Baseball team makes first SEC trip to College Station

Kevin Connell

Life in the Southeastern Conference never gets any easier.

One week after playing Ole Miss, a top-10 team, and three weeks since playing Kentucky, one of the top offenses in the nation, the University of Alabama baseball team will travel to Texas A&M this weekend, where it will face one of the toughest crowds in college baseball.

“They’ve got a beautiful ballpark; they get a lot of fan support,” Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard said. “They’ve always played really well at home, so I think, like a lot of ballparks in our league, it’s always a challenge when you go there.”

(See also “Alabama baseball team completes second sweep of the season“)

This weekend will be the first time the Crimson Tide has played at Blue Bell Park since the Aggies joined the SEC last season. Before that, the last time Alabama played at Texas A&M was in 2003 during the NCAA College Station Regional.

“It’s definitely going to be exciting,” senior first baseman Austen Smith said. “I heard Texas A&M’s got one of the nicest stadiums in Blue Bell Park. Any time you get to see a new stadium, it’s going to be fun.”

The Aggies have had one of the top fan attendances in the nation this season, ranking eighth in the nation with nearly 4,500 fans per game. Like many SEC schools, that support shows in more than just numbers.

Sitting along the first base line at every home game is a student section called the “Raggies,” who are well known for heckling, or ragging, the opposition.

Smith said it’s important as a player to stay calm in these types of environments.

“When you go out there, you’re going to get heckled; you’re going to get called names and stuff, but that’s fun,” he said. “That’s why you come to the SEC to play: to play against the greatest competition and those crazy fans.”

(See also “Raging in right field“)

Alabama has already played at Arkansas and then-No. 10 Louisiana-Lafayette, who rank second and 28th in fan attendance this season, respectively. In both series, the Crimson Tide (2-5 away) struggled to find consistency and managed only one win in three games in each.

With that road experience this season, coupled with its current run of 16 wins in its past 19 games, Gaspard said the Crimson Tide must start preparing itself now for the environments it will face at two top-10 teams in South Carolina and LSU, who also rank fourth and first in fan attendance, coming up in the next few weeks.

“For our team right now, that’s the next step for us to take is to go play well on the road for three games,” Gaspard said. “And right now, we’re carrying pretty good momentum going into College Station.”

(See also “UA baseball team carries historic momentum“)