An area loaded with talented baseball teams got even more intriguing when former Columbus High baseball coach Bobby Howard was hired at Central after the 2015 season. Now, a year after Smiths Station won a championship in the state’s highest classification, the excitement on Dobbs Drive is perhaps even greater.
Monday marks the official start to practice for Alabama baseball teams, and Howard said on Saturday that players and staff have been committed to closing the gap between themselves and teams like Smiths Station and Auburn.
“We’re excited,” he said. “We like our club. More than anything else, we’ve got outstanding facilities, outstanding leadership and staff. It’s one of the best staffs I’ve ever been on top to bottom, and we’ve got good players, too. Roy Dixon and his staff did a great job with these guys in the past, and now we’re just trying to get to the level of some of those other teams in our area.”
Smiths Station won the Class 7A state title last year and return a majority of their production from a year ago, including starting pitchers Max Newton and Blake Rivera.
While Smiths Station struggled to find consistency for much of the regular season, it caught fire heading into the playoffs and rode that wave all the way to Montgomery. Now, the expectations for that club will be even higher to begin the season.
Howard was quick to point out that the Red Devils have had good teams in the recent past, as well. They spent time ranked among the top 10 in the state a year ago, but just struggled late in the year against their area rivals.
The coach, who spent most of 31 years across the river with Columbus High and won 12 state championships, is beginning his first new job since 1997 when he briefly left Columbus for Middle Georgia College.
While things are a little different, his expectations for his new club are the same. He wants them to play the game right, have a strong attention to detail, remain consistent and figure into the playoff conversation by season’s end.
“No excuses,” he said. “(There are) no valid reasons why we can’t be successful. … Like I said, we want to close the gap. We’ve got some athleticism, but we need to stay away from the peaks and valleys. We can’t beat ourselves, and we have to be consistent. I think that’s been the biggest improvement.”
Of the differences in beginning a season at Central instead of Columbus this year, Howard said it’s just the philosophy.
“We’ve got ours,” he said. “Luckily, I’ve been blessed with two coaches who have coached with me and two former players on my staff, so that helps. It’s been tough, but the community is hungry. We’ve got to get ready to go.”