“The one constant through all the years … has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. The field, the game: it’s a part of our past. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again,” Terence Mann from the movie Field of Dreams.
The start of baseball brings hope and stirs the imagination for most Americans. After all it is a part of the American fabric. Coming at the start of spring every year it reminds us of new beginnings, new birth, and a chance to start over.
At the end of last season the Auburn Baseball Team was left with the feeling of what might have been. A couple of do-over’s would have made a big difference in how the Tigers finished 2011. Just two weeks before the end of the season it looked like the Tigers would be playing in the post season.
Then on May 21st, the Tigers were two outs away from clinching their second consecutive SEC Western Division Championship, when they gave up a 4-3 win to the Tennessee Volunteers. The loss kept Auburn from being the first Tiger team since 1965 to repeat as Division champs.
Sophomore pitcher Slade Smith had pitched beautifully for eight innings, throwing six hitless innings and striking out eight batters. He didn’t give up a run until the eighth. A hit batter, a throwing error on a sacrifice bunt, and an RBI groundout tied the game.
Vol’s Outfielder Andrew Toles‘ hit an up the middle base hit off the reliever costing the Tigers a division championship and an opportunity to be the No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament.
The loss moved the Tigers from number two to the eighth seed and pitted them against the National Champions South Carolina Gamecocks.
Auburn’s season ended five days later and the Tigers were left with the feeling of unfinished business.
Finally after a long off season, Auburn will get the opportunity to remove that bitter taste. They get a fresh chance to start over this Friday when they open against (soon to be new SEC member) Missouri at Hitchcock Field at 3p.m.
But this team will be vastly different than the one that narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament last season.
The Tigers have 17 new players and the only returning starter will be senior Creed Simpson and he will be moving from the outfield to second base. Pawlowski is moving Simpson to open up a spot for another speedy outfielder.
Ever since the NCAA deadened the bats at the end of 2010, offensive teams like Auburn have had to change their game strategy from power hitting to speed, base stealing, defense and pitching.
Auburn had speed last year but pitching was inconsistent. The lack of depth in the bullpen has been addressed this season with 17 possible pitchers led by ace Derek Varnadore, and seniors Cory Luckie, Jon Luke Jacobs, Zach Blatt, Justin Bryant, and Ethan Wallen. The starting rotation may be Varnadore, Slade Smith, Jon Luke Jacobs and new guy, freshman Daniel Koger.
On offense the Tiger team that led the nation in homeruns in 2010 hit only 39 with the new mandated bats in 2011. Only homeruns hitters Creed Simpson (3), Cullen Wacker (1) andZach Alvord (1) are back to provide experienced punch at the plate.
Therefore it’s doubtful this year’s team will hit many homers. But John Pawlowski built his reputation playing small ball as head coach at the College of Charleston. So these Tigers (most of whom he recruited) should excel on defense and running the bases.
Hopefully the 2012 Tigers can take care of some unfinished business and pick up where they left off in 2011- namely winning the SEC West and once again playing in the NCAA Tournament. Besides that’s what baseball does …
It reminds us all of what was once good and could be again.
Go Tigers beat Mizzou!