Baseball stadium receives renovations, translating into 45-minute drive for fans

$40 million renovations are being completed at Sewell-Thomas Baseball Stadium. This means fans and players must travel to Birmingham for home games this season.

By Giancarlo Mazza
Contributing Writer

TUSCALOOSA – At the beginning of last season, Sewell-Thomas Baseball Stadium introduced the new and unique right field seating area.  At the beginning of this season, Alabama baseball is playing its home games in Hoover, Alabama.

Sewell-Thomas Stadium began renovations in July of last year, and is not scheduled to be completed until 2016. The $42 million project has forced the Alabama baseball team to play its home games in Birmingham at the Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, the former home of the Birmingham Barons. The construction is a step in the right direction because the previous Sewell-Thomas Stadium lacked many fan and player amenities that the newer ballparks in the SEC and other baseball powers contain.

The Hoover Met is 45 minutes away from Tuscaloosa, and for some of the students who are keen on saving money, the drive is a bit extreme.

“The distance makes it harder to go to the games,” said Alex Thomley, a junior at the university. “Even with the recent drop in gas prices, I am still not willing to pay for gas in order to see Alabama’s baseball team play.”

Although this project could have not come at a worse time for the fans, the Board of Trustees made it clear that the stadium was aging and needed to be remodeled.  According to the Board proposal in 2013, the current facility “does not meet current standards and training methods and does not have sufficient space to support equipment and other function need.”

L.C May, an intern at Tide 99.1 who covers the Alabama baseball beat, thinks the stadium project is wise in order to give students the total baseball package.

“I think it was smart to go ahead and start renovations to the current stadium, only because Alabama baseball is a sport people enjoy watching, and with the introduction of the right field seating it gives fans a way to enjoy the game,” May said.  “I also felt like they wanted to go ahead and get renovations done so Alabama could be at an all-time high in terms of popularity, while also knowing that they could use such a fine facility where the SEC Baseball Tournament is held every year.”

Since construction began at the end of last season, the stadium has been almost completely demolished. The press box, clubhouse and several seating sections are gone and the rebuilding process is underway to make for a brand new park.  The Crimson Tide will still be able to use the stadium for practice, but will be seeking other options as a replacement for the 2015 season.

“I think our new stadium will be one of the nicest if not the nicest baseball stadium in the SEC,” said Breana Leonard, a sophomore at the university. “I mean it should be, it’s costing $40 million. After seeing MSU’s new baseball stadium renovation plans, I’m pretty sure SEC schools will have the nicest stadiums.”

Though Leonard is impressed with the stadium’s infrastructure, she thinks the Board made a mistake in its timing of the project.

“I think they should have started building a lot earlier so that maybe, by mid-season, the stadium would have been closer to being done,” Leonard said.

The Crimson Tide’s attendance rates have also taken a massive drop compared to last season. In 2014 Alabama ranked No. 11 in the nation in average attendance with 3,664.  This season as of March 2, Alabama ranks No. 21 in the nation, a 10 spot drop, and over 1,000 less fans attending, with 2,550.

Nancy Kate Baugher, a junior at the university, was asked what she thought of the drop in attendance.

“I am honestly surprised it’s not less,” Baugher said. “Not a single one of my friends has asked me to go out there to watch a game, and even if they did, I would probably decline.”

Another question that presents itself is whether the right field seating area will be back at Sewell-Thomas Stadium, or if the Board has different plans.  As of now, the Board plans on rotating the right field slightly, but there is no word of the future seating arrangements.

“They are a college baseball team, so when the renovations are completed it will be worth it,” Forrester said. “I am just hoping that they bring back the right field area.”

The stadium renovations will give Sewell-Thomas Baseball Stadium a whole new look.  The new stadium will have three levels (field, concourse, and luxury) and will include a large canopy, new concession areas, a team store, skyboxes, clubs, a new press box, and an Alabama Baseball Hall of Fame.  The stadium will be finished by the beginning of the 2016 season.

“I am satisfied with the new stadium because there will be tons of space for all of the fans and students,” Leonard said. “So now the team will finally have all of the necessities they need to reach their full potential.”