The Tigers have bigger plans for the future—plans to get on the board as a national force.
“We want to have a chance to go to the SEC Tournament, play in the postseason and win a national championship,” said coach John Pawlowski.
Pawlowski isn’t the only person who is “all in” on this plan. Senior pitcher Cory Luckie and senior outfielder Justin Fradejas both expressed high hopes for this team.
However, it will be difficult to match last season’s team.
In 2010, the Tigers not only won the SEC West Division Championship, but posted a 43–21 overall record with a 20–10 SEC record and hosted NCAA regionals.
The 2010 Tigers led the SEC in team batting average and home runs and set an SEC record by having 11 players drafted into Major League Baseball.
Not only are the 23rd-ranked 2011 Tigers faced with matching a stellar season from last year, they are also dealing with key losses such as Trent Mummey, Hunter Morris, Cole Nelson, Grant Dayton and Austin Hubbard, all of whom were taken in the first 15 rounds of the draft.
The Tigers face a loss of batting power and must look to a different style of play to win games.
The NCAA has installed a new rule requiring teams to use bats with heavier aluminum, resulting in less carrying power on hits.
Losing key players hurts, but several new additions to the team will help ease the pain.
The Tigers are welcoming 17 new players to the team including freshman infielder Zach Alvord, freshman Jay Gonzalez and junior Andrew Morris.
Alvord was drafted in the 18th round by the Atlanta Braves, but chose to take his chances at the college level before entering the pros.
Alvord attended South Forsyth High School in Alpharetta, Ga., and was named a 2010 AFLAC, Under Armour, Rawlings and Louisville Slugger All-American. Alvord set South Forsyth’s school record with 16 home runs as a junior and was an invitee to Team USA.
Gonzalez also chose to come to Auburn out of high school after being drafted in the 27th round by the Boston Red Sox. Gonzalez is an outfielder coming from Freedom High School in Orlando, Fla. He holds the Freedom High School single-season record for runs scored and stolen bases. Gonzalez also participated in the 2009 National Showcase and in the 2009 National Underclass Showcase.
Junior pitcher Andrew Morris chose to transfer to Auburn from Gulf Coast Community College after being drafted in the 44th round of the 2009 MLB Draft by the Milwaukee Brewers and in the 16th round of the 2010 MLB Draft by the Brewers.
Playing for Prattville High School in Prattville, Morris was named the 2008 Metro Player of the Year.
In his years at Gulf Coast Community College, Morris was named the 2010 JUCO Pitcher of the Year and earned All-American honors in 2009 and 2010.
Adding a power hitter like Alvord, a speedy base runner in Gonzalez and a pitcher like Morris should increase Auburn’s chances for success.
When asked about team attitude, Pawlowski said he was impressed with the team’s attitude and work ethic.
While Pawlowski applauded the players, Luckie gave his coach most of the credit.
“I think one of the things that Coach Pawlowski was trying to change when he came in here was to create a winning attitude because we didn’t really have that before he came,” Luckie said.
The eleven-year coaching veteran has compiled a 412–238–1 record in his coaching career, including a 74–46 record in his two years at Auburn.
Pawlowski led the Tigers to their first SEC Western Division title since 1995 in his second year at Auburn.
He has also helped create some serious interest in Auburn’s program.
This season Pawlowski guaranteed the first 500 students will be admitted to each game for free. After the first 500, students can purchase tickets for $2.
During the regionals hosted by Auburn last year, the Tigers saw incredible fan support.
Fans showed up in throngs, selling out every game at the regional and even spilling out of the stadium and crowding into the parking deck and onto the hill behind the outfield wall to get a chance to support the Tigers.
Tim Penix, president of Auburn’s student section (110–111) is optimistic about this season.
“We just want as many people to come out as possible to enjoy themselves and to take part in trying to repeat what we did last season.” Penix said.
Penix stressed the importance of getting students involved and mentioned several promotions, including fireworks after every Friday night SEC game.
Michael Bazzy, vice president of the student section, said he is excited about this season, especially about the new rule concerning bats.
“This team is going to have a different feel than what most people are accustomed to,” Bazzy said. “And it’s exciting because you get more of that minor league feel with the new bat, trying to play small-ball and use your technique to get an advantage.”
A large part of getting the crowd excited is the involvement of the Diamond Dolls.
“The Diamond Dolls goal is to get as many people here as possible and to pump up the crowd and be very loud,” said Morgan Powell, public relations representative for the Diamond Dolls.
Powell also said they are holding a 5K race April 2 before the Vanderbilt game to raise money in honor of Coach Pawlowski’s daughter Mary Louise, who battled cancer.
Fradejas and Luckie said they hope fan support will carry over from last year’s regionals.
“Last year was so exciting, and we are very appreciative of our fans, Pawlowski said.
Pawlowski said he would love to see fans spilling over into the parking deck again.
According to Penix, there are plans to add seating to Plainsman Park, possibly resulting in 500 more seats.
The new seats would raise the total amount to 2,000.
While there are numerous obstacles that the Tigers will have to overcome, the team is confident going into the season behind leaders such as Tony Caldwell, Justin Fradejas, Cory Luckie and Bradley Hendrix.
The leadership of the veterans combined with the enthusiasm of the newcomers could be a successful formula for the Tigers as they hope to repeat a victory in the SEC West championship.
While the players will do all they can to end up in Omaha at the end of the season, they are also expecting fans to do their part and be “all in” this season.
The Tigers will open their season with a tournament in Auburn, playing Arkansas State Friday, Feb. 18 at 6 p.m., facing the University of Virginia Saturday, Feb. 19 at 1 p.m. and UAB Sunday, Feb. 20 at 3 p.m.
The biggest test for the Tigers in the weekend tournament will be the 13th ranked Virginia Cavaliers, who finished the 2010 season with a 51-14 overall record.