Baseball Tigers Begin Practice

Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn Tigers got preseason baseball practice started on Monday as Coach <b>Steve Renfroe</b> put his team through a three-hour practice at Plainsman Park featuring work on just about every phase of the game from hitting to defense to base running.

While the news of the day was the start of the 2002 season, the best news was in the return of pitcher Kenny Clayton to the team. Returning one year after being hit in the face with a line drive while pitching in last season's practices, the 6-4, 230-pound redshirt freshman from Walton High in Marietta, Ga., showed the form that made him one of the surprises of last season's practices. Pitching to live hitters in the cage, Clayton faced the first of many physical and mental hurdles as he tries to get back on the mound in game action.

"He threw well," Renfroe noted of Clayton. "We limited the guys today to fastballs and change-ups, but his change-up was virtually un-hittable and guys knew it was coming. That's what he had last year along with his slider, which was pretty good too. That was the bright spot for me no matter what happened."

The Tigers will waste little time in getting right back into the swing of things as they are scheduled to have their first intrasquad game of the spring Friday afternoon at Plainsman Park. With a schedule featuring the likes of VCU, Clemson, South Alabama and North Carolina early in the season before SEC play begins, Renfroe said it's imperative his team is ready to play when they step on the field Feb. 8 for the opener against Virginia Commonwealth.

"We're going to intrasquad Friday," Renfroe said. "We're going to try to get into playing as quick as we can. The guys are on a throwing schedule. They took a month off after fall ball and then they started on a throwing program to get ready for this week and to intrasquad. If we do they'll have five intrasquads under their belt and I think five or six bullpens before our first outing against VCU. We're going to try to brush up on fundamentals this week and then get into as much game rhythm as we can and speed the pace up as much as possible."

With pitching expected to be the strength of this Auburn team because of the return of veteran arms Levale Speigner, Cory Dueitt, Colby Paxton, Eric Brandon, Marshall Watts, Andrew Skinner and Brent Speigner, perhaps the most important position will be catcher. Luckily for the Tigers, they have two capable receivers in senior Trent Pratt and Bobby Huddleston to call upon at the position.

As just one of four seniors on the team, Pratt noted it was fun to back on the diamond. "It was good," he said. "It was exciting just to get things rolling. We might have been a little sluggish today, being the first day back, but we made some ground. We'll just keep working hard and get ready for the season to start…I'm very excited. This team is going to go out and play hard every day. You can't really say wins and losses right now but we've got a bunch of guys that are tough and we'll battle every day. It's going to be a fun team to watch."

Auburn opens the season Feb. 8-10 by entertaining VCU at Plainsman Park.

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