If This Is October, It Must Be baseball

The University of Alabama baseball team has hit the halfway mark of fall practice following a pair of intrasquad games earlier this week. The Crimson Tide is taking four days off as The University has its fall break and will resume with the second half of fall practice Monday.

Alabama baseball began its strength and conditioning program and individual workouts the day after Labor Day. Team drills began Monday, September 24 and the team has worked five days a week the last three weeks, including seven intrasquad games.

"We started the day after Labor Day with the weight program similar to the one we brought in here in 1994," Alabama Coach Jim Wells said. "(Assistant strength and conditioning coach) Rocky Colburn and (volunteer assistant coach) Dax Norris have done a really good job with that. We went hard for about three weeks, a lot of individual work which we have always done. Each day I thought was good. We got into the team play, practice four times a week, put everything in, so everything we do has been put in.

"The advantage is all of position players are intact and we have added several guys. The experience is there and so therefore everything you do in practice, everyone knows it."

The Crimson Tide returns three of its four starting infielders from last year's team and has four outfielders that have started at least one game at the collegiate level. Senior Matt Bentley returns at first base, along with sophomores Brandon May and Jake Smith at second base and shortstop respectively. In the outfield, juniors Kent Matthes, Tyler Odle and Ryan Rhoden and sophomore Del Howell have also seen significant action of the Tide.

Alabama has held seven scrimmages through its first three weeks of practice with each pitcher limited to two innings on the mound. Wells and his staff have used a lot of different lineups in the previous scrimmages and some players are being looked at more than one position.

"The scrimmages have been good," Wells said. "We are trying to develop a number-one type guy and we may not have that. We do have a lot of quality guys that throw strikes. Position-player wise, I thought we'd been fine and we are. Pitching-wise, we have more than we have had, just not a guy that stands out as that front-line guy, but it's still very early."

One of the trouble spots last year was the catching position, but Wells seems to have that problem solved with the move of junior Alex Avila behind the plate and the addition of a pair of junior college players, Mike Sharp and Cole Shelton. Junior Kyle Moore, who caught most of the last half of the 2007 season is back and has also shown improvement.

"I think it's a good move for Avila," Wells added. "He is very excited and has taken to it well. Mike Sharp is a guy we signed late and he has done well also. We have (junior Kyle) Moore who has improved. We have gone from having no catchers to six, but I think Avila has put himself in a good position if he keeps improving, to be a front-line guy.

"He brings a lot to the table. He knows the game and he communicates well with the pitchers. The true test for him as we get along later in the fall and playing more extended scrimmages, he has to go out there and catch six, seven or eight innings in back-to-back-to-back days. That's what we want to see. Dax Norris has done a great job with him. He wants to play. He wants to do well. He is very motivated. He knows that is the position for him."

The Crimson Tide will resume practice on Monday, and will hold its next set of scrimmages on Thursday and Friday, October 18-19. Alabama will host "Scout Day" next Thursday (October 18), where Major League Scouts will come to Tuscaloosa and conduct a professional-type tryout camp for the Crimson Tide's draft eligible juniors and seniors.

Alabama will also scrimmage under the lights for the first time this fall the night before the Alabama-Tennessee football game. The scrimmage, which will have a game-like atmosphere with music, scoreboard and message board, is free to the public. The exact time will be announced next week.

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