," i.e., caught by Jag fielders because the ball was hit right at them. Sometimes, it goes like that on the diamond.
"They hit about everybody we had," Wells said. "They just pummeled us." Wells added that he saw bright spots in the performances of hurlers Brent Carter and Eric Mennen. Woodward gave up four earned runs in 2.2 innings. Carter held the Jags scoreless for 2.1 frames. Carter gave up a run in 1.2, Landon Brazell allowed a three run dinger in two-thirds of an inning, and weekend starter Shane Sanders was charged two runs without recording an out. Closer Brian Reed recorded a pair of outs after allowing a two-run double.
It was certainly not the type pitching performance one would expect of a consensus Top 25 team. Bama (11-2) entered the game ranked 20th by Baseball Weekly, 21st by Collegiate Baseball and 22nd by Baseball America. The Tide now holds a slim 46-45 led in the all-time series vs South. The teams do not meet again this season.
NAME GAME: Kyle Stanky, the Jags designated hitter, is the grandson of the late Eddie Stanky, for whom the team's on-campus field is named. Eddie was the Jags coach for years and had a distinguished career in the big leagues. Kyle hit a shot off Tide reliever Brent Carter to put the Jags up 7-3 and put Bama on the ropes.
Also, USA Athletics Director Joe Gottfried, Mark's dad, was on hand for the event.
DON'T MISS A PITCH: Now, don't get us wrong. We love "The Joe," aka Bama's home field Sewell-Thomas Stadium. But we must say, we were quite impressed with "The Hank's" setup in the restrooms whereby patrons are treated to both public address and radio play-by-play via in-potty speakers. THAT is cool.
SPEAKING OF "THE JOE": Did you know that Bama needs just 11,000 more patrons to walk through the Sewell-Thomas turnstiles to reach one million fans since the current grandstand was built in 1991? It's the truth, per UA Media Relations contact Barry Allen. Back to "The Hank..."
NO DOUBT ABOUT IT: Sometimes, an outfielder just knows. Such was the case for Jags leftfielder Ryan Mulhern on Tide catcher Jeremy Brown's two-out, two-run first inning blast off Jags Ace Clark Girardeua. Mulhern could only look up, as the ball landed just this side of Orange Beach. Brown would later hit one of the 400-foot wall in dead center.
"He's been playing very well," said Wells of his senior catcher. "He's really picked it up. We just need some people on (base) in front of him and his hot bat."
ALL NOT WELLS: Tide skipper Jim Wells argued vehemently on a play that ended a UA threat in the top of the sixth. With Scott McClahahan on third and and Zac Welch on first, Welch broke for second and, on the ensuing throw, "Mac" headed for the plate. Home plate ump Mark Chapman ruled that Welch was tagged out prior to McClanahan's crossing the plate with what would have been the tying run at the time. Wells argued long and hard, but to no avail. Score another one for the men in blue. They usually win those arguments.
HOW 'BOUT THAT 'Q': Dreamland Bar-b-que has four locations. We'd been to Tuscaloosa (of course), Birmingham and even the Atlanta store, but we have now "touched 'em all." The Mobile branch opened its doors in 1995, and like its Birmingham and Atlanta counterparts, features a larger fare than the original location. At the three new shops, one can get chicken, chopped pork and side items, like baked beans, potato salad and cole slaw. So, we went with a combo plate featuring a few ribs and a large chicken breast, on the bone. Many of you already know this from backyard experimentation with bottled Dreamland sauce: it goes well on chicken, too! The sauce was as tangy and tasty as ever, we still don't know for sure that moonshine is the secret ingredient (though we vote "yes"), and the side items were pleasing to the palate. We had the beans and potato salad, and also liked the sweet tea.
I KNOW THAT GUY: Several current Tiders remember Jags right fielder Erik Smallwood. They should; he was their teammate for two seasons in Tuscaloosa before transferring home to South. Smallwood started for Bama in right field on the Tide's last World Series team in 1999. Against his former team Erik went .
NEXT UP: The Road To Atlanta takes us to the current home of Hank Aaron, as we follow Mark Gottfried and his eighth-ranked Tide basketball team in their quest to win the 2002 SEC Basketball Tourney at the Georgia Dome.