I had a great guest on my radio show this week, Rex Frederick, one of the top basketball players in Auburn history. Rex played on outstanding teams under Coach Joel Eaves.
I knew Rex was a terrific basketball player in the late 1950s, but I didn’t realize how good he was in baseball, too. He surprised me with that part of his discussion about being an athlete for the Tigers.
One of the interesting stories Rex told was that assistant football coach Joe Connally was Auburn’s baseball coach in 1958 even though he hadn’t coached baseball previously. In fact, Coach Connally had not played the game since he was a young kid and didn’t know a whole lot about the sport.
Jeff Beard, Auburn’s athletic director, told him that he was going to pull double-duty for that one season and handed him a book by Casey Stengel about how to manage a baseball team. He read it and took the book to practice every day.
Up front he told the players when he met with them the first day that he hadn’t played baseball since he was in grade school and didn’t know much about it. Rex remembers that Coach Connally also told the players if they would work hard and play together as a team, and don’t try to do anything you aren’t capable of doing, that the Tigers could field a winning team.
That is exactly what they did as they won the SEC championship that season. That was a period at Auburn in which there were a lot of good athletes on campus who competed in multiple sports and several of them like Rex were part of that baseball championship team.
The fact that the 1958 baseball team had so much success under the unusual circumstances says a lot about the type of leader Coach Connally was and the type of player leadership on the team.
If the players and coaches are totally bought in to working together for a common goal, and totally trusting each other, really good things can happen. I think we are seeing an example of that with the emergence of the softball team as a national power with Clint Myers taking over the program last year.
I have watched Auburn’s team so much on television this year I feel like I know the players as they get ready to take the field at the College World Series. It’s a group with a lot personality and the players really understand what they are doing on the field.
It’s fun to watch a team with a lot of different players who can step up and make a key play when needed. In Saturday’s game vs. Louisiana-Lafayette when they won the super regional, Kasey Cooper stepped up by starting three double plays at third base and hitting a three-run home run. It’s so much fun to watch her and her teammates compete with effort plays from the start to finish of every game.
Over at first base Jade Rhodes is a great story on how much she has improved since she struggled to hit as a freshman and has hit 19 home runs this season.
I really enjoy watching Haley Fagan play shortstop and Emily Carosone at second base. Both play with a lot of heart and there are a lot of others who do, too.
One of my favorite parts of the super regional was the first game when Morgan Estell, the senior center fielder and team captain, struggled at the plate until her last time at bat when she stepped up and hit that double that helped win a wild game. I know that had to be a frustrating day for the Tigers with all of the runners left on base, but they never flinched and found a way to win.
I also like watching Auburn’s little freshman catcher, Carlee Wallace. Every game she makes some type of play that helps her team win.
I don’t know how well the Tigers will perform in their first trip to the College World Series, but I do know that Clint Myers is going to put a well-coached team on the field in Oklahoma City and we have seen what a difference an outstanding coach can make.
One thing that really stood out from watching the super regional is that Auburn wasn’t a better hitting team than Louisiana-Lafayette, but without a doubt the Tigers were a better team. The defense made plays to help the pitchers. At the plate the Tigers were patient and took walks while doing the little things Coach Myers talks about being the difference between winning and losing softball games.
I love the mental toughness this group has shown, something that is a trait of a lot of the Auburn teams I have enjoyed watching over the years in a variety of different sports.
Congratulations to the baseball Tigers for qualifying for postseason play. Hopefully, they show that same type of mental toughness when they get started in their regional this week in Tallahassee. They have played that way at times and other times their resolve wasn’t what it needed to be, but they did enough to qualify for the NCAA Tournament and this is their opportunity to show what they can do.
It will be interesting to see how the Tigers do in Tallahassee. I think the pitching will need to carry this team if the Tigers are going to advance to the next round because they don’t hit the ball well enough to overpower good pitching.
Fullback Tony Richardson is shown in action as an NFL player for the Jets.
I also want to congratulate three former Auburn football players who have been inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. Chris Gray, Bobby Hunt and Tony Richardson not only were stars in college, each had long and successful careers in pro football.
Bobby Hunt was a quarterback and defensive back from Lanett. He was a star player at Auburn right about the same time Rex Frederick was competing for the Tigers. A standout for the Kansas City Chiefs in the old AFL, he played in the first Super Bowl and was an all-pro performer.
Chris Gray, a tight end and offensive lineman, and fullback Tony Richardson finished their Auburn careers in the 1990s. Both had very long and distinguished careers in the NFL and are also very deserving of this honor.
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