By Steven Keys

Alabama.

The name itself has its origin in the Choctaw Indian language, then reflecting Spanish, French and English influence from exploration & settlement beginning around the mid-1500s. Its meaning is not entirely clear but linguists think it translates roughly to “clearers of the thicket (13)” or “herb gatherers (18-19) (Wikipedia).”

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Introspectively, the State’s name will conjure up stark images and strong, if not entirely justified beliefs, about the region and its culture.

Historically, it was cotton fields, plantations and slavery, the heart of Dixie, Jim Crow, segregation, Governor Wallace and Civil Rights marches from Selma to Montgomery.

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Today, desegregation and equality are not just the law but the norm in form and feeling of the mass of Alabama’s residents, even as the State flag still holds the Confederate bars in this rock-solid Red State.

Weather-wise, winters are comparatively mild, hurricanes can happen, hot & humid in summer and in certain locales the subtle scent of camellias hangs in the air (State flower).

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Northerner Stephen Foster (PA, 1826-64), one of America’s earliest and most prolific song writers, etched Alabama indelibly into the minds of music lovers from New York to California with his classic, “Oh! Susanna.” It’s memorable line: “♫ Oh I come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee ♫ (Wikipedia).”

In contemporary times, it was Southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd who popularized the region in their now legendary poli-ballad of Southern pride, “Sweet Home Alabama,” while upbeat country crossover group “Alabama” softened the State’s image in cranking out hit after hit throughout much of the 80s and 90s.

Ever since tumultuous merriment swept the nation post-Civil War, the yellowhammer state (woodpecker) has said one thing and one thing only to sport fans: football.

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No major professional team currently resides in Alabama, though, two football operations of note did field franchises in Birmingham: the Stallions of the USFL (1983-86)), and the Americans of the short-lived World Football League (1973-75) who won the only World Bowl championship, 22-21 over the Florida Blazers on December 5, 1974.

But while absent the higher profile pro game, Alabama’s two marquee college programs have more than made up for it by way of national notoriety and a 100+ year history of holding one of the biggest gridiron grudge matches on the continent: the Auburn University Tigers versus University of Alabama Crimson Tide (Tuscaloosa).

And when New Years rolls around, it often means one or both schools are still in play.

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With the UofA currently ranked #1 in the AP and slated to take on Ohio State, excuse me, The Ohio State Buckeyes on January 1st in the 2nd CFP semifinal game (Florida St v. Oregon @ 5:00), the State of Alabama is once again in the national sporting spotlight.

What folks don’t realize when they hear the name Alabama is that it’s also been “victory garden” for growing baseball players, some of the best the world’s ever seen.

Alabama is baseball country. Believe it.

A short list of notable ball-players born in Alabama, courtesy of Baseball-almanac.com:

Former MLB notables & greats

Henry Aaron: Mobile, 2.5.1934
Tommie Agee: Magnolia, 8.9.42
Lyman Bostock: Birmingham, 11.22.50

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Jeff Brantley: Florence, 9.5.63
Clay Carroll: Clanton, 5.2.41
George Foster: Tuscaloosa, 12.1.48
Oscar Gamble: Ramer, 12.20.49
Shovel Hodge: Clayton, 7.6.1893
Monte Irvin: Haleburg, 2.25.19
Bo Jackson: Bessemer, 11.30.62
Cleon Jones: Plateau, 8.4.42
Jimmy Key: Huntsville, 4.22.61
Frank Lary: Northport, 4.10.30
Heinie Manush: Tuscumbia, 7.20.01
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Carlos May: Birmingham, 5.17.48
Lee May: Birmingham, 3.23.43
Lee Maye: Tuscaloosa, 12.11.34
Willie Mays: Westfield, 5.6.31
Willie McCovey: Mobile, 1.10.38
Don Mincher: Huntsville, 6.24.38
Amos Otis: Mobile, 4.26.47
Satchel Paige: Mobile, 7.7.06
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Juan Pierre: Mobile, 8.14.77
Joe Sewell: Titus, 10.9.1898
Luke Sewell: Titus, 1.5.1901
Rip Sewell: Decatur, 5.11.07
Ted Sizemore: Gadsden, 4.15.45
Ozzie Smith: Mobile, 12.26.54
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Riggs Stephenson: Akron, 1.5.1898
Don Sutton: Clio, 4.2.45
Andre Thornton: Tuskegee, 8.13.49
Virgil Trucks: Birmingham, 4.26.17
Billy Williams: Whistler, 6.15.38
Willie Wilson: Montgomery, 7.9.55
Early Wynn: Hartford, 1.6.20
Rudy York: Ragland, 8.17.13

Some current Alabama MLB’ers

Matt Cain: Dothan, 10.1.84
Craig Kimbrel: Huntsville, 5.28.88
Corey Kluber: Birmingham, 4.10.86
Jake Peavy: Mobile, 5.31.81
Alex Rios: Coffee, 2.18.81
David Robertson: Birmingham, 4.9.85
Josh Rutledge: Cullman, 4.21.09
Josh Willingham: Florence, 2.17.79
Adam Warren: Birmingham, 8.25.87

Yes, college football reigns king in the country of commodities & aerospace.

And Texas, California, the Asian Rim & Latin America will all keep crankin’ out ball, bat & glove men like so many widgets.

But “as long as the grass grow, wind blow and the sky is blue,” Alabama can pride itself on the vital part it’s played in contributing to America’s national pastime.

Steven Keys
Can o’ Corn
Photo credit: W.Mays, wc.cca, BaseballDigest, 9-1954; Bama.theatre, CM.Highsmith, 2010, wc.cca; Cotton.Steamer, AL, RN.Dennis, wc.cca, 1869-1910; camellia, wc.cca, hungda, 3.3.13; B.Jackson, wc.cca, JC.Dillard, Asia, 2.1.04, USAF; UofAL, MDB, M.Tosh, wc.cca, 9.11.10; H.Aaron, 7.27.13, C.Evans, wc.cca; W.Mays, Greene, WT&S, 1961, wc.cca; S.Paige, Bowman, wc.cca, 1949; O.Smith, wc.cca, J.Mena, 1983;
Posted: 12.30.14 @ 3:27pm EST

Filed under: MLB, NCAA Football

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