There may still be a little nip in the air, but there is no doubt that baseball is just around the corner. Both collegiate and professional teams are preparing for their season openers.

The University of Alabama team is playing away from Tuscaloosa this season as its stadium is being renovated. The Mobile Sports Authority and the BayBears stepped up to the plate, and helped to arrange a three-game series for the Crimson Tide at Hank Aaron Stadium March 6-8 against Lipscomb University.

“Mobile is another opportunity for us to go into southern Alabama and bring our brand to Mobile,” head coach Mitch Gaspard said. The Tide will be playing their “home” games at the Hoover Met, which hosts the annual SEC Tournament.

The UA team, which qualified for the NCAA Regional tournament the last two years, last played at The Hank in 2004 against the University of South Alabama. The Tide played a three-game series in Mobile once before, opening the 1981 season with USA at Stanky Field.

The Jaguars will face nine squads who reached the NCAA Regionals in 2014. Head coach Mark Calvi said playing tough teams is a key for success.
“You obviously want to try and put together the best schedule you can,” he said. “It used to be that 40 wins was the benchmark to get into the Regionals, but now there are teams with 40 or more wins that get left out before their RPI (Rating Percentage Index) is lower than a team with fewer wins.”

All but one of the Jaguars’ first 17 games will be played at Stanky Field, beginning with a three-game series with New Orleans (Feb. 13-15). USA will host Auburn (Feb. 17) before welcoming Maryland, Arkansas and Central Florida for a weekend tourney (Feb. 20-22). The Terrapins advanced to a Super Regional last year, while the Razorbacks fell in a Regional title game.

Spring Hill College head coach Frank Sims has announced changes to his staff. Andy McCall is moving from graduate assistant to assistant coach, while Brooks Bobinger will be the new graduate assistant.

McCall had a .335 career batting average with SHC, and still owns the single-season record with six triples as a senior. Bobinger, a Baker High product, played in the infield and on the mound during his career with the Badgers.

Joe Espada, a former University of Mobile player, has been hired by the New York Yankees as their new infield and third base coach. Espada served as a special assistant to general manager Brian Cashman last season.

Espada was a two-time NAIA All-American and second-round pick in the 1996 Major League draft. During his time in Mobile, he posted the school’s two highest single-season batting averages (.468 in 1995 and .446 in 1996). His .442 career average is still a record, while he is third with 212 hits and 159 in runs scored. Espada was named the Gulf Coast Conference’s Player of the Year two times.

“He continues to give back to the program every year,” said Rams head coach Mike Jacobs, “donating money and equipment, and helping us recruit in Puerto Rico. This school is important to him and it did a lot for him.”

The BayBears have released game times for their 2015 regular season schedule. This includes match-ups with two division rivals, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos and the newly formed Biloxi Shuckers.

The season opens April 9 at the Birmingham Barons. The first game at The Hank will be April 15 against Biloxi.

The BayBears’ weeknight games will start at 6:35 p.m. during April and May. General Manager Chris Morgan said the move was to help families during the school year.

Mobile is looking to clinch a sixth consecutive playoff berth. For a complete schedule, visit www.MobileBayBears.com or call 251-479-BEAR (2327).

Softball teams ready for action
The University of South Alabama is coming off one of its greatest seasons in school history. The Lady Jags finished at No. 22 in the national rankings after going 42-14. They were second in the Sun Belt Conference regular-season standings, and made SBC Tournament and NCAA Regional final appearances.

After losing only two players to graduation, USA is at No. 23 in the latest preseason ranking. The local fans have noticed, as the season-opening home game versus No. 3 Alabama on Feb. 5 has already sold out. The Crimson Tide was last year’s national runner-up.

Senior pitcher Farish Beard of Fairhope will lead the USA Lady Jags in pursuit of another winning record in 2015.

Senior pitcher Farish Beard of Fairhope will lead the USA Lady Jags in pursuit of another winning record in 2015.

“It is always an honor when our student-athletes are recognized for their hard work and accomplishments on the softball field,” said USA head coach Becky Clark. “We are all looking forward to the start of the 2015 season and the opportunity to get back on the field and compete.”

In addition to the Crimson Tide, the Lady Jags will host No. 9 Louisiana-Lafayette for three SBC games March 7-8, while No. 19 LSU will host USA March 24.

Other single-game tickets are now on sale, by calling 251-461-1USA (1872). The schedule includes two home tournaments, the Mardi Gras Invitational (Feb. 13-15) and the South Alabama Invitational (Feb. 20-22), at the newly renovated Jaguar Field.

The University of Mobile softball team just missed making the NAIA Softball Coaches’ preseason rankings. The SSAC’s Auburn-Montgomery and William Carey hold down the top two spots, while league members Belhaven and Brenau also made the list.

Mobile opens the season at the Auburn-Montgomery/Faulkner University Tournament Feb. 20-22. After playing at Spring Hill Feb. 25 for a double-header at noon, the Lady Rams will host Central Methodist for two games March 10 starting at 4 p.m.

USA football news
The regular season and bowl game may be completed, but the football team at the University of South Alabama has remained busy.

Following the announcement that the University of Alabama at Birmingham was ending its football program, the USA staff added several former Blazers to their roster. The group has already enrolled in school, and will be eligible to play next season.

Four players who have one year left to play are offensive lineman Cameron Blankenship (6-4, 280), quarterback Cody Clements (6-2, 210), tight end Gerald Everett (6-3, 215) and running back D.J. Vinson (5-10, 195).

Linebacker Kalen Jackson (6-1, 205) has two years of eligibility, quarterback Austin Chipoletti (5-11, 190) has three years and offensive lineman Lee Dufour (6-3, 285) has four years.

USA has signed contracts for a pair of home-and-home series. One will start next year, while the other begins in 2018.

The Jaguars will travel to San Diego State on Sept. 19. The Aztecs will reciprocate with a visit to Ladd-Peebles Stadium on Oct. 1, 2016. This completes USA’s non-conference schedule through 2017.

On Sept. 22, 2018, the Jaguars will play at Memphis. The Tigers return to Mobile on Sept. 14 a year later.

Head coach Joey Jones has also completed his coaching staff. Richard Owens, who had been at UAB, will oversee the tight ends. Tyler Siskey, who had worked the last two years in an administrative role for the Crimson Tide, will coach the wide receivers.

Get ready to rock ’n’ rumble
Plans for the inaugural Mobile AeroFest have been announced. Along with a list of impressive musical acts, the multifaceted festival set for March 20-21 will offer 14 mixed martial arts bouts inside the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley Field.

“Mobile AeroFest is a very special event that will be bringing the Gulf Coast community together for our nation’s veterans,” Lex McMahon of Titan FC (Fighting Championship) said. “As such, we wanted to put forth our most compelling fight card to date.”

Four sanctioned title bouts are planned for that weekend. In the featherweight division, Desmond Green (14-3) will defend his title against Kurt Holobaugh (13-2). A heavyweight match is set between John Madsen (8-1) and Chase Gormley (11-4). For the bantamweights, Walel Watson (13-7) will battle Brett Johns (10-0). A fourth championship bout will be announced at a later date.

Event sponsors say the fights will be broadcast on the CBS Sports Network. This will be the first nationally televised MMA event in the state since the formation of the Alabama Athletic Commission.

“The Gulf Coast is MMA country, and we are confident that the AeroFest title fights will have a full house,” McMahon said.

Tickets are $30 per day or $45 for the weekend, and are available at www.AeroFest.com. Organizers plan to give away 5,000 tickets to disabled veterans, and their caregivers and family.

Sponsors say the mission of the Mobile AeroFest is to actively improve the lives of America’s injured veterans through a confluence of talent, vision and technology. Also planned is the Independence Ride, which will begin in Bayou La Batre and end at Brookley Field. Organizers expect 1,000 participants, including more than 100 injured veterans and caregivers from across the country.

The ride will offer four routes covering 10.5, 22.1, 42.5 and 53.0 miles. For more information, visit www.IndependenceFund.org.