Hanging With Mr. Cooper

Auburn first baseman Garrett Cooper discusses making the move from junior college and getting ready for the 2012 season.

Auburn, Ala.—Auburn's shift in offensive personality will be a profound one this season for Coach John Pawlowski and the Tigers with the focus on making contact at the plate, hitting line drives, and running at every opportunity.

Perhaps nowhere will that be seen more dramatically than at first base where junior college transfer Garrett Cooper is expected to take over for the powerful Kevin Patterson who in turn took over for Hunter Morris. While both players were built for offense first and designed to hit the long ball, Cooper isn't going to be that type of player for the Tigers.

Instead the 6-6 right-hander depends on his defensive ability and a solid stick at the plate to get the job done. A two-year starter at El Camino (Cal.) Junior College, Cooper was his team's 2011 Offensive Player of the Year after hitting .330 with four home runs and 33 RBI. As a freshman he hit .378 with four home runs and 38 RBI and also had a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage.

Now on the verge of playing his first game for the Tigers he said he's just excited about the opportunity.

"Coming from junior college I'm just ready to play in the SEC," Cooper said. "The time is here. I think we're all ready. The coaches have pounded repetition in us and we're just ready. It's go time.

"I'm just ready to see the pitching," he added. "That's what everyone says the SEC is all about. The pitching is the top in the country. It's going to be fun to see how good it is."

Recruited by several different schools, like many before him Cooper said he wasn't sure where he wanted to attend school until his visit to Auburn. Saying he fell in love with everything about the school and baseball program, he signed with the Tigers and never looked back.

"I wanted to get away," Cooper said. "On my first trip out here I fell in love with the place, everything about it. I loved the coaches and the lifestyle here. It's just a family coming here."

Although he has yet to play a game at Plainsman Park, Cooper is still one of the veterans for the Tigers in the field as they must replace eight starters. The only returning starter Creede Simpson is moving from center field to second base, in essence giving the nine a completely new look. Because of that Cooper said he's had to take on a leadership role although he's not exactly sure what he's getting into either.

"Going to junior college it helped me out a lot because I got a lot of at-bats," Cooper said. "This year those freshmen stepping in, it's a great opportunity for some of the guys. I'm just trying to do whatever I can to help them out and show them what it's all about even though I haven't played a game here yet."

One thing that has helped Cooper and the other 16 newcomers on Auburn's roster this fall and spring has been the presence of a big group of veteran pitchers such as Derek Varnadore, Slade Smith, Jon Luke Jacobs and Cory Luckie. Cooper said that being able to face guys of that caliber has given the team a chance to know what it's going to feel like in the heat of SEC season this spring.

"It helps a lot," Cooper said. "You've got Varny and Slade, all of those guys, it helps to have them back and have that leadership. It lets us see what SEC pitching is all about. There is nothing else you can ask for. They give us a look at what real SEC pitching is like."

Saying the team's goal is to shock the world and not only make it to the SEC Tournament, but to be playing in Omaha, Cooper said they're also taking it day by day. That means taking care of business early in the season and during mid-week games. The first chance comes this weekend as future SEC foe Missouri comes to Plainsman Park for a three-game series. Game times are scheduled for 3 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday.

"I'm so ready," Cooper said. "In junior college we would have like 200 fans. It's nothing like coming out here to 2,000 or 3,000 fans. I can't wait to see it and the excitement of the players and coaches and fans. It's going to be a great opportunity to start the season and see how we do against Missouri."

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