The birth of Alabama athletics dates back to July 1, 1892, when the baseball team defeated Sewanee, 6-3 in its first-ever collegiate sporting event.
In its history, Alabama baseball has won a combined 29 conference championships, including the years in SIAA, Southern and SEC play, which is more than any sport at the Capstone and more than any current member of the conference has won on the baseball diamond.
Currently, only two members of an SEC school has ever been enshrined in baseball’s Hall of Fame as a player, and one of them, Joe Sewell, is a product of The University of Alabama. His name joins that of Coach Frank Thomas on the facility.
Dating back to the spring of 1948, when Alabama hosted Florida, the Crimson Tide teams have competed in the area known as Thomas Fields, officially named in honor of Coach Thomas after his retirement as a football coach from the University.
Although Frank Thomas never coached baseball at Alabama, his stellar play as an infielder helped him land a scholarship at Notre Dame, where he became a multi-sport star and a team football captain for legendary coach Knute Rockne.
Coach Thomas also helped launch the career of a young broadcaster, Mel Allen, when Allen was a student at The University of Alabama back in the 1930s. Forever known as the “Voice of the Yankees” and for the innovative TV show “This Week in Baseball,” Allen is also honored in Cooperstown as a member of the Hall of Fame and marks the second Alabama alumnus enshrined in Cooperstown.
There have been many other legendary figures in the history of Alabama baseball, including Riggs Stephenson, Frank Lary and David Magadan. Current major-league all-stars David Robertson and Alex Avila have also brought national prestige to the University during the past few seasons, and up-and-coming players such as Josh Rutledge and Jimmy Nelson look to continue the Alabama tradition on the pro level.
After playing at Thomas Field for 30 years, Coach Paul Bryant initiated re-naming the baseball stadium in honor of Joe Sewell and Coach Thomas. In 1978, the facility was razed as a new stadium, and was renamed as of the 1990 season becoming Sewell-Thomas Stadium. The last renovation occurred at the end of the 1990s.
While the stadium was considered serviceable, it lacked most of the amenities that the new parks in the SEC and other baseball powers contained in its designs. A number of recent surveys of SEC baseball stadiums ranked the current configuration of Sewell-Thomas as the bottom of the conference.
Widespread interest in college baseball, particularly in the Southeast, will only increase with the new SEC television network that launched in 2014. In order to maintain a competitive balance for the team, to better accommodate supporters with a more fan-friendly environment, and to effectively provide a facility that will encompass the needs of everyone from the players, supporters, VIPs, workers and the media, a plan of action is being presented to ensure The University of Alabama is at the forefront once again.
The new Sewell-Thomas Stadium looks to be one of the premier baseball facilities not only in the Southeastern Conference, but across all of college baseball. The University of Alabama’s rich athletic tradition began with baseball, and a renovated Sewell-Thomas Stadium will once again elevate the baseball program to the forefront of athletics at the Capstone.