By Lee Davis
In 2015, Georgie Salem learned the value of home field advantage.
Salem – an outfielder for the University of Alabama and a Vestavia Hills graduate – along with his teammates, experienced a baseball season without a real place to call their own. Because of major renovations to the campus’ Sewell-Thomas Stadium, the Crimson Tide was forced to play its home games at the Hoover Metropolitan Stadium about 50 miles away.
“I don’t want to say that not having home games was why we didn’t have a great year,” Salem, whose team went 32-28 overall and 12-18 in the Southeastern Conference last season, said. “But there’s no doubt having to travel so much took a toll.”
The good news for Bama baseball fans is that the new stadium will be ready for use next spring. Even better news is that Salem recently announced his plans to return for his senior season.
Salem was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, before opting to return to Tuscaloosa.
“I appreciate the opportunity that the Diamondbacks gave me,” he said. “But I felt the best decision for me was to come back and play at Alabama and get my degree.”
Salem returns to the Capstone as one of the Crimson Tide’s best hopes to restore the baseball program to national prominence. Last season he started 59 games as Bama’s center fielder, batting .276 with 40 runs and 17 stolen bases. He also had a slugging percentage of .395 and put together a 17-game hitting streak.
The season highlight may have come in the Tide’s surprising three-game sweep of arch-rival Auburn at Plainsman Park. Salem batted .462 for the weekend, with a triple, an RBI, two runs, a walk and a pair of stolen bases. He also shined in the field with a spectacular catch in the seventh inning of the third and final game to stave off a Tiger rally.
“That Auburn series was one we won’t forget,” said Salem. “I think it showed our guys how we could play when everyone was playing as a team. Hopefully that will help us carrying over into the new season.”
Salem also closed on a hot note, batting a whopping .458 in his last six games, including four multi-hit efforts.
With all this to build on, Salem is definitely expecting bigger things for his team next season.
“We had much more talent than our record indicated, but sometimes things just don’t go quite the way you hope,” he said. “That’s just part of the game. I think we will learn from that and get better.”
He has set no definite personal goals for 2016.
“I want to do my part and be the best player possible every time we go out for a practice or a game,” Salem said. “From a team standpoint, we’d like to get back into the NCAA regionals and go from there to Omaha (site of the College World Series).”
Salem admitted he can’t wait to set foot in the newly renovated stadium for the first time.
“I don’t know what it’s going to be like – but it will be great,” he said, laughing. “It will probably seem even better than it really is – because we’ll be at home again at last. It’s been a long wait.”
After getting his degree in management and marketing, Salem hopes to get a call from professional baseball again.
“Becoming a major leaguer has been a dream for a long time,” Salem said. “But for now, I’m just excited about being in Tuscaloosa and making the most of my senior year.”
Georgie Salem may be playing in a brand new ball park next spring, but in every other sense, he should feel right at home.