Opening Day for University of Alabama baseball is set for Friday, if the weather cooperates.
This isn’t just Opening Day for another season, though. This is, if everything goes the way the Alabama administration hopes it goes, the opening of a new era. It’s a chance to erase the bad memories of 2017, which turned out to be Opening Day for a single-season misstep that doesn’t need to be rehashed in detail. Suffice it to say things didn’t work out and the trip back to the drawing board was a quick one.
Brad Bohannon, the new coach, seems to have gotten off to a good start in terms of repairing frayed relationships and building a recruiting base. That building process isn’t entirely from scratch. There are always some players in this state and the surrounding ones who are both good baseball players and Alabama fans. You can’t sustain a championship program solely on that group, of course. It’s simply a starting point.
It will be interesting to see how much patience Bohannon will encounter as he tries to get the baseball program from where it ended last season to the next stops along the way: respectability, then relevance and ultimately to championship contention. One would think this season would be pure honeymoon for Bohannon, as long as he doesn’t out-and-out antagonize anyone.
The expectations are as low as possible for an SEC program. In the SEC preseason coaches’ poll, Alabama was picked to finish last in the West and received fewer votes than any other team in the 14-team league. Without delving into a detailed season preview — our baseball beat writer, Ben Jones, has done a good job of that — the general consensus is the offense should be good and the pitching will be a mystery.
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Will that be enough to contend for an title in the SEC, a league that has eight teams in the top 16 of the preseason D1baseball.com Top 25? Almost certainly, it won’t. But competing in the SEC is a double-edged sword. Finishing at the top is bearishly difficult, but if you can finish in the top 10 in the league, you’ve got a chance to make it to a regional. Even that might be a year or two down the road for Alabama, but it’s not an unattainable near-term goal.
For many years, the two explanations for Alabama’s slide out of annual contention for a trip to Omaha were facilities and “supplemental (lottery) scholarships.” There was truth to both arguments. The facility problem has been fixed. Alabama doesn’t quite have the behemoth stadium you see at LSU and Mississippi State, but it now has a first-rate home field.
Supplemental scholarships aren’t a reality and hoping the state of Alabama approves a higher-education lottery isn’t likely to change things. Even if Alabama approved a lottery, does anyone truly think any money would make it out of Montgomery to help anyone? Bohannon, who came to Tuscaloosa from Auburn, knew that when he took the job and will just have to recruit around it.
Those are long-range issues, though. For 2018, the best thing for Alabama baseball will be for everyone involved, players and fans, to have some fun and enjoy whatever success may come on the field. And for everyone, for a year at least, to have some patience.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.