- TUSCALOOSA, Ala.
The Alabama Crimson Tide baseball team (15-11, 2-4) began a five-game home stand Tuesday with a thrilling 5-4 midweek win over the South Alabama Jaguars at Sewell-Thomas Stadium.
Jim Jarvis, the team’s do-it-all Swiss Army Knife player, paced the team in everything. Jarvis had the leadoff ninth-inning double and winning swipe of home-plate following a clutch throw to home plate in the Top of the 8th.
With the excellent play of Jarvis, in addition to the bats of Bryce Eblin, Drew Williamson and Owen Diodatti, Alabama baseball is slowly putting the pieces together to go on a special run.
Being a firsthand witness to fall ball scrimmages, the February preseason practices, the majority of the 2022 home games at ‘The Joe’ and traveling to Birmingham and Starkville for road games, it’s clear to me this team has the chemistry and even the talent to make some magic happen.
Sure, Alabama dropped its opening road series at Texas by getting swept, but the Tide fought tooth and nail throughout the duration of the series, before battling back to grab a game off Florida in the opening week of SEC play.
Then, Alabama went to Starkville and dare I say, outplayed the defending national champions of Mississippi State in one of the most hostile environments in college baseball.
The Crimson Tide were a pitch or two away in the Friday and Saturday contests in Starkville from a series win, if not a sweep of the blue-blood Bulldogs.
Alabama would return to Tuscaloosa for the first home game in over a week, where it finally won a midweek game over a tough South Alabama team that made the final in the Gainesville Regional last season.
The Tide has been in a handful of tight games this season, as fifth-year coach Brad Bohannon again mentioned to members of the media following Tuesday’s game in the postgame press conference. However, that seems like it could come in handy as conference play begins to heat up.
To paraphrase Coach Bohannon’s words from Sunday, for all the flaws and inconsistencies Alabama baseball may have, it never goes down without a fight. The resiliency this Crimson Tide team has feels eerily similar to so many National League East Champion Atlanta Braves squads I’ve watched over the last few summers in Atlanta while attending countless games at the ballpark just steps from my childhood home in Northwest Atlanta.
For as many games as I’ve covered in press boxes, photo-wells and grandstands over the years, it’s usually pretty easy to tell if a team has a sense of fight or togetherness. This Alabama baseball team certainly wants it, there is no doubt about it.
During the offensive explosion in Saturday’s Top of the 9th at Mississippi State, one could feel the energy from the Tide dugout. Every time a player drew a walk, got a big hit or made a play in the field, it was met with loud cheers and high-fives, which would temporarily drown out the incredible weekend crowds at Dudy-Noble Field.
To piggyback off that dugout energy and intensity, this team could sure use the fanbase’s support this coming weekend at ‘The Joe’ to get to over .500 in SEC play for the first time in years.
Given how much the players already feed off their own energy in the dugouts, the amount of impact a passionate crowd could give them cannot be understated.
Following the 6-2 Sunday win over Mississippi State in Starkville, head coach Brad Bohannon spoke on the impact of having a packed house for conference weekends and how much energy it gives the team.
“I know we’ve been really inconsistent early, but we just played in front of 12,000 fans and… it’s hard. Our fans make a difference for our players; they’re kids, they’re emotional, and with the conditions of the pandemic dating back to last year, they really haven’t played in front of a crowd like this,” said Bohannon.
The Crimson Tide head coach praised State for having such a passionate baseball fanbase, while encouraging Alabama fans to show out for this weekends games against the Aggies in Tuscaloosa.
“Our fans have been unbelievable during the time I’ve been here, they’ve been patient and really supportive. Next weekend’s a big weekend with another SEC opponent coming to town and we need them out there to give Texas A&M a hard time closing games out at The Joe.”
To outsiders, the current state of the Alabama baseball program may look rather stagnant compared to the likes of a Mississippi State, Ole Miss or Arkansas.
My recent visit to Starkville has thoughts flowing through my mind on how Alabama’s baseball program can someday reach levels similar to its SEC neighbors 90 miles down the road.
Right now, it’s not realistic to expect Alabama baseball to match the energy of Dudy-Noble Field, Baum-Walker Stadium or even Swayze Field in Oxford and that’s ok.
That has nothing to do with the current state of facilities at ‘The Joe’ or the performance of this year’s team on the field, by the way.
Everyone knows that in order to gain a following like Alabama football has just down the street, one has to win, a lot…
This Alabama baseball program is on the verge of turning the corner into something special, but it needs crowds that will help propel it into NCAA Regionals and Super Regionals to take the steps needed to eventually reach Omaha and even win the College World Series.
That’s not to say Alabama fans don’t exist, they’re just spread across campus over at The Rhoads House and Tide football events, while some even have a spoiled sense of entitlement thanks to two guys you may know by the names of ‘Bear’ and ‘Nick’ …
Many who closely follow Alabama athletics know this tale all too well… For there have been terms such as ‘F.O.G.’ (Football-Only-Gump) coined to call-out these particularly spoiled members of the fanbase.
Having spent enough time around students at The University of Alabama and alumni/other fans visiting Tuscaloosa, I don’t expect the massive following of Alabama football or even basketball to suddenly flock to baseball games and follow it the way they do the two powerhouse revenue sports on campus.
I do think there are enough loyal Alabama fans around the Tuscaloosa-Birmingham area to pack Sewell-Thomas Stadium for weekend SEC series, however. With school, work and other obligations not being as much of an obstacle on the weekends, it’s more crucial than ever that fans make an impact for this team during its SEC home slate.
At a total capacity of 8,500, students already hold down the 2,700 blankets and lawn chairs allowed into right-field each weekend. That leaves roughly 5,800 seats left up to the alumni and other fans to fill.
For reference, 5,800 seats is a mere 38% of the capacity to Coleman Coliseum and almost 6% the capacity Bryant-Denny Stadium reaches on most gamedays.
Factor in the affordable parking and admission prices for fans and it’s almost mind-blowing families don’t take advantage of Alabama baseball weekends on a higher scale.
The Tide are one of two Power Five baseball programs in the state and the closest one to the Birmingham metro area. Couple that with the fact Alabama has no Major League Baseball and the minor leagues do not start up for another month… attending a baseball game at ‘The Joe’ seems like a win on all levels.
Rome was not built in a day, as the famous saying goes… and neither was fellow SEC rival Tennessee and its baseball program up in Knxoville.
The Volunteers surged to a first-place finish in the SEC East last season, coming up just short in Hoover of an SEC Tournament title and making Omaha for the first time since 2005.
In the 2022 campaign, the Volunteers have shot up to the No. 1 ranking across all major polls, with a 6-0 record in conference play and 23-1 overall start to the season.
Fifth-year head coach Tony Vitello and the Volunteers are another resilient bunch that feeds off energy in any way they can find it.
Instead of expecting Alabama to turn into a storied baseball powerhouse like Mississippi State or LSU overnight, I tend to look more towards the Tennessee route of patience and fan support that catapulted the Volunteers to national prominence.
For Tennessee rarely drew strong crowds over the last several years at Lindsey-Nelson Stadium until coach Tony Vitello took the program to its first NCAA Regional in 14 years back in 2019.
The Volunteers had undergone a significantly longer drought in relevance than Alabama has and still found a way to right the ship almost overnight.
Needless to say, the Alabama baseball program is in the best spot its been since Mitch Gaspard was at the helm in 2014, leading the Crimson Tide into the final game of the Tallahassee Regional.
Fifth-year coach Brad Bohannon has improved the overall record of the program in each full season in Tuscaloosa, after taking over in the summer of 2017 with a complete mess from Greg Goff on hand.
After a few years of Top 20 and even Top 10 recruiting classes brought in by Bohannon, the Tide now have most of the talent needed to assert themselves into the national conversation, even with a pathway for the former Kentucky and Auburn assistant that started off with a plethora of obstacles.
But enough about all of that… it’s time I truly convince you to head out to Sewell-Thomas Stadium for the weekend.
Alabama and Texas A&M will face off in an SEC West battle that could change the course of either program’s season after Sunday. Both teams will be looking to improve to over .500 in SEC play, with the Tide set to get back a number of key contributors over the next few weeks in Landon Green, Brad Guffey, William Hamiter and more.
As of Wednesday afternoon, weather is supposed to be in the mid to low 70s all weekend, so there should be perfect baseball weather for all three games.
The student section in right-field is sure to be packed, just as it was Tuesday for the first home game with students since the Binghamton series.
Students are going to pack right-field, while the dedicated few that occupy the seats in the Home Plate Club and parent section will hold it down up close as they always do.
The question is, can Alabama’s fanbase fill the rest of the stadium chairback seats that are available?
Alabama baseball has the pieces to make a real run this season, but the one it may truly be lacking is a crowd that can provide a true home-field advantage.
Come out to ‘The Joe’ and help be the difference maker in the Tide’s quest for Hoover and even Omaha.
For all the work players like Jarvis put in over the summer in the Cape Cod league, Andrew Pinckney brings to practice and a hobbled Hamiter brings in trying to get back on the diamond, it’s time the fans provide the extra boost this team may be looking for.
Tickets to this weekend’s matchups can be purchased here, with prices starting at just $10 for adults and $7 for children 18 and under.
As a proud Alabama student, a college baseball writer and an avid fan of the game, I truly hope to see you out at ‘The Joe’ cheering this team to victory over the weekend, with the belief that this year’s team still has a lot left in store.