JACKSONVILLE — The biggest sign that Jacksonville State's baseball opening day is getting close?
It was in the way the players were dressed for practice Wednesday. They all wore their uniforms. They needed to go through a day on the field to make sure no repairs are needed before their first game Friday.
One player needed his pants hemmed up, but other than that, the Gamecocks are steaming ahead to Friday's opener when North Alabama visits for a three-game series. Friday's game is set for 3 p.m., while the Saturday and Sunday games are scheduled for 1 p.m.
If you come, you'll Jacksonville State's rebuilt baseball stadium that should be the envy of the many Division I baseball programs.
Jacksonville State has spent two years playing at Oxford's Choccolocco Park while JSU's Rudy Abbott Field at Jim Case Stadium underwent a total rebuild. There were delays caused by weather, including the tornado that hit campus March 19, 2018, but now, it's ready for its first regular-season game since 2016.
"It's been a long time coming," said Case, the JSU head coach and the namesake of the stadium. "The two years of not being out here have seemed longer in some way, but as I look at it now, the thing that jumps in my head is, 'Boy, it was worth the wait.' I've said this many times, but there just weren't any corners cut. It's something we can all be proud of."
Case and his team already have enjoyed one of the benefits of the stadium. Because the field is covered with artificial turf, they haven't had as many interruptions to the practice schedule as they did in the past. When they have, they've gone into the batting cages that are part of the complex.
"We probably have practiced on the field more than we ever have," Case said. "A lot of that is due to having turf. (Tuesday) was one of the few days because it just wouldn't quit raining."
The players are hearing from fellow students around campus about the stadium, with pitcher Garrett Farmer joking that he's had classmates ask "if we can sneak them in. The excitement is really there."
Because of the new stadium, Case is expecting a good year in regard to attendance, but he added that it depends at least partly on the Gamecocks, who feature a pitching rotation with two new starters and a lineup with at least three new faces.
"I do think there will be more interest," Case said. "We'll probably have more people witness games here than any year since I've been here. So that's a good thing. I think it's up to us to put a product on the field that people want to come back and watch. So, hopefully, we do our part."
For now, the pitching rotation includes Farmer, true freshman Isaiah Magwood and redshirt freshman Trey Fortner. The lineup should include senior catcher Nic Gaddis at catcher, sophomore shortstop Isaac Alexander, sophomore third baseman Cole Frederick, sophomore first baseman Alex Strachan, junior designated hitter Andrew Naismith and junior right fielder Chase Robinson. New starters should include junior center fielder Tre Kirklin, junior second baseman Devin Brown and junior outfielder Taylor Craven, although Case warned that in regards to the lineup, "I fool with that thing every day."
Still, maybe the big attraction for the players is not having to get on a bus to play a home game.
"We're all just stoked to be back at Rudy Abbott," Gaddis said. "It's been a few years. The energy around the team and in the community is great because we're getting to actually play on campus again."