The Battle Plan

Feb. 4, 2014

The birth of Alabama athletics dates back to July 1, 1892, when the baseball team defeated Sewanee 6-3. Through the years, the Crimson Tide has won a combined 29 conference championships, including its years in the SIAA, the Southern Conference and the SEC, which is more than any sport at the Capstone and more than any current member of the conference has won on the baseball diamond. Joe Sewell is currently the only former player from the SEC to be enshrined in Cooperstown, the College Baseball Hall of Fame and the State of Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. The baseball facility at the University is named after Sewell and Coach Frank Thomas.

Dating back to the spring of 1948, when Alabama hosted Florida, Crimson Tide teams have competed in the area formerly known as Thomas Fields, officially named in honor of Coach Thomas after his retirement as a football coach. Although Frank Thomas never coached baseball at Alabama, his stellar play as an infielder helped him land a scholarship at Notre Dame where he became a multi-sport star and a football team captain for Knute Rockne. Coach Thomas also helped launch the career of a young broadcaster, who was a University of Alabama student back in the 1930s, Mel Allen. Forever known as the "Voice of the Yankees" and for the innovative TV show "This Week in Baseball," Allen also is honored in Cooperstown as a member of the Hall of Fame.

There have been many other legendary figures in the history of Alabama baseball, including Riggs Stephenson, Frank Lary and David Magadan. Current major league all-stars David Robertson and Alex Avila have also brought national prestige to the University during the past few seasons.

After playing at Thomas Field for 30 years, Coach Paul Bryant initiated re-naming the baseball stadium in honor of Joe Sewell and Coach Thomas. In 1978, the facility, which consisted of only grandstands, was officially named Sewell-Thomas Field. As SEC baseball began its meteoric rise, the facility was razed and a new stadium was finished for the 1990 season becoming Sewell-Thomas Stadium. The last renovation occurred at the end of the 1990s. While the stadium is considered serviceable, it lacks most of the amenities that the new parks in the SEC and other baseball powers contain in their designs. A number of recent surveys of SEC baseball stadia rank the current configuration of Sewell-Thomas at the bottom of the conference.

Widespread interest in college baseball, particularly in the Southeast, will only increase with the new SEC Network, set to launch in August 2014. In order to maintain a competitive balance for the team, to better accommodate supporters with a more fan-friendly environment, and to effectively provide a facility that will encompass the needs of everyone from the players, supporters, VIPs, workers and the media, a plan of action has been developed to ensure the University of Alabama is at the forefront once again.

As most of you are aware, we have launched a campaign to raise money to fund the construction of the New Sewell-Thomas Stadium. I believe this major upgrade is a vital element in our ability to compete at the highest levels of SEC and NCAA baseball. I want to emphasize that our administration is not only committed to constructing a state-of-the-art facility, but building and sustaining a first-class baseball program.

Excitement is building for the upcoming season. Our team is ranked in the top 25 pre-season polls, and returns 21 players from last year's NCAA regional squad, including five position starters and four starting pitchers. An excellent freshman class came on board last fall. I am proud of our coaches and players for their hard work and preparations as they gear up to face SEC opposition that ranks among the best in the country.

In order to accomplish our stated goals, we need your help. To make this important project a reality, our goal is to raise $20 million privately in gifts and multi-year pledges. If successful in acquiring early private financial support, and subject to board approval, we will break ground after the 2014 baseball season, with completion scheduled for the summer of 2015.

Our Development staff and I will gladly meet with any of you who are so inclined to help in our efforts in the campaign. It is my hope that we will receive widespread support across the board to make the future of Alabama baseball one of unparalleled success.

Our Mission is to recruit and develop student athletes to compete at the highest levels in their sport; to educate and prepare those student athletes to compete at the highest levels in life after graduation; and to do both with honor and integrity. I believe that mission is not only that of the Athletics Department, but matches what you as fans desire of our programs.

While we strive for excellence in everything we do, there are also times where thoughtful patience is required. I evaluate every sports team after the season and try to make the best decisions in my power as to what I believe is best for the University over the long run. There are many factors to consider in making that best decision. It is my hope that our fans and supporters will also take that same view. All of our teams need - and I believe deserve - OUR FANS to be there in support, regardless of their record.

I hope that your allegiance and your presence will continue through thick and thin. I have seen firsthand where the passion of loyal fans can lead to negativity, which makes recruiting for the future much more difficult. Such negativity can make a bad situation worse, ironically coming from those who love the University the most.

All of us deal with high expectations - our own and those of others. High expectations are often perceived as pressure by most outside observers, but it is fuel for those of us in athletics as we work daily to achieve our mission. Many times we fail to meet someone's expectations, particularly in the high profile world of college sports. It can become difficult to remember that the expectations that truly matter are personal, both to the individual and the organization or team they represent.

Having realistic expectations is also very important. Evaluating what realistic expectations are for any program in our midst is a relative proposition. Every team we have is at a different stage of development, so the realistic expectations for one may be higher or lower than another. Each of our teams at Alabama has high expectations. None of us would want it any other way. As an organization, we have high expectations for all facets of our programs.

The expectations of most outside observers are pretty simple and clear: they want our athletics program to compete for championships in every sport while graduating our student-athletes and producing productive people. That's a set of expectations we all embrace at the University of Alabama. Do we always meet those expectations? No. Just as important, do we always meet our own expectations? No. Nonetheless, that's the standard we try to live up to. That's the level of achievement we want - and, yes, expect - to reach in every sport.

Consistency and discipline in approach is crucial to meeting our goals. Self-control in thought and action creates consistency. The attitude we assume when faced with disappointment is truly up to us. That's as true for fans and supporters as it is for student-athletes, coaches, and administrators. The passion that our fans have for our University is what sets Alabama apart from the rest. It is my hope that we can harness that passion and direct it to positive outcomes.

Most of our teams are on the road this weekend, but gymnastics hosts Georgia this Friday night at 7:30 at Coleman Coliseum. We are currently ranked No. 7 nationally while the Bulldogs come to town at No. 5 in the rankings. Let's fill up the Coliseum once again and cheer our ladies to a big victory!

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