Thousands of families grow together around Alabama games year after year. Weekend trips to Bryant-Denny Stadium, Coleman Coliseum, Sewell-Thomas Stadium or other games become tradition. Crimson and White become heirlooms.
Others have an even deeper connection to Alabama athletics. Three players on this year’s Alabama baseball team have immediate family members who were varsity athletes for the Crimson Tide.
Senior infielder Connor Short is the son of former Alabama pitcher Ben Short (1990-91). Junior outfielder Keith Holcombe’s father is Danny Holcombe, who played football from 1980-82. Sophomore outfielder Walker McCleney’s sister is Haylie McCleney, a four-time softball All-American from 2013-16.
“It’s really cool,” Keith Holcombe said. “It’s that connection you have with your family. It’s always cool when you can go back home, wherever you’re from and talk baseball or talk football, any sport. But then having that family member that’s gone through it with you, you can just kick back and tell exactly what’s going on and they know exactly where you’re coming from. It takes a load off your shoulders because they understand where you’re coming from because they’ve gone through it too. It’s just really cool to be able to share that experience with anybody on a very personal note.”
Alabama vs. Mississippi State
Schedule: Friday at 6:00 p.m., Saturday at 6 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m.
Where: Sewell-Thomas Stadium
Records: Alabama 23-23 (5-16 SEC), Mississippi State 24-21 (9-12 SEC)
TV: ESPNU (Sunday only)
Radio: 102.9 FM
That makes almost 10 percent of Alabama’s roster with a family member who wore a Crimson uniform before. Other players, like starting pitcher Jake Walters, had a family member who played sports at another school. His father was an outfielder at Mississippi State. McCleney’s father was a baseball player at Samford.
“If you grow up in a household where you have siblings who play sports or your parents played sports or have an allegiance to a certain school, it certainly increases the likelihood that you’re going to be involved in that sport or be able to play at a higher level,” coach Brad Bohannon said.
The advantages go beyond the deep end of the gene pool. Ben Short was a junior college coach when Connor was young. He’d go to practice with his father, taking his first swings against some players and coaches who would toss him the ball. Ben Short eventually left coaching full-time in part so he could go to his children’s games. He coached Connor until he went to high school.
McCleney said growing up with his family was a “huge” part of preparing him as an athlete.
“Being in such a competitive family and my dad being an athlete, my sister being an athlete, it’s pushed me to be a better athlete and a better person,” he said.
He and his younger brother – now in high school – both made diving catches for balls on the trampoline. Haylie became known for her defense in center at Rhoads Stadium, the same position McCleney plays at Sewell-Thomas.
It’s not always a fairy tale, though. Bohannon said some players would rather take their own route than follow what their family members did. That can especially be the case when the father or older sibling leaves big cleats to fill. Ben Short still holds Alabama’s school record with 14 saves in a season.
“(Connor) said ‘Dad, following in your footsteps at Alabama isn’t always the easiest thing. You were an All-American there and hold a record there. Some of those things are tough to live up to,’” Ben Short said. “I said ‘I had the blessing and the opportunity to play there with some success, but it’s not about me. It’s about you and your opportunities. Just make the best out of them.”
Those opportunities can lead to some cherished memories. Ben Short threw out the first pitch before the Capital City Classic in Auburn this year, and Connor sat behind the plate to catch it.
“Man, that was a really cool moment,” Connor Short said. “Me and my dad have a really special relationship.”
Connor Short started his college career at Auburn before transferring to Alabama. Ben Short still remembers seeing Connor at his first practice, his first at-bat and watching his first home run.
“Seeing him out there in an Alabama uniform was always something special to a dad,” Ben Short said.
That’s something that father and son – or sister and brother – can keep long after their playing careers end. Then they can pass it on to the next generation.
It has uncommon pressures, but also its own rewards.
“When I was maybe in high school and early in my college career, I probably felt that pressure a little bit,” Connor Short said. “But the Lord has really opened my eyes and my dad’s eyes to show that my identity is not found in who I impress playing this game. I don’t go out there to play to impress my dad or go out there to impress anybody in the stands. I go out there to play for the glory of God. That’s been a real huge part of my dad and I’s relationship together and how we go about playing the game, and everything we do in life. That’s been a real key factor in my career.”
Reach Ben Jones at email@example.com or 205-722-0196.