Photographic Memories: Jack Traffanstedt
If you were to look in people's offices across the country, you would find a wide variety of things. Coffee makers and office supplies aside, when you looked deeper you would find objects of value used by office workers to decorate their workspaces with a personalized touch.
Some people might decorate their desk or cubicle with various nick nacks or sports memorabilia, a common way to express one's loyalties to a brand or team and breaking up the monotony of office life. For me personally, I like to decorate my desk with a toy or something else fun and colorful to distract myself from my work and remind me to — every now and then — take a break from the day's distractions.
For many people out there, a form of personal expression is a photograph of one's family or friends.
In the office of former University of Alabama outfielder Jack Traffanstedt, there is also a sentimental photo. Among the photos of his family, one photo sticks out from all the rest. Yellowed with age and grainy from the cameras of the time, Traffanstedt's photo is one of him with a person who he considers to be one of the greatest influences on his life:
His college coach, Crimson Tide baseball legend Joe Sewell.
“He was so good to each of us,” Traffanstedt said. “He used to kid us because he’d say ‘boys y’all can’t fool me of anything. I’ve seen everything.’ He touched me in so many ways and I spent so much time with him after I graduated and visiting with him in Tuscaloosa. He represented the best of the best to me.”
Traffanstedt lettered in baseball from 1967-1969 under Sewell, including playing a role in the 1968 SEC championship team.
If you ask Traffanstedt to talk about his athletic career, though, the last person he’ll credit is himself. From his mom and dad to his Little Boys baseball coaches, from high school to college, he credits his upbringing and the outside influencers on his life for where he is today.
Traffanstedt started playing baseball at a young age. Born in 1948 in Birmingham, Ala., he acquired his first championship in 1959 in the Little Boys World Series. Playing for Central Park on Birmingham’s west side, Traffanstedt expressed that his coaches were some of the first influences to impact his life aside from his mom and dad.
“They set the parameters for me not only in being an athlete but having character and integrity,” Traffanstedt said. “It was a wonderful place.”
Six years later, Traffanstedt played for another championship on the American Legion State Championship team in 1965. During that time, he also lettered in four sports at Jones Valley High School: football, baseball, basketball and track.
Despite fielding offers from various colleges, Traffanstedt was already dead set on where he wanted to play college baseball.
“I had some other offers from other schools, and I just wanted to play at Alabama,” Traffanstedt said. “I wouldn’t have left Alabama to sign with anybody.”
Graduating high school at the age of 16, Traffanstedt had only been 17 for two weeks when he stepped foot on the University of Alabama’s campus in the late summer of 1965.
From there, he would meet the next great influencer in his life: coach Sewell.
“He taught me by the way he did: to be very very very confident in myself,” Traffanstedt said. “He recognized how competitive I was and I was a little bit fiery. Sometimes he’d have to get on my rear end a little bit, but he taught me how to play and play hard and play to win. To play fair. To play fair and honor the game.”
After his freshman season, Traffanstedt worked his way into the lineup and lettered as an outfielder his remaining three years. All the while, he focused on working with Sewell and the pair developed a great friendship that followed them even after Traffanstedt graduated.
“He was a major influence on every section of my life,” Traffanstedt said. “Not just my athletics but my Christian faith and I think he made me a better man. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him.”
In 1968, Alabama played LSU in a single elimination game to see who would play Florida for the SEC title. The Crimson Tide had to sweep LSU in its final series of the season in order to get to this point, and after a coin flip the Alabama squad loaded up its bus and headed to Baton Rouge.
The Crimson Tide prevailed in the matchup, rallying back to beat the Tigers 6-4 and take on the Gators.
As the team was gearing up for the matchup, Sewell gathered his players for a quick pre-game speech before the players took the field.
“[Sewell] said ‘hey guys, today we’re going to play for this championship,’” Traffanstadt recalled. “’It’s going to mean a heck of a lot more to you 50 years from now than it does today. There’s only one champion, and nobody ever remembers who came in second place. You and your teammates and myself will remember this championship the rest of our lives.’
“That’s probably the truest statement he ever made that affected me because it showed me what you did if you didn’t win you absolutely gave it all you had, but if you did [win], that’s something that you’ll be proud of the rest of your life.”
The young Alabama players would remember that championship for the rest of their lives, as the Crimson Tide took the 2-1 series win.
Over 50 years later, Traffanstedt puts full credit on his team’s championship victory on his coach.
“To win the championship like that and end the season so strong that was all due to coach Sewell’s leadership,” Traffanstedt said. “Coach Sewell, he was the center. He was the leader. He gave us confidence. He had fun with us.”
Traffanstedt graduated from Alabama in 1969 with a degree in marketing. After a brief stint with the Oakland Athletics, he soon landed a job in the trucking industry. However, after a couple of years, Traffanstedt left to become an insurance agent with State Farm.
46 years later, and Traffanstedt is still working for State Farm. Over that period of time, Traffanstedt has established himself as a veteran in the industry, racking up numerous awards and accolades during his tenure.
One of his primary means of motivation? That fiery competitive spirit that Sewell recognized in him so many years ago.
“I still like to compete against these young people in the business,” Traffanstedt said. “I’ve got a competitive spirit and I’m going to do that every day until I walk out of here and shut my doors down.
“I keep telling people that I want my obituary and my retirement in the paper the same day. I really mean that. If I’m healthy, I will always work. I got to be doing something.”
In 2020, Traffanstedt still resides in Birmingham with his wife, Jane Ann Martin, who also graduated from Alabama. Together, the couple have three children, Natalie Traffanstedt Spradling, Danna Traffansted Moss and Jaclyn Traffanstedt Hudson, each of whom also graduated from UA.
Jack and Jane also have three granddaughters and a grandson.
Despite being married for roughly 40 years, Jane still keeps Jack in line.
“She told me one day not long ago that I was the hard-headedest person that she had ever known,” Traffanstedt chuckled. “I laughed at her and hugged her neck and I said ‘coming from you that’s a great compliment.’”
You would think that a successful college baseball tenure, a prosperous career and a loving family would be enough, but that’s not all Traffanstedt has accomplished.
From 2006 to 2010, Traffanstedt served as the president of the Alabama A Club, an organization composed of former Alabama letter-winners with the goal of supporting the University of Alabama and its athletic programs.
Under Traffanstedt’s leadership, the A Club changed its bylaws and moved to become a part of the university’s athletic department and created the A Club Endowed Scholarship, the first recipient of which was former Alabama athletic director Mal Moore.
“Coming under the athletic department solidified us as under the University of Alabama and the athletic department to help us and guide us,” Traffanstedt said. “We could basically do what we want, but the times had changed with recruiting and everything and I think with our organization of A-Club members from 19 different sports it gave us some really strong perimeters to live under and represent the University of Alabama.
“It set a real guideline when we went under the athletic department.”
So many years later and after a fulfilled, successful life, Traffanstedt still points it all back to his time with the Crimson Tide under coach Sewell, whose picture still sits in his office to this day.
“My greatest honor was to play for Joe Sewell,” Traffanstedt said. “I was an Alabama fan since 1958 with no intentions of going anywhere but there.”