Wells Destined to Be Great

I've been around the Alabama baseball program a long time. Twenty-two years to be exact. I have seen many great teams and some not-so-great teams too. I have written about some thrilling wins and some excruciating losses.

I've been fortunate to work with a lot of great coaches and players and have developed many great relationships through the years. I've been fortunate to meet a lot of the older players that laid the foundation for what Alabama is today.

Players and coaches like Joe Sewell, Hootie Ingram, Fred Frickie, Mike Innes, Frank Lary, Al Worthington, Butch Hobson, Hayden Riley, David Magadan, Joe Vitiello and Barry Shollenberger.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Coach Happy Campbell, who was Alabama's all-time winningest coach until 1990. I worked with Shollenberger for 10 years. He was always nice and kind to me and willing to help a young kid trying to break into the business of Sports Information.

I could talk to him anytime, day or night. He always had a great story and with his PhD, he was a very bright man. He was also a Civil War buff. Just ask Bernie Sloan and Dr. Hubert Kessler about his knowledge of that period in our country.

I covered the Tide's 3-0 win over Murray State on April 14, 1990 that made Sholly the school's all-time winningest baseball coach. I said goodbye when he retired as baseball coach in 1994 and again when he left the University in 1999.

I also remember the first time I met Jim Wells. He was in Coach Hootie Ingram's office. His wife Lisa, who was seven months pregnant with their second child Melissa, was waiting in the lobby. I did not know alot about Jim Wells, but I respected the job he had done at Northwestern State in Natchitoches, La. (the hometown of the movie Steel Magnolias).

NSU was terrible when he arrived (13 straight losing seasons) in 1990 and in five years the Demons had won three Southland Conference titles and played in two NCAA Regionals. Heck, they had even beaten mighty LSU the year they won the national title in 1991 and 1993.

Alabama baseball needed help. And thanks to Hootie Ingram and Steve Townsend's knowledge of the game and their contacts, Wells was the man for the job.

None of us knew he would be this good. You could not have.

I remember his first game. I was nervous for him. I wanted him to win. I am an Alabama fan, first, but no coach deserves to lose his debut. I remember shaking his hand in the dugout wishing him luck. Then telling assistant coaches Todd Butler and Mitch Gaspard we're all pulling for you. Good luck!

Chirs Eilers and Tim Young pitched brilliantly and Brett Taft (the only player in school history and probably NCAA lore to hit home runs in his first two collegiate at-bats and his last two collegiate at-bats) legged out a a two-out infield hit in the bottom of the 11th inning to score Anthony DuBose with the 2-1 win. The Wells era had begun. What a finish!

We take him for granted these days. Alabama is expected to win and go to Omaha every year. It's not that easy.

It wasn't then either. That's why the 1996-99 period of UA baseball is one of the greatest of all time. Three 50-win seasons and two No. 1 rankings in Omaha (no team before or since has been the top seed in consecutive years) under Wells leadership.

Jim Wells is more than coach. He is a friend. I never had the priveledge of meeting his father (he died early in Jim's life), but I have met his mom. I talk to her often, she calls the press box every night checking on Jimmy (as she calls him) and the Crimson Tide. She celebrates the wins and takes the losses hard. It's easy to see how he became the person he is. They say you are a reflection of your parents (I agree).

He is a passionate and caring husband and father. Lisa, Lauren, Melissa and Drew (third time is the charm for a baseball player) are at all the games. He loves the St. Louis Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys (OK, so he is not perfect). He talks baseball. He idolizes Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial -- the real legends in our sport.

Jim Wells is also a friend. Just ask any of us who know him. He has been especially amazing to me the last four years when my life has been turned upside down with cancer to my Dad, a bone marrow transplant for my wife, Carla, and all of our little Annie's problems that she keeps overcoming everyday.

I remember calling him in Louisiana the day after his jersey was retired at NSU (Bama beat NSU and was playing Centenary the next day) to tell of the news of Annie's birth and that she might not make it. I cried as we talked. He was comforting. He told me that baseball was no longer important. My family needed me and to be strong and that God would take care of Annie. Once again, Coach Wells was right.

One thing he missed on though. Baseball is still important. Without baseball there would be no Jim Wells. There would be no school record 488th win. There would be no friend. Now that would be a tragedy!

Congratulations Coach Wells on your milestone. And thanks for the memories and your friendship!


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