Auburn, Ala.--Just over three months on the job and it’s finally time for Auburn Tigers baseball Coach Butch Thompson to see his Tigers on the field for the first time as a full squad as they open practice on Friday afternoon in preparation for the 2016 season. Getting to work with guys in 4-on-1 workouts some in the fall and in January, has a feel for what his players can do, but the first-year AU head coach said there’s nothing like getting on the field as one group.
“The small groups are great with four pitchers or four hitters, but we’re just so segmented,” Thompson said of the preseason work. “To get the entire team together and to play one inning of baseball where you’re bringing all the pieces working together like the infielders and pitchers and catchers and the outfield, it’s going to be something to behold.
“We have waited a long time,” he added. “Since Oct. 22 you envision this day of getting on the field with your entire team and seeing all the coaches work and all your players. I think they’re going to be excited with a lot of energy. We have a template set forth for the next three weeks and we’ll hopefully start working through that, putting in our package, and getting ready for our season.”
With very little time to get ready for the season, Thompson said the Tigers had to do a lot of work off the field to get ready. That has meant meetings with players and working to build chemistry for a group of guys who have dealt with a coaching change following fall practice when the head coach, Sunny Golloway, was fired. Because of that Thompson said this team is ready to take the things they’ve learned and see what they can do on the field.
“I’m thankful we’ve had that,” Thompson said of the time to get to know each other. “Getting to know somebody before you get out there, I think that will make the adjustments smaller and you can get right to the point. Hopefully, we’ve had time to build a little bit of trust, but every day we’ll probably keep building more and more trust as the year goes on. That gives us a chance for our club to keep progressing because we’ll know more and more about each other.
“We didn’t enter this lightly,” he added. “We met with every player and we’ve been working with every player, even though it’s small groups. I think we’re ready to be on the field in all honesty. We had that almost 40-day break over the holidays where you’re asking people to prepare and work on their own, but I think our staff knows who our guys are, at least better than we did 100 days ago. I think we’re all ready to get out there, take the next step and see where we are.”
New assistant Doug Sisson is part of a rebuilt coaching staff.
While Thompson will be tasked with molding a pitching staff that returns weekend starter Cole Lipscomb, fifth-year senior Justin Camp, relievers Dalton Rentz and Izaac Yarbrough along with a huge group of newcomers from junior college and high school, the position coaches Doug Sisson and Brad Bohannon have the luxury of working with a whole lot of returning experience heading into the season.
With seniors such as Jordan Ebert, Melvin Gray, Cody Nulph and Bo Decker returning along with juniors Blake Logan, Daniel Robert, Damon Haecker and Anfernee Grier, Thompson said having players to put on the field who have been through competition in the SEC is a bonus for his first team.
“Publically, to our fans and everybody, I have bragged on how much I like our staff and the experience they have with every coach having SEC experience so I think they know what they’re getting into,” Thompson said. “When you get that from a player perspective also that’s got to count for something. You’ve got a catcher that’s caught, middle infielders that have played at this level and a center fielder that’s backing that up. Up the middle defensively that’s got to count for something.
“When you start running at a minimum a seven-man lineup where these guys have had over 200 SEC at-bats that’s got to mean something,” he added. “You’ve got a large group of players on this roster that have gotten off the bus in Baton Rouge and Columbia, Missouri, and historically that’s really meant something in this league.”
With the preseason camp circuit done after playing host four different camps at Plainsman Park in January, Thompson and the Tigers can finally get to the business of playing baseball. With just three weeks to get ready for the season opener against Sacramento State on Feb. 19, Thompson said it’s time to get down to business.
“We’ve been doing all these things to promote the program and be as welcoming as possible in these early stages and now this is what I got into this for, an opportunity to get on the field and get with a pitcher and work through his package and how it sets up situationally and versus and lefty and a righty,” Thompson said. “With these veterans hopefully they’re showing us a lot of that. This is kind of what we came for is what we’re ushering into.
“I think I’ll always have that excitement and those butterflies and probably when you don’t its time to do something else,” he added. “These are awesome feelings and I think the players feel it, too. I met with the pitchers and asked them if they were excited about today and I could just see the gleam in their eyes. It’s pretty neat to share that with a group of college players. We’re all excited and I tell you what, with all they’ve been through and our families and the fans, we’re going to enjoy this.”
Auburn will practice Friday at 4 p.m. CST and 1 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday with short scrimmages scheduled for all three days. All practices are open to the public. For Friday's scrimmage Lipscomb with square off against junior college left-hander Ben Braymer. Saturday’s pitching matchup has Camp going against another juco transfer, left-hander Tavo Rodriguez. Sunday has Rentz facing off against 6-7, 260 juco right-hander Gabe Klobosits.