FROM CBD NEWS SOURCE
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – UAB baseball head coach Brian Shoop announced the squad’s schedule for the upcoming 2014 campaign, which was released on Tuesday. Twenty-one home games to be played at Regions Field, a four-game series at the University of Hawaii, and a 30-game Conference USA slate highlight the 2014 UAB baseball schedule.
“We are thrilled to play at Regions Field,” Shoop said of the downtown Birmingham ballpark that opened this past April. “The kids are excited. We had the opportunity to practice there once and it’s a special place. Every person that we give a tour of the field, their reaction is the same; it’s wide eyes and, `Wow.’ We think it will help the fan experience and make the overall game presentation better. You can’t help but be excited for the opportunity to play in this facility. We think the teams coming in are excited, as well.”
“We love playing at Young Memorial and are grateful for Young Memorial,” added Shoop. “We are excited to continue to play a portion of our home season at our traditional campus site, as well.”
Recently, Regions Field, home of the Birmingham Barons, was named one of the best ballparks in the nation. In August, Baseballparks.com named Regions Field the 2013 Ballpark of the Year.
“We think it is going to help our schedule and attracting teams to come and play,” said Shoop. “There seems to be excitement from other schools about the opportunity to play there. Ultimately, we believe it has helped and will continue to help in recruiting with the opportunity to play there. There are already so many great things in place at UAB for young people to participate in. It’s a fantastic institution in which to earn a degree. Now with the opportunity to play in this ballpark, we hope that will be a factor.”
UAB opens the season with a three-game series against Tennessee-Martin at Regions Field beginning on Friday, Feb. 14. The Blazers will host Alabama A&M, Youngstown State, Arkansas State, Conference USA-foe Middle Tennessee State, and Jacksonville State in its first month of action, as well.
Prior to sinking its teeth into conference play, UAB will travel to Honolulu for a four-game set with Hawaii, starting on Thursday, March 20. The squad played in the Aloha State during the 2008 season.
“We have tried to go to Hawaii every four or five years, so just about every recruit would get to go there one time,” commented Shoop. “The kids are thrilled. The University of Hawaii is an outstanding opponent. They play in a great venue. They are always in the top 20 in attendance. They don’t call it paradise for nothing. This is certainly business, but it’s also, for many kids, a once in a lifetime experience.”
The Blazers will play its annual home-and-home series with in-state foe Alabama and travel to Auburn in non-conference action. Auburn will return in 2015, as the two clubs will faceoff at Regions Field. UAB’s other non-conference opponents include Tennessee-Martin, Alabama A&M, Youngstown State, Arkansas State, Jacksonville State, Samford, Troy and Alabama State.
The Green and Gold face the challenge of a new-look Conference USA in 2014, as well. Charlotte, FIU, Florida Atlantic, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee State, Old Dominion, and UTSA will all embark on their inaugural campaigns in the conference. Despite adding four more programs to the league, the conference tournament format will remain the same, as the top eight teams will qualify for postseason play.
“The realignment of conferences affects every sport a little differently,” said Shoop. “For baseball, time will tell. Many of these teams we have never played. Speaking on what I expect more than what I have experienced, we think, not only has this been a great baseball league, it will continue to be a great baseball league. We gain Florida Atlantic, who not only played in a regional, but was a pitch away from beating North Carolina on their field in their regional. We add UTSA who played in a regional after winning the WAC. Charlotte won the Atlantic-10, but didn’t play in a regional because they didn’t win their tournament. You can almost make an argument that maybe it is stronger.”
“Since I have been here, we have had nine teams competing for eight spots in the conference tournament,” stated Shoop. “It would be very competitive for who the seventh and eighth team would be, up until the last weekend, many up until the last game. This year, we have 13 teams competing for eight spots. It’s going to be crazy. It’s a dogfight. We have said all of these years that a good team would not play in our conference tournament. Probably five good teams will not play in our conference tournament this year. We certainly are approaching things with hopes and intents of being one of the eight.”
In all, UAB will play 30 home games and will host Conference USA members Middle Tennessee State, FIU, Southern Miss, Marshall, and Tulane. The nine games against FIU, Southern Miss, and Tulane will all be played at Young Memorial Field on the UAB campus. The squad will hit the road for its Conference USA tilts against Old Dominion, Louisiana Tech, Rice, Charlotte, and Florida Atlantic.
The 2014 Conference USA Baseball Championships will be held at Pete Taylor Park on the campus of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Miss. The eight-team tournament will be held May 21 – 25.
“We used to open on the road or travel on one of the first couple of weekends, for a reason,” concluded Shoop. “I like going to a regional caliber venue early in the season. However, with the opportunity to play games at Regions Field before the Barons get here, we have frontloaded our schedule with home games. That’s a change for us, but we are excited to play at Regions Field and hope our fan base will take advantage of this opportunity.”
Stay tuned for more updates as the Blazers head into the 2014 season. Additional information on fan experience, promotional days, and much more will be released in early January.