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The facilities arms race in the Southeastern Conference never stops. When one program builds the latest and greatest whistles, someone else will rise to the occasion and build something just a little better.
Texas A&M, Ole Miss, LSU, South Carolina and Tennessee all have embarked on major renovation/capital campaigns over the past few years. Even Auburn, whose stadium isn't new by any means, has done a few things over the past few years to tweak and further improve the experience at Plainsman Park in Auburn, Ala.
Surprisingly, until now, the University of Alabama had sat idle. Sure, the Crimson Tide added 2,000 seats, bleacher seats mind you, a few years ago. The Tide also improved locker rooms, coaches offices and other smaller amenities in 2010. But when it comes to keeping up with the "Joneses" of the SEC, the Tide, until now, was always behind.
In what comes as surprising news considering the hurdles the baseball program at Alabama has gone through financially over the past decade or so, the University of Alabama Board of Trustees approved a plan to essentially build a sparkling new $30 million stadium, expected to seat 7,000 upon completion. Currently, Thomas-Sewell Stadium holds just over 6,000 spectators.
The new facility also will include locker rooms, new bullpens and batting cages, and for the fans, a club lounge along with seven luxury suites.
The Tide is expected to begin construction on the new state-of-the-art facility at the conclusion of the 2014 baseball season, with the realization the program could spend some of the '15 campaign at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, home of the SEC tournament, and just 45 minutes up the road.
Beyond just showing a commitment to the baseball program, it's impressive to see just how much Alabama is willing to spend on baseball -- it's also surprising.
The Crimson Tide administration isn't building this new ballpark, which by the way will be on the existing stadium site, on the cheap. At $30 million as the price tag, this ballpark is right on par or exceeds what other schools in the conference are doing.
For instance, let's compare that $30 million to what programs recently have done: LSU and South Carolina each have built new stadiums in the past decade. The Tigers spent $37.8 million on Alex Box Stadium, while Carolina Stadium came with a $35 million price tag.
As for programs that went through extensive renovation projections: Tennessee spent $16 million to renovate Lindsey Nelson Stadium, Ole Miss spent $18.5 million to extensively renovate Oxford-University Stadium, and Texas A&M essentially turned an old park into a brand new park with a hefty $24 million price tag.
Looking outside of the SEC to make comparisons, North Carolina rebuilt Boshamer Stadium with a $25.5 million price tag, Oregon built PK Park for $20.5 million, and surprisingly, Penn State built Lubrano Park in 2005 for $35.8 million. The Nittany Lions, of course, had help from a local professional baseball organization.
Building a new ballpark won't guarantee Alabama will win at an even higher level. But in the past, when going against facility stalwarts such as Ole Miss and LSU, among others, Mitch Gaspard and his coaching staff were always fighting an uphill battle on the recruiting trail from a facilities standpoint.
Welcome to the facilities arms race, Alabama.
Around the nation
* There has been a rather interesting trend this summer, and that's the movement of graduated players who still have a year of eligibility left. The latest player to engage in that process is Texas right-handed pitcher Josh Urban. Urban, a big-bodied 6-foot-4, 235-pounder, has transferred to Dallas Baptist for his senior campaign, and will not be forced to sit out after already graduating from UT. Urban was considered one of the top 25 prospects in the Texas Collegiate League this summer, and certainly should log more innings for the Patriots in the spring. For the Longhorns in 2013, Urban made 16 appearances, four starts and had a 1.51 ERA in 35 2/3 innings of work.
* Speaking of transfers, it's not an incredibly big loss, but the Clemson Tigers must replace catcher/infielder Kevin Bradley, who transferred to State College of Florida this summer. Bradley, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound, freshman, didn't get a lot of playing time last season. He appeared in 37 games, had 56 at bats and tallied an unimpressive .179 batting average with a double. Bradley is additional attrition for the Tigers, who also lost Matt Reed to Marshall this summer. Reed was declared immediately eligible by the NCAA to play for the Thundering Herd in 2014.
* It has been quite the summer for the Illinois-Chicago baseball program. First, it was head coach Mike Dee getting a contract extension. Then, just this week, the Flames announced the promotion of Sean McDermott to associate head coach. And most interestingly, UIC also announced the addition of new volunteer coach Jack Lupo, who just last season competed for the Vanderbilt Commodores. Lupo is certainly on the fast track. As if things couldn't get more exciting in Chicago, UIC officially broke ground on Curtis Granderson Stadium on Tuesday. Granderson made a multi-million dollar donation for the projection, the facility being built in conjunction with the Curtis Granderson Stadium Project, a youth initiative designed to aid the children of Chicago. You can read and view much more about the new stadium, which is set to finish by the spring, by clicking here.
* Yet another transfer to talk about, this time someone going from the West Coast to the East Coast, particularly the Northeast. He's sophomore first baseman/outfielder Nico Darras. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound, California native spent his freshman campaign at Cal State Fullerton. However, he has since transferred to Connecticut. and unless something changes, must sit out the 2014 campaign. Darras saw very little action for the Titans in '13, appearing in just nine games and tallying a .250 batting average in 12 at bats.
* The coaching carousel has pretty much dried up as several teams have already begun fall workouts. However, Bethune-Cookman made news late last week by officially announcing the addition of new assistant coach Jason Bell, replacing Kenny Smith, who earlier this summer took a post on High Point's staff. Bell joins the Wildcats with a lot of experience, 23 total years of coaching, along with spending the last nine seasons on the Penn State coaching staff.
* Tennessee-Martin's coaching search earned quite a surprising buzz the past few weeks because of some candidates involved and the actual hiring process, which included an unorthodox "town hall" format interview. The Skyhawks attempted to lure former Tennessee coach Rod Delmonico, Columbia State head coach Mike Corn and Samford associate head coach Tony David. However, all attempts were unsuccessful, causing UTM to go back to the drawing board and name assistant coach Brad Goss interim head coach. Goss has plenty of experience with the Skyhawks, spending the past nine seasons as an assistant under recently removed head coach Bubba Cates.
* There are a lot of moving parts for the Texas-Arlington Mavericks baseball program as they get ready for the Sun Belt Conference. The Mavericks have some good news, though, as Clay Gould Ballpark, along with the nearby softball complex, will get a $5.5 million facelift. The renovations will include a new sound system, bleacher improvements, and best of all, brand new locker rooms -- something UTA currently doesn't have on-site.
* Oklahoma State has had a reputation in the past of putting together some rather weak non-conference schedules. However, second-year head coach Josh Holliday is very much changing that, as the Cowboys have home slates scheduled against San Diego and Arizona State in 2014. You can view the Cowboys' entire '14 slate by clicking here.