Chances: A Tip Of The Cap To Alabama Baseball
The smell of hot dogs, shelled peanuts and freshly cut grass transcend the air.
An array of fans donning ball caps and team apparel fill the stands.
Patriotic-themed banners drape around the ballpark, while an organist chimes away at his instruments from the press box and the cadence of home broadcasters appear on pocket radio.
Whether you're a current Alabama student, an alumni or lifelong fan, you probably know those sacred baseball traditions as a reminder of the game's annual arrival.
America's National Pastime is back, marking sports fans' long-awaited start to spring and a chance to relive lifelong memories.
At one point or another, you likely played the game of baseball or had the chance to attend a baseball game.
That first catch with dad in the backyard, family trips to the local batting cages and your first autograph or souvenir from the park come to mind.
This game, one with nine players in the field, a batter and a ball, has been bringing people together since the mid 18th Century.
Baseball is a game that lives with you forever. Once you have experienced the magic that lies between the base paths on that dirt-ridden diamond, there is no going back.
Now, allow me to take you on a detailed journey through my baseball fandom.
As a lifelong Atlanta Braves fan myself, it took finally reaching the mountaintop to come to the realization that the journey is what truly matters most.
Sure, 2021 delivered some of the most exciting moments I will ever see from a team I adore. The 2022 season ended in the divisional round of the playoffs, but brought with it a season of packed crowds and celebration.
I will forever cherish the 2021 Braves for becoming World Champions, but to me the resurgence from a middle of the pack team at the All-Star break is what sticks out most.
Only one team across two leagues gets to call itself a champion at the end of each year.
Sure, winning the World Series is great, but the entire reason it felt so special can be credited to the summers of memories made leading up to the moment.
Hundreds of games attended across Turner Field and Truist Park and thousands taken in by radio or television broadcast. How fortunate I am to have seen every major league team grace the field of play in my lifetime.
The underdog Braves bowing out to the even-year Giants in 2010 to send Bobby Cox off to retirement.
Chipper Jones taking his final at-bat in the inaugural NL Wildcard Game in 2012. Seeing the Braves trade away Craig Kimbrel and Jayson Heyward to begin a rebuild that would later bring a championship to Atlanta.
Oh and how about those 2017 and 2018 Braves teams I watched in my backyard of the Smyrna/Vinings suburbs? The teams that had you on the edge of your seat over .500 baseball with the aging Brandon Phillips and Jose Bautista.
How about watching Ronald Acuña Jr. cap off a stellar rookie season with a grand-slam against the mighty Dodgers in Truist Park's first postseason game?
I still remember exactly where I was when the Braves came back on a May afternoon from six runs down against the Miami Marlins that year. The game happened to take place eight years to the day after Atlanta came back from a 9-3 deficit to the Cincinnati Reds at Turner Field.
More than half the fans scattered across the seats had already left, in what appeared to be a rough game for the Braves.
Then, baseball did what only baseball can do.
Atlanta caught late-game magic in the bottom of the ninth to stun the Marlins.
This game only counted once in the 162-game record books and had nothing to do with who took home the trophy that year. However, it is one of my favorite baseball memories because of the unprecedented events that occurred.
It was that game where I truly fell in love with Braves baseball my freshman year of high school. I had always been a fan, but this, this was different.
The move to the suburbs of Atlanta and the new stadium made it possible to attend nearly every game the summers of 2017 and 2018 thanks to a cheap standing-room pass during the last days of the rebuild.
I was finally old enough to appreciate the Braves and their history, spending countless nights under the Georgia sky at the ballpark.
Veteran players such as Kurt Suzuki, Tyler Flowers, Nick Markakis, Mike Foltynewicz and Charlie Culberson became common sights at the ballpark, who I watched catapult the Braves back to relevance.
What's special about baseball is the possibility to see something new every time you enter the ballpark like I did witnessing that six-run comeback by that 2018 team. The game has been played for generations, yet it still delivers in creating new memories from momentous occasions all the time.
Events such as David Freese's 2011 heroics in Game 6 for the Cardinals, Derek Jeter's last game at Yankee Stadium in 2014 and the Cubs-Indians World Series of 2016 fill my childhood of fandom.
Just recently, Stephen Vogt gave me chills after hitting a pinch-hit home run in his final game as a major leaguer with the Oakland Athletics.
Watching these moments on a cold winter's night in a YouTube rewind clip still bring me goosebumps.
It was just a few years ago that I found myself expanding on my passion for baseball and attending college games, even going as far as covering certain teams.
Last year, I saw the Crimson Tide take the opening game up on Rocky Top, received royal treatment at the Left Field Lounge in Starkville and attended countless $2 Tuesdays at 'the Joe'.
Alabama did not make it to the pinnacle in Omaha, but a team they swept in their own ballpark did. That team just so happened to be the last in the entire field, making the most of the opportunity presented.
Ironically, that same program, which had previously been notorious for failing to reach Omaha with far better records, finally got the job done.
Last season's Ole Miss Rebels are one of many reminders the game brings at the start of each season.
There is always a chance. In this beautifully chaotic game we adore, you get 27 outs to make something magical happen.
Alabama gets its chance again this spring. The Tide may not be the preseason favorite or a popular dark horse, but it certainly has a chance to make history.
It's finally baseball time in Tuscaloosa. Coach Bohannon and company are ready to embark on the program's eighth season in the newly renovated confines of 'the Joe'.
In just under two weeks, Alabama will kick off the 2023 slate on February 17th.
The Tide welcomes the Richmond Spiders to town for opening weekend, marking the official start to a sport seen on the campus of The Capstone since 1892.
Despite flying a bit under the radar, all of the pieces are here for Alabama to re-write the script and have a big year.
Baseball may not draw the crowds or fan interest of the university's neighboring football program. It may not have the newfound interest Nate Oats has injected into Coleman Coliseum for Alabama basketball or Patrick Murphy's crowds at the 'Rhoads House' for Alabama softball.
However, baseball can look down the street to the work Wes Hart put in to build Alabama women's soccer for a pathway to success in an underfunded and uneven game, bringing the feel-good 'Moneyball' script into the mighty SEC.
Hart inherited an Alabama soccer program in the gutter of the grueling Southeastern Conference and took it to the pinnacle of the sport, winning the regular-season and reaching the College Cup in Cary, North Carolina as a Cinderella story.
The Tide went on a historic run on the heels of a potential-filled 2021 season, which put the pieces for history into place on a documentary-worthy year.
Expecting Alabama baseball to follow in the soccer program's footsteps might be too much to ask, but the formula is certainly there.
D1 Baseball and the NCBWA are high on the Tide, ranking them No. 20 and No. 25 to start the season.
Veteran leadership from shortstop Jim Jarvis and outfielder Andrew Pinckney will keep Alabama in several games on the year.
The Tide finished last season 31-26, narrowly missing a second-straight NCAA Tournament appearance. Alabama had a series sweep over eventual national champion Ole Miss and wins against Tennessee, Texas A&M and Arkansas on the year.
Added depth to the pitching rotation and a bad taste from last year are sure to boost a promising 2023 campaign.
Wins in the record book are what keep the fans flocking to the stadium, but the pageantry and tradition of baseball keep diehard fans like those in the Home Plate Club at 'the Joe' coming back every year.
As the late Vin Scully once said, “almost all of us growing up have played baseball on some level. It has an inside track with people. It has a unifying effect.”
The former Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster and Emmy Award winner represented baseball to its core in calling numerous milestone moments over the years.
As much as one hopes to see their team win a championship, it is the memories made through generations that will last a lifetime.
“That is the way this game is — you win, you lose, you celebrate, and you suffer,” - Scully.
The great Brad Pitt states in the final scenes of Moneyball, "how can you not be romantic about baseball?"
As much as I want to see Alabama reach Omaha and compete for a national championship, I have to step back and ask myself how lucky am I to be able to witness a full college baseball regular season in the Deep South as a student.
There is always a chance. For the second consecutive season, I will get my own chance to cover the magic.
It's time for Alabama baseball.