Frank Thomas Speaks of Auburn at Hall of Fame Induction

By Posted on: July 28th, 2014 in Baseball, News 1 Comment »

If you didn’t get to see Auburn great, Frank Thomas at Cooperstown, below is a video montage of Thomas’ speech at his induction into Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Frank thanks his former coaches (Hal Baird, Pat Dye, Jay Jacobs) and says it was at Auburn University that he acquired a will to win.

                            

Former Auburn-Walk-on Will Be Inducted into Cooperstown Today

By Posted on: July 27th, 2014 in Baseball, News 7 Comments »
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A former Auburn football player will be inducted into Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame today. Frank ‘The Big Hurt’ Thomas goes in as the first ever player to be inducted from the South Eastern Conference.

Despite the threat of rain, the crowds are expected to possibly set a record of more than 40,000; due in large part to the popularity of the former White Sox first baseman as well as two former pitchers and two former managers from the Atlanta Braves.

Joining Frank will be former managers Bobby Cox and Joe Torre along with Cy Young winners Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux. “I don’t know if there’s ever been a bigger day in the history of the Atlanta Braves.” says former Braves pitcher John Smoltz.

Well maybe so but it is most certainly the biggest day ever for SEC and Auburn Baseball as a favorite son goes into the Hall. After 19 seasons in the big leagues, ‘The Big Hurt” goes in on his first year of eligibility with 84 percent of the votes.

Thomas was a two time MVP and five time All Star with the Chicago White Sox . He drove in 1704 runs, and hit 521 homeruns. He is the only player in major league history to have 7 consecutive seasons of a .300 avg, at least 100 walks, 100 runs scored, 100 RBI’s, and hit at least 20 homeruns.

I was able to watch Frank play high school ball in Columbus, Georgia. Even then you did not have to be a major league scout to recognize that he was an unusual athlete that would make a name for himself in professional sports.

He excelled in basketball, baseball, and football. He was considered by many to be one of the top tight ends in the south, making All State his senior year. I was excited when Coach Pat Dye signed him to a football scholorship in 1986.

Coach Dye said Thomas was good enough to have been a 1st Round NFL Draft Pick, but after being injured his freshman year, Dye allowed him to remain on football scholarship. He went on to walk-on for the Tiger Baseball Team and light up the SEC scoreboards with RBI’s  and homeruns. His senior year he led the SEC with a .403 batting avg, with 83 runs batted in, and  was voted the SEC MVP.

Frank is a proud Auburn man. And to this day, he gives credit to his time on The Plains for being where he’s at today. He says he owes a lot to Coach Dye for keeping him on scholarship and to Tiger Baseball Coach Hal Baird for helping to develop him.

On this day in Cooperstown it’s hard to imagine that he was ever a walk-on baseball player in college. Yet the former Auburn player will be inducted today into the most prestigious Hall of Fame in all of sports.

Don’t be surprised if (in his acceptance speech) he doesn’t give us all a “War Eagle!”


Editor’s note: Festivities are scheduled to begin at 11:00 am CST.

What Went Wrong With Auburn Baseball Season?

By Posted on: May 20th, 2014 in Baseball, Featured Article 11 Comments »
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Senior Dillon Ortman made two starts in Auburn’s season ending series against LSU. (photo:Anthony Hall,AUmedia)

Normally I love this time of year. Sandwiched between spring football and summer workouts are the SEC and NCAA Baseball Tournaments. Like most Auburn people, I’m a big football fan. However, I also enjoy SEC baseball … in particular Auburn Baseball.

I suppose one of the reasons for that is baseball is a game I can watch and pull for my team without the intense emotion and tightness in my stomach that I often have at  football games. The fact the game is more relaxing is probably one of the reasons it has been dubbed “America’s pastime.”

Today is the start of the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Alabama. Like every year, I will be following the action, but unlike most years I will not be making the trip to Hoover. Why? Because the trouble and expense of a trip is not as enticing when my team didn’t make the field.

I’ll get over it, but it’s sad for nine seniors who’s Auburn careers ended Saturday: Blake AustinReid CarterTerrance DedrickDan GlevenyakMichael O’NealDillon OrtmanRyan TellaDamek Tomscha and Jay Wade all deserve better.

Despite a rocky up and down season, the Tigers entered last weekend’s LSU series potentially needing just one game to crack that number 12 spot in the brackets. Yet a team that started off with visions of going to the College World Series was swept by the Bayou Bengals. What was the most embarrassing part of it was that in those three games, the Orange and Blue was outscored 29-4. 

After a season that started off with such high promises, everyone was left with questions. The players, the fans, and I’m sure the coaches wondered what went wrong? I know I did. How could an Auburn Team that finished 33-28 last season and qualified for Hoover, not finish above 500 this year? 

I know that Auburn pitching was hampered by an injury to Keegan Thompson, causing  Dillon Ortman to start Thursday’s game against LSU on four days rest and then having to come back and pitch again Saturday. And we could point to other reasons but the fact is it shouldn’t have come down to the last series of the year to begin with. There was just something puzzling about the whole season.

I don’t know what it was and I don’t presume to have the answers but I would hope that



Head Coach Sunny Golloway has them; and I hope he can fix whatever is wrong in his second season.

Don’t get me wrong, writting words like this is difficult for an unmitigated homer like myself. I don’t ever want to appear negative in my articles. Nevertheless I can’t turn my head to reality either.

And the reality is that when Coach Golloway arrived on The Plains he said he had inherited a team with talented upper classmen, several of whom should have already been drafted. In addition, he expected his new recruits to challenge for the league’s Freshman of the Year honors.“This is going to be a great situation,” Golloway said. “There are some outstanding athletes (here).”

From the start, he declared that his bunch had the talent to get to the College World Series, plastering it on the walls and placing it on the back of practice jerseys. Even after the dismissal of three veteran players early in the season, he said, ” We are going to Omaha this year. There is no doubt in my mind.”

Then came four straight SEC series losses including being swept by Ole Miss. What was particularly troubling about the slide was the skipper’s assertion, that there were more problems with the team he inherited than he had originally realized. Yet he still doggedly held on to his mantra that the Tigers were going to Omaha.

Now that his team has failed to finish above 500, there won’t even be a 100 mile trip to Hoover let alone a 900 mile trip to the big dance.

I can’t help but wonder if he had taken the “one game at a time” approach of Gus Malzahn and Clint Meyers would things be different. Could the boy’s expectations have been so built up that when things didn’t go right they became discouraged about reaching that big goal and it affected the team psyche?

I don’t know. However, now that there will be no Omaha trip, Coach ‘G’ says his first season (10-20 SEC) has laid the foundation for a brighter future for Auburn Baseball. As an Auburn fan, I have to hope he’s right. I have to hope he will get it done. In fact, I have to believe he will get it done. His past record says he will get it done and … when he does, I will be one of the first to say well done coach, well done.

But for now it’s painful for all of us to be watching the SEC Tournament from home, especially painful for our senior ball players.

They deserved better.

Auburn Had to Give Up Something

By Posted on: May 5th, 2014 in Baseball, Football 16 Comments »
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It seems most Auburn fans are satisfied. I guess I see it as a missed opportunity. When league members agreed on the 8-game conference format preserving its long-time rivalries, fans across the state cheered.

Alabama gets to keep its annual rivalry with Tennessee and Auburn continues playing Georgia. That’s the good news. On the flip side, the idea of finishing on the road in Athens and Tuscaloosa during even years, gives me concern.

Believed to be a temporary hiccup, the schedule has now become permanent. Both Gus Malzahn and Jay Jacobs have downplayed the change, but it undoubtedly hurts from a competitive standpoint and financially with ticket sales on even number years.

Jacobs made a good point, “everybody had to give up something.”

The real missed opportunity was not lobbying harder to move to the Eastern Division of the SEC. Maybe Auburn tried. If so, it was done under the cover of darkness. It’s never made sense to remain in the West.

For fans of a certain age, it still feels unnatural not to play Tennessee and Florida annually. Swapping them for Ole Miss and LSU has never felt right. The move to the East would have meant sacrificing the Alabama-Tennessee series because of the Iron Bowl rivalry.

But then again, how long has it been since that series has been competitive? Alabama has won seven straight by an average margin of 25 points. That sucker is on life support.

With last week’s vote, Auburn keeps something special with the Georgia rivalry, but it now seems destined to never play a pair of old rivals on a regular basis again.

I guess everybody had to give up something…

Some of the early preseason polls are being released and not surprisingly, Auburn is in the top five of all of them. What is surprising is how highly Alabama sits considering its quarterback still lives in Tallahassee.

The Sporting News, ESPN.com, USA Today and CBS Sports all have Gus Malzahn’s second team sitting fifth in their preseason polls. Meanwhile, Alabama ranks higher than Auburn in all of the above. I wonder where Auburn would sit had it won the national title?

What does it all mean? Nothing. We all remember where Auburn started last season. We all remember where Alabama started. And we can’t forget where each finished. Thankfully, for the first time ever, polls will not determine who plays for the national title…

Things have gone from bad to worse for Sunny Golloway’s team. His Auburn baseball squad gave perhaps its worst outing of the season yesterday in a 12-1 loss to Miss St. The Bulldog win completed the weekend sweep for State.

With the loss, Auburn falls to 25-22 overall and 9-15 in SEC play. As of now, Auburn is on the outside looking in for a berth in the SEC Tournament. For a team that Golloway predicted would make it to Omaha this season, the weekend meltdown was particularly brutal.

“It’s a huge blow to any opportunity that we had,” Golloway said. “We were hanging on by a thread. We let so many games get away from us early in the year when I thought we were playing well.

“We found a rallying point at Fayetteville and played really good on the road in a tough environment. To come in here this weekend and not get a game, I don’t even know what word is for it, it’s a huge blow for us no doubt about it.”

Auburn has two series left to squeeze back in the tournament. They travel to Kentucky for a three game series this weekend followed by a home series with LSU in two weeks.

It won’t be easy.

Auburn Baseball Still in Post Season Picture (Updated 5-4-14:Tigers swept by MSU)

By Posted on: May 2nd, 2014 in Baseball, Featured Article 5 Comments »
Jordan Ebert is one of the top hitters in the SEC. (photo:Zach Bland;Auburn media)

Jordan Ebert is one of the top hitters in the SEC. (photo:Zach Bland;Auburn media)

Last weekend, Auburn Baseball went into Baum stadium in Fayetteville, Arkansas with a 7-11 conference record facing elimination from the SEC Tournament. The Tigers had to take care of business in order to be in contention. After taking two of three against the Razorbacks, Auburn put themselves back in the picture.

But Head Coach Sunny Golloway’s plans were to take his first Auburn team further than Hoover, Ala. His preseason goals had been to take Auburn to the College World Series. Is that still possible for a 25-20 team with just 11 games left to play? The short answer is yes. However, it will take more gutsy performances like last weekend to pull it off.

The Tigers snapped an SEC four series slide when they split the first two one run games, taking the second game into extra innings before falling to a walk-off single in the 10th. Auburn’s offense then came alive with eight hits in game three for a 7-2 victory over the Hogs. It was a crucial road series win, especially coming at this juncture.

To split those two run games was important since the Tigers had lost three of four of their last league series because of a failure to finish out. While close games are a part of baseball, especially in this era of dumb down bats, the difference between being in the post season and sitting at home are winning your share of the close ones.

Golloway still feels good about Auburn’s chances. He says they are finally putting it together in a season that could best be described so far as up and down. “We tried a lot of things early … different guys in the three slot in the pitching rotation … different lineups,” said Golloway. “I think our players are understanding our philosophy and we’re understanding our players a lot better.”

And none too soon either, as the Tigers begin the last of their three SEC series tonight at 6p.m. when Mississippi State comes to town. The Bulldogs (28-18, 11-10 SEC) are ranked No.23 in the nation. On the surface it might look like the Dogs would have the advantage. However, the Tigers have the weapons to get the job done.

A few things in their favor are:

* Auburn is 40-30 in games played vs. MSU in Plainsman Park and have won the last four home series against State, going back to 2008.
* Sophomore Jordan Ebert is the third-leading hitter in the Southeastern Conference with a .364 batting average.
* Senior RHP Dillon Ortman is tied for the most wins in the SEC with an 8-2 and 5-1 conference record.
* Auburn’s weekend starting rotation has an ERA of 2.27, which ties for 11th-best in the nation and Auburn’s team ERA of 2.86 is the best Tiger ERA in nearly 40 years.
* And finally, Auburn did not commit an error in the entire three-game series at Arkansas.

Hopefully the Tigers can take the momentum from the Arkansas series into their last three SEC matchups and finish out on a high note. An NCAA Regional appearance is still not out of the question. But it will take some consistent error free ball to make that dream come true.

Go Tigers Beat the Bulldogs

Editor’s note:
Fans can catch the games on the Auburn IMG Radio Network. For a list of the affiliates, click  here.
Saturday’s game will be televised by CSS with Matt Stewart and Joe Beckwith will make the calls and it will be available online at ESPN3.com.

UPDATES:
Game 1 -
Tigers give up a 3-0 loss after leaving seven runners stranded, five of them with one out. Keegan Thompson gets the start for the 6p.m. Saturday game.
Game 2 - Auburn’s offense stymied in second 3-0 loss to MSU. Tigers will try to avoid the sweep in Sunday’s 1p.m. game.
Game 3 - Auburn’s postseason hopes took a major blow in game three when Miss State pounded out 19 hits and beat the Tigers 12-1. Giving up the sweep to the Dogs may have jeopardized Auburn’s chances to even make it to the SEC Tournament, let alone play in the College World Series.
Auburn will face Bethune College next on Tuesday at 6 p.m. before traveling to Kentucky on Friday.

It’s Crunch Time for the Tigers – (Update: Tigers Win Arkansas Series!)

By Posted on: April 25th, 2014 in Baseball, Featured Article 4 Comments »
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Dillon Ortman, tied for the most wins in the SEC, will take the mound in first game of Ark. series. (photo:Zach Bland/Auburn media)

Auburn Baseball will travel to Arkansas tonight for a battle with the Razorbacks to stay relative in the SEC West. After opening the SEC season with two series wins over Texas A&M and Tennessee, the Tigers have struggled to stay with the pack, dropping the last four series.

Although Auburn (23-19,7-11 SEC) is currently in last place in the West, they are only three games behind second place LSU. With four series left to play, the Tigers have a chance to get back in to the race if they can take care of business beginning tonight in Fayetteville.

One of the best things about baseball is the fact teams meet for more than one game and anything can happen to reshuffle the standings.

Arkansas’s season is a good example of that:

The Hogs (27-16,9-9 SEC) were in last place in the standings before taking series wins over Alabama, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. Their resurgence has come from strong pitching. Razorback hurlers have a team ERA of just 2.29. Friday night’s starter Jalen Beeks (5-3, 1.49) carries a .207 ERA with 54 strike outs, while opponents are hitting only .207 against him.

It will definitely be a challenge, but it’s not like the Tigers haven’t been playing some good ball themselves lately:

Auburn has been error free in three of their last four games; committing just one error in 115 chances against South Carolina for a .991 fielding percentage. The team ranks second in the SEC with 67 stolen bases on the year. Jordan Ebert is the second-leading hitter in the SEC (.373). Senior pitcher Dillon Ortman is tied for the most wins in the league (7-2) and freshman  Keegan Thompson has the SEC’s fourth-best ERA (1.66) and third-lowest opposing batting average (.187).

The difference between these two teams is:

Auburn just doesn’t have the W’s to show for their effort. Four of their last five losses were one run games including two versus South Carolina last weekend. However, the Plainsman bounced back with a 6-1 win over South Alabama on Tuesday night. A series win at Arkansas could represent a potential turn around for the season.

The big thing for Sunny Golloway’s team is to finish out those close games. In two of the games against South Carolina the Tigers had the tying and go-ahead runs on with one out late in the game, but couldn’t get them home. To rally and have a chance for the post season, they have to find away to close out those tight games. Do that and Auburn can be right back in the thick of things. And this weekend is a good place to start.

Auburn is 41-33 all-time against Arkansas having won the last four weekend series. The Tigers need to continue that winning streak to keep their hopes alive for the post season. It’s now or never. It’s crunch time for the Tigers.

Beat them Hogs!

Editor’s note:
Tonight’s game will be at 6:35 p.m. CT. Fans can watch the game at ESPN.com. or listen on the Auburn IMG Radio Network. For a list of the affiliates, click  here.

Game 1 Update: Tigers WIN 2-1. Dillon Ortman went 8 1/3 innings and Terrance Dedrick came on in relief to finish off the Razorbacks.
Sunday’s game has been moved to Saturday due to the threat of inclement weather. First pitch of a double header will be at 4:05 CT.

Game 2 & 3 Update: Tigers lost first game of the double header 4-3 in 10 innings.  However, Auburn WON The Series by defeating the Pigs 7-2  in the second game. War Eagle!

‘The Times They Are A Changing’ – Whether NCAA Likes it or Not

By Posted on: April 16th, 2014 in Baseball, Basketball, Featured Article, Football 3 Comments »
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When news broke Tuesday of the NCAA’s change in the meal policy for student athletes it hardly registered a blip on the sports media radar screen as a big deal. The governing body’s Legislative Council approved a change that will now allow unlimited meals and snacks to all Division I student-athletes, including walk-ons. That’s big news – not for the immediate impact of the change but as a precursor for things to come.

The NCAA always is a reactionary body and the change is a direct result of what has been blowing in the wind the past year. In general, the Ed O’Bannon law suit and the NLRB’s ruling allowing Northwestern athletes the right to form a union; and more specifically in this case, the comments made last week by  this year’s Final Four MVP Shabazz Napier who said that he often had, “hungry nights when I go to bed and I’m starving.”

On the surface, you would think that the NCAA’s action is a no brainer. Most people probably didn’t even realize that student athletes (all of whom are involved in heavy physical training) were limited to three meals a day with no snacks in between. However, the NCAA if anything is never out in front of a problem. They only react to situations. Such is the m.o. of a bureaucracy.

Shabiz is not the first athlete to complain of not having enough to eat. But make no mistake, this action is of much larger significance than more food for student athletes. This is the NCAA trying to close the barn door after the horse has already escaped. I’m afraid concessions like this may be too little too late.

The NCAA is attempting to say, ‘see there is no need for a union rep because we are responsive to the needs of our student athletes.’ Don’t get me wrong, I fully support providing athletes with all their nutritional needs and other expenses. What I don’t support is the unionization of college athletes.

Like Nero, the NCAA has been fiddling, while a firestorm of discontent has been growing larger around them. It would be easy to point the finger at Mark Emmert and since this has occurred on his watch, he certainly bears some culpability. However, it is far greater problem than one man. Again, it is due to the slow mechanization of a bureaucracy as well as resistance to change.

The larger question here, is what will become of college football as these issues are played out in the courts? I will go on record here and say this is one man that thinks the unionization of scholarship athletes is a bad, bad idea. I know there is an insane amount of money in Division I college football and the ‘full cost’ of the athletes has not been covered. I get that. But college players are either scholarship athletes or they are employees – they can’t be both.

As scholarship athletes they are currently receiving a free college education worth anywhere from $20,000 to $70,000 a year depending on the college. In reality, colleges spend more on athletes when you add in their meals, their free weight training, conditioning, nutritional help, books, free medical, and academic tutoring.

On the other hand as an employee, the athletes would share in the profits, be able to sell their likeness and autographs, and have the right (as in the NFL) to player representation as well as collective bargaining. Anyone ready for the loss of a football season because of a labor dispute between management and players?

Also as an employee the employer would have the right of dismissal. In the business world when an employee is not pleasing their employer they are subject to being fired. Imagine coach ‘A’ doesn’t think that player ‘B’ is working out. He/she has an attitude or maybe seems to be injury prone. As an employer, Coach ‘A’ just fires them. How does that help the student get an education?

Because the NCAA has not responded appropriately or in a timely manner to student athlete needs and concerns, we are now faced with this quagmire of an uncertain future. The NCAA’s free food rule change is only a band aid to a much larger issue and a harbinger of bigger changes ahead. To quote that great American musician and song writer, Bob Dylan :

“The wheel’s still in spin, and
There’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’
For the winner now will be later to lose
For the times they are a-changin”

Whether the NCAA likes it or not.

Auburn – Bama Play Important Weekend Series (update:3rd game AU falls in 9th)

By Posted on: April 11th, 2014 in Baseball 2 Comments »
Jordan Ebert leads the SEC in hitting with a .388 batting average.(Zach Bland,Auburn media)

Auburn’s Jordan Ebert leads the SEC in hitting with a .388 batting average. (photo:Zach Bland,Auburn media)

The Auburn Baseball Team is set to play an important game tonight at 6:30 CT when they take on Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Of course it’s always an important game anytime the Tigers take on the Tide in any sport.

However, for a mid season game, the stakes are pretty high. While the two teams record are very similar (Auburn 20-14 and Alabama 22-10); Alabama (8-4 SEC) is currently in first place in the SEC West and Auburn (5-7 SEC) is tied for last place in the West. The Tigers need to do well in this series to turn their fortunes around.

Auburn’s season had seem to be trending upward until the Tigers lost five of six SEC games, including being swept on the road at Ole Miss last weekend. Auburn bounced back on Tuesday with a 6-0 win over Troy.

Still, the Tigers will be facing one of the hottest teams in the league when they go against the Tide. Bama is ranked No.10 in the nation and riding a wave of momentum having won 18 of their last 23 games including a 16-4 home record.

It will be a huge challenge but it’s doable. The Tigers have the SEC’s third best team batting average (.295) and average 9.6 hits and 4.7 runs per game; while Auburn is allowing 8 hits and 3.8 runs per game. The pitching has a 2.97 ERA and holding opponents to a  .237 hitting average.

“It’s a big series with them being in first place and us being tied right now for last,” Head Coach Sunny Golloway said. “That’s just how tight our league is. Everything could flip-flop in one week.”

Auburn desperately needs a flip-flop too because it doesn’t get any easier from here on out with SEC series remaining against Arkansas, No. 5 South Carolina, No. 17 Mississippi State, No.12 Kentucky, and No.16 LSU.  The Tigers could put themselves back in the race if they could take two of three games in Tuscaloosa.

Lets go Tigers … Beat Bama!  

Update: 4-11-14:
Dillon Ortman pitched 7 strong innings and Keegan Thompson came on in relief to throw two shutout innings as the Tigers beat No. 10 Alabama 2-1. Game 2 will be at 6 p.m. tomorrow.
Update:4-12-14:
Auburn played great defense but struggled at the plate, dropping  Saturday’s game 4-1. Tigers will go for the series win in the rubber game on Sunday at 1 p.m.
Update: 4-13-14:
Auburn took a 3-3 tie game into the 9th inning and Alabama’s Casey Hughston hit a walk-off 2 out single for a 4-3 bad guys win. Tigers play at Samford Tuesday night before returning home to face No. 5 South Carolina.