By (Cody Estremera)

It has been over 260 days since the Alabama baseball team played a game. In that time the team lost the head coach, Mitch Gaspard, who had been with the team for nine seasons, along with most of its 2016 starters, and signed a new coach, Greg Goff, who has transformed every program he has been to up to this point. Now the long off-season is over and it is time to play baseball again.

The first thing fans will notice is a focus on home games this season. Last year there were 32 home games, but this year there are 37, including all of the first 21 games.

“We have one of the best facilities in the country,” Goff said. “We want to play as many games as we can at this house.”

Goff added special promotions throughout the week to help build excitement for the games. On Tuesdays there will be Taco Tuesday sponsored by Taco Mama, and on Sundays there will be a brunch bar.

“As a head coach I want to coach baseball, but at the same time it is my responsibility to make it a fan-`friendly environment,” Goff said. “All those things [the weekly promotions] are just trying to get this environment to be the best home field advantage in the country.”

The first team to visit Alabama’s house is Presbyterian College on Friday. Presbyterian finished 27-30 last year out of the Big South Conference, which was the program’s best season since the team moved up to Division I.

The Blue Hose brings preseason All-Big South pitcher Tanner Chock with it as it plays the Crimson Tide. Chock finished last season with a 3-4 record and a 4.60 ERA.

Alabama finalized its starting rotation for the first series with senior Nick Echoltz starting game one against the Blue Hose, followed by junior Jake Walters and sophomore Dylan Duarte.

Echoltz was the Sunday night starter last year and finished with a 2.30 ERA in his 10 wins. Walters finished the 2016 season with a 2.67 ERA and a team-high 84 strikeouts. Duarte won the last starting role over Brock Love. The left-hander finished second on the team with 21 appearances out of the bullpen.

“It’s an exciting opportunity,” Duarte said. “I’m just looking to take full advantage of it. I was excited when I got the job.”

However, even though Goff nailed down the starting rotation, the back end of the bullpen and the starting lineup is still a mystery. He has been using simulated games to help make the decision. Goff said the coaches put situations up for the players, like a winning run on second or third, and see how they react.

With a new coach comes a new system, and Goff’s is aggressive. He likes to put pressure on pitchers by running on the bases, which works on both sides of the ball. He said the pitchers have really gotten better about controlling the running game.

“He [Goff] is high intensity and I love it,” junior Hunter Alexander said. “It brings out the best in us.”

There are plenty of skeptics after Alabama’s 32-26 record last year, the departure of its coach and most of its starters. The Crimson Tide was predicted to finish tied for last in the SEC West and second to last overall in the conference. This is nothing new to Goff.

“Every place I’ve been, the first year, we’ve always been ranked last,” Goff said. “I love being the underdog and our players playing with a chip on their shoulders.”

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Source:: The Crimson White Sports