Oct. 2, 2008
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Four months removed from the end of its 2008 season, the UAB baseball team looks toward the 2009 campaign as fall practice kicks into gear at Young Memorial Field.
The Blazers opened practice Friday and will work out as a team six days a week for the next six weeks during their fall practice period.
"We are excited to begin fall practice each year, and this year is no exception," UAB head coach Brian Shoop said. "It is a chance to be together every day as well as an opportunity to teach and drill and improve without focusing on game outcomes. As coaches, we love the fall and see it as a critical time in our program."
For Shoop, who enters his third season with the Blazers, this team is the most experienced he has had since coming to UAB. The Blazers welcome back 26 players from their 2008 team, including 10 seniors.
Senior outfielder Brint Hardy, who hit .338 for the Blazers in 2008, is back to lead the corps of returning players after a strong summer season with the Athletes In Action Fire of the Alaska Baseball League. Hardy was named the league's player of the year and even garnered recognition in the "Faces in the Crowd" section of the Aug. 25 edition of Sports Illustrated.
Along with Hardy, the Blazers return six additional everyday starters from a season ago.
"It will be nice to have a veteran team for the first time," Shoop said. "This is the first year that what we are teaching is a review to over half the team, and we are hopeful that will translate to improvement on the field."
Last season, UAB made great strides. The Blazers finished 26-34 overall but ranked second in a strong Conference USA in both team hitting and team fielding. Fall practice will provide UAB an opportunity to build on those strengths and to improve on the mound. Of the team's 10 newcomers, seven are pitchers who will look to strengthen the Blazers staff.
The team will also work this fall to make up for the loss of 2008 seniors Ryan Keedy
and Phil Bell
. Keedy, an all-region selection and 16th round draft choice of the Chicago Cubs, played first base and led UAB with a .423 batting average. Bell hit .314 in 2008 as a starting outfielder.
"Losing Ryan Keedy and Phil Bell is a huge loss to our offense, and we will need every player to improve to make up for their bats being taken out of the lineup," Shoop said.
"We do believe, though, that we will have another competitive offense, and we will again defend the field well. We are hopeful to make a big jump on the mound, which will, of course, be a key to our improving in our won-loss record in the spring."
The Blazers are coming off a season in which they defeated five NCAA Regional teams in Rice, Houston, Tulane, Southern Miss and Alabama. The Rice win gave the Blazers program its first ever victory over a team ranked in the Top 5.
The team's accomplishments in the classroom, however, were even more impressive. The 2008 squad, which had 29 players post a 3.0 GPA or better, earned the Conference USA Sport Academic award, recognizing the team with the highest GPA in the league.
The Blazers' fall practice runs for six weeks with all sessions open to the public. Fans are encouraged to attend.
"All of our practices are open, and we invite the public to attend any practice or intrasquad game," Shoop said. "It is a great chance to get to know our players and watch their progress throughout the fall. As the public gets to know our players, I really believe they will become Blazer baseball fans."
Below is the tentative weekly practice schedule for the fall with all times subject to change:
Sunday -- 1:30 to 5 p.m.
Monday -- Off
Tuesday -- 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.
Wednesday -- 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.
Thursday -- 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.
Friday -- 1:30 to 5 p.m.
Saturday -- 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.