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Tide Trio Set to Make Pro Baseball Debuts
Alabama seniors Kent Matthes, Vin DiFazio and Austin Hyatt have signed professional baseball contracts and will begin their minor league baseball careers this weekend.
Alex Avila Promoted to Detroit Tigers
It was just a routine day for Alex Avila.
The former Crimson Tide All-American and fifth-round draft pick was catching and batting fifth as the Erie (Penn.) Seawolves prepared for Tuesday's Eastern League game with the New Britain (Conn.) Rock Cats at Jerry Uht Park.
Head Coach: University of Alabama
Long-time University of Alabama assistant coach Mitch Gaspard begins his ninth year on the Alabama staff and his second as the Tide's assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. He returned for his second stint with the Crimson Tide following the 2007 season.
Prior to that he spent six years as head coach at Northwestern (La.) State in Natchitoches, La. He compiled a 211-128 (.622) record in his tenure at Northwestern State. During those six years, he led the Demons to a pair of Southland Conference championships, one SLC Tournament championship and a berth in the 2005 NCAA Baton Rouge (La.) Regional.
In 19 years of coaching, Gaspard has worked with teams that have won eight conference championships, eight conference tournament championships, played in 15 NCAA Regionals and three College World Series.
In his first season, he guided his team to NSU's eighth conference title in 12 seasons as the Demons finished among the nation's best in pitching and fielding while finishing 43-17 overall.
In 2004, the Demons challenged for another SLC title before finishing second in the league. Northwestern was sixth nationally in stolen bases, 44th in the country with a team ERA of 4.11, 26th in double plays per game and the Demons batted a robust .296. NSU (33-23) won eight of its nine SLC series, including beating SLC champ Lamar, and the Demons averaged seven runs per game. Sophomore first baseman Bobby Barbier won Academic All-America honors.
The 2005 season was another banner year for the Demons and Gaspard. Having being named the SLC's Coach of the Year, Gaspard and the Demons steamrolled through the league schedule with a remarkable 22-5 record - 41-20 overall - setting a new conference record for most league wins in a season. The Demons won the league race by six games. The team also cracked into the national polls, continuously ranking in the NCBWA Top 35 and Collegiate Baseball Top 30. As a result of its success, Northwestern State was selected as an at-large participant to the NCAA Baseball Tournament where it finished 1-2 in the Baton Rouge Regional.
Gaspard continued the tradition of great coaches at NSU, surpassing the win totals of former head coach Jim Wells (1990-95), Dave Van Horn (1996-98) and John Cohen (1999-2001), all of whom are now head coaches in the Southeastern Conference.
During his days as Wells' assistant at NSU, the Demons won a pair of SLC titles (1993 and 1994) and played in the 1994 NCAA Tournament.
Gaspard was a pivotal figure as an ace recruiter and a shrewd tactician in the remarkable revival of the Crimson Tide. Alabama had four SEC wins in 1994, but after Wells and Gaspard arrived, the Tide won the SEC Tournament in 1995 and was one win away from the College World Series. By the time Gaspard returned to NSU, Alabama had earned six NCAA Regional appearances and three College World Series berths, including a national championship game loss to LSU in 1997.
In each of his seven seasons at Alabama, Gaspard molded the Tide into one of nation's finest defensive units. As the chief recruiter, he landed five straight Top 20 recruiting classes, including three Top 10 finishes in 1997, 1998 and 1999.
An all-state shortstop at Port Arthur Jefferson, he led his team to the Texas state title as a senior and then became the starting second baseman in 1985 for a first Skip Bertman-coached LSU team that advanced to NCAA Regional play. He played his final two collegiate seasons as a starter at second for the University of Houston, where he became an assistant coach in 1988.
Gaspard moved to Louisiana-Lafayette from 1989-92, helping the Ragin' Cajuns reach three NCAA Regionals and win three conference titles.
Assistant Coach: University of Alabama
Dax Norris, one of the cornerstones of the University of Alabama's baseball revival under head coach Jim Wells, begins his second season as assistant coach for the Crimson Tide.
He joined the Tide staff following the 2007 season after a sparkling 13-year professional baseball career with the Atlanta Braves and Houston Astros organizations.
A hard-nosed player, Norris brings that same work ethic to the field as an assistant coach, where he will work the Tide hitters and catchers and assist coach Wells with the pitching staff.
Norris played in 132 games for the Crimson Tide, including 122 starts, and batted .329 (177-for-538) with 10 home runs and 83 RBI. He added 39 doubles, two triples and 42 walks and compiled a .994 fielding mark as one the top backstops in school history.
He spent the 2007 season as an assistant coach at Niceville (Fla.) High School, where he worked under former Bama assistant coach Kevin Berry and tutored UA pitching signee Jimmy Nelson.
A journeyman minor leaguer, Norris played 11 seasons with the Atlanta Braves and Houston Astros organizations, reaching the Triple A level with both clubs. He played in 846 career minor league games and batted .265 (771-for-2,914) with 73 home runs and 421 RBI. He had a career-high 122 hits and 72 RBI for the Greenville (S.C.) Braves (Class AA, Southern League) in 2000 and smacked a career-high 15 home runs in Greenville in 1999. During the off-seasons, Norris ran his own hitting school in Florida.
A 23rd-round draft pick by the Atlanta Braves in 1996, Norris was a two-year starter for the Crimson Tide. He batted .283 (72-for-254) as a junior in 1995 with three home runs and 34 RBI in 63 starts. Norris was named to the 1995 NCAA East Regional All-Tournament Team at the Clemson, S.C., where he batted .316 (6-for-19) with two runs scored and five RBI in five games. He also turned in 36 errorless chances behind the plate.
He was elected team captain on the Crimson Tide's 1996 SEC Championship team that finished with a then-school record 50 wins. Alabama also captured the 1996 SEC Tournament championship at the Hoover Met and hosted the school's first-ever NCAA Regional. Norris led UA to its first College World Series appearance since 1983 during his senior year. He batted .370 (105-for-284) with seven home runs and 49 RBI en route to being named First-Team All-American by the Super Smith Team. He was also a First-Team All-SEC honoree and American Baseball Coaches Association All-South Region pick.
Following a professional baseball career that included five seasons in Major League Baseball, Andy Phillips returned to the University of Alabama in 2011 as an assistant coach, and will be the hitting and infield coach for the Crimson Tide baseball team.
"Andy was a phenomenal player here, and I couldn't be happier with his decision to return to Alabama," said Alabama head baseball coach Mitch Gaspard, on the hiring of Phillips. "He is the most well rounded person I have ever coached, and been around, and we are very fortunate to have him join our coaching staff."
"Coaching has always intrigued me, but only in an ideal situation, and that is here at Alabama," said Phillips. "I never wanted to get into coaching just to say I was a coach. There are a lot of things that I have aspired to do, but I've always had a passion for teaching and soaking in information. I always said that if I had the opportunity to coach here, I would do it, but it would only be here."
A four-year letter-winner (1996-99) and First Team All-American honoree for Alabama (1999), Phillips played for the New York Yankees (2004-06), New York Mets (2008), and Cincinnati Reds (2008) during his MLB career. Before returning to the Capstone in 2011, Phillips played two years in the Nippon Professional League (Japan) for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp (2009) and the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (2010).
Phillips added, "Returning to Alabama is exciting to say the least. Thinking about the place where I played and love, have a passion for, and coming home is an unbelievable opportunity. It's something that my family and I are very grateful for."
Following a stellar playing career at Alabama, Phillips was a seventh-round draft pick by the New York Yankees in 1999. He made his Major League debut on Sept. 14, 2004, and in his first at-bat, he belted a home run over the Green Monster in Fenway Park on the first pitch he saw from Terry Adams. Phillips is one of seven players to homer in his first at-bat as a Yankee and became the 21st player in MLB history to hit a home run on the first pitch of his career.
Also in 2004, Phillips received the Yankees' Kevin Long "Minor-League Player of the Year" Award in a season where he led all Yankees minor leaguers in batting average (.321) and RBI (101), ranked second in home runs (30). He was voted the Most Valuable Player of the International League All-Star Game, after hitting a 10th-inning walk-off home run. In 2005, Phillips earned the James P. Dawson Award as the Yankees' most outstanding rookie during spring training.
In 2006, Phillips saw action in 110 games in the Yankees pinstripes, posting a .240 batting average with seven home runs, 11 doubles, and 29 RBI, as the Yankees won the America League East Division title with a MLB-best 97-65 record. Phillips made one plate appearance in the American League Divisional Series (ALDS) against the Detroit Tigers. After returning to the minors for the start of the 2007 season, Phillips rejoined the Yankees on June 19, 2007, and in 61 games, posted a career-high .292 batting average. The season was cut short after he suffered a broken wrist after being hit by a pitch.
His MLB career continued in 2008 as a member of the Cincinnati Reds where he saw action in 52 games with 73 at-bats. After hitting .233, he was designated for assignment by the Reds and was picked up by the New York Mets, where he played four games. He was designated for assignment by the Mets on July 1, 2008 and reclaimed by the Reds off waivers on July 3, but never returned to the major leagues.
On December 22, 2008, he signed to a minor league contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and was invited to Spring Training as a "non-roster invitee". In April of 2009, Phillips was traded to the Chicago White Sox, and assigned to the Charlotte Knights of the International League. On June 23, 2009, Phillips signed with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp of Nippon Professional Baseball, and after one season with the Carp, Phillips played his final professional season with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2010.
In his four seasons at Alabama, Phillips posted a career .356 batting average with 61 home runs, 224 RBIs, and 322 hits. He ended his career as the all-time leader in home runs, RBIs, and hits, and currently holds the school record in home runs, hits, and total bases (590). In the history of the baseball program at Alabama, Phillips is one of three players with 50 home runs and 200 RBI and one of four players with 300 hits. He is the only player in school history with 50 home runs, 200 RBI and 300 hits.
The Tide advanced to the NCAA Tournament all four years that Phillips wore the Alabama uniform, including three College World Series appearances. He is one of two players (Manny Torres) to make three CWS appearances. As a freshman in 1996, Phillips was part of a 50-19 squad that captured the SEC regular season and tournament titles and advanced to the CWS.
In 1997, Phillips hit .366 with 15 HRs and 64 RBI to help the Tide post a 56-14 overall record, a SEC regular season championship, and a runner-up finish in the CWS, falling to LSU (13-6) in the National Championship game. As a junior, Phillips finished the season with a .351 average with 21 home runs and a career-high 81 RBI, as the Tide posted a 46-18 record after falling to Long Beach State (L, 5-3) in the final game of the NCAA West Regional.
As a senior, Phillips posted a .398 batting average, with 22 home runs, 22 doubles, 66 RBI, and a .781 slugging percentage. He led the Crimson Tide to a SEC Tournament title in 1999, and after Alabama won the NCAA Regional and Super Regional, the Tide finished third in the College World Series.
After his senior campaign, Phillips was a First Team All-America selection by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) and Collegiate Baseball Insider. He garnered Third Team All-American honors by the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA), Baseball America, and Collegiate Baseball. Phillips completed his bachelor's degree in Sports Fitness Management from the University of Alabama in 1999.
George Andrew Phillips, born April 6, 1977, in Tuscaloosa, Ala., was raised in Demopolis, Alabama, where he played baseball for the Demopolis Academy Generals. Prior to playing for the Tide from 1996-99, Phillips was a 41st-round selection out of high school by the Milwaukee Brewers as a shortstop in the 1995.
Bobby Barbier joins the Tide after spending the last two years as an assistant coach at Northwestern (La.) State, where he coordinated the team's running game and worked with the infielders. He will assist with defense, hitting and pitching at Alabama and will also serve as the coordinator of the Alabama Baseball Camp.
Barbier wrapped up a remarkable four-year playing career in 2006 with the Demons, where he earned two All-Southland Conference honors and an Academic All-American award under then-head coach Mitch Gaspard.
He completed his career being listed in the school's top 10 in eight offensive categories. In 2004, he became just the eighth student-athlete in NSU history to be named an Academic All-American. He hit .293 that season with a team-high nine home runs.
The 25-year old Barbier played high school ball at Archbishop Shaw in New Orleans where he earned all-state, all-district and all-metro honors. He was also a part of two American Legion state championship teams.