Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Punching his stamp

Mitch Gaspard was nervous. Very nervous.

It was 2 p.m. last Saturday, and the University of Alabama baseball team’s rookie head coach, a second-stint assistant for the retired Jim Wells since 2008, was about to lead the Crimson Tide onto the field as the program’s 30th head coach.

Before the first pitch of the 2010 season was thrown, the 44-year-old approached a huddle of Tide players and began his first pregame pep talk.

He just wishes he could remember what he said.

“Hell, I was so nervous I don’t even know,” Gaspard said with a hearty laugh.

Freshman Andrew Miller has no such amnesia. The Tide’s new right fielder, about to start his first game in lieu of departed fourth-round draft pick Kent Matthes, felt reassured, rather than panicked, by the butterflies drifting through both their stomachs.

“He came out and said, ‘I’m nervous just like most of the people that are getting your first start,’” Miller said. “’You don’t deserve to play this game if you aren’t a little nervous.’”

Therein lies the difference between the affable Gaspard and the more reserved Wells. During his tenure as the winningest coach in Alabama history, the Tide’s ex-skipper had a demeanor remarkably similar to that of the Great Basin Desert. Not so with his protégé Gaspard, a warm and likeable Texan who is proud to call himself a “player’s coach.”

“The main difference to me is the personality type,” Smith said. “Coach Gaspard is more outgoing and outspoken.”

This is not to dismiss the influence that Wells, who Gaspard spent a combined 11 seasons working under, has had on Gaspard’s coaching philosophy.

“There is no one that was a better organizer of practice, prepared for the ballgames, and just the day-to-day regiment of how he did things with the team,” Gaspard said. “Everyone has a mentor … and obviously Coach Wells is my main guy. There’s something every day that we do that I stole from him.”

Gaspard speaks with an undeniable tone of loyalty. It is the kind of steadfastness he displayed as an assistant for Wells’ original staff from 1995-2001, where Gaspard was the chief recruiter for five consecutive top-20 classes, including three top-10 finishes, along with helping lead the Tide to six NCAA regional berths and three College World Series appearances.

Even a head coaching job at Northwestern State in Natchitoches, La., a capacity Gaspard served in for five seasons from 2002-2007, couldn’t keep him away from the Capstone. Gaspard came back to Tuscaloosa in 2008 after compiling a 211-128 record (.622).

Now, Gaspard will look to leave his own impression on the Tide program, one in line with the intensity and tempo of the man himself.

“I want a connection and emotion to be seen with our fanbase and our crowd,” Gaspard said. “We really want to get the crowd back into the game. We want them to feel our emotion on the field.”

So far, so good. The Tide’s opening 12-4 victory was seen by 4,848 fans, a large crowd for Alabama home games. The emotion was palpable, the effort feverish and infectious to all the spectators.

It’s an atmosphere Gaspard loves to see and is intent on recapturing.

“We’re accountable for being at the University of Alabama and we need, and our players need, to understand and take pride in that,” Gaspard said. “Every night, somebody is going to see you play and you’re going to make an impression on somebody here.”

But for the newly re-minted top dog, the feeling in charge remains the same as the feeling in the shadows — getting ready for each game of a long and grinding campaign.

“Really, it doesn’t change a whole lot,” Gaspard said. “We just try to work on what we have to do from week to week to get better.”

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