When they do key players will likely be playing for the last time at Plainsman Park, including standout first baseman Karl Amonite, pitcher Arnold Hughey, reliever John Madden and outfielder Ben Sprague.
An All-SEC performer in his first season at Auburn in 2003, Amonite missed all of last season with an injury and came back in 2005 for his senior season as one of Auburn's leaders. He has lived up to his role this season as the Tigers have played solid baseball this year despite the lack of depth in the pitching staff and several newcomers playing key roles in the field. Amonite says that this weekend is going to be tough knowing that it could be his last time at home.
"It's going to be bittersweet," Amonite notes. "It could be my last time at Plainsman Park. It has been a great experience so far and I hate to see it come to an end. We're going to try to keep it alive and get to the SEC Tournament, Regional, Super Regional and the World Series. We're taking it one step at a time and hopefully we can start this weekend with a sweep against our arch-rivals Alabama."
John Madden's senior year has been one of the best ever for an Auburn pitcher.
In his two seasons in an Auburn uniform Amonite has been outstanding at the plate. With a career average of .338 with 20 home runs and 108 RBI, the Canadian product has been a powerful part of Auburn's offense while playing first base. He's also added 35 doubles and made just five errors in the field during that time. He says that this season has been a difficult one at times because the team hasn't seen the results he would have hoped despite their hard play. Still, he feels like this 2005 team will be remembered as the one that set the stage for the return to prominence of Auburn baseball.
"I think this year we've established the groundwork for Auburn to turn around its program," Amonite says. "Coach (Tommy) Slater is an outstanding coach. He's one of the best coaches I've ever had--sorry dad. His style fits everybody here. Everybody loves playing for him and they give him 100 percent every time we go on the field. Hopefully we can continue the season strong and beat Alabama, but I have no doubts that Auburn baseball is going to be back on the map again."
The Tigers can start that climb with a successful weekend against Alabama. Coming into the game needing to win at least two games to get into contention for the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Auburn has a difficult task to be sure. While Alabama has been solid this season and comes into the series with a three-game lead over Auburn in the standings, Amonite says that his team is ready to go and playing Alabama just makes it more special.
"If we're going to beat somebody and we're going to beat somebody to go to the SEC Tournament it would be great to beat Alabama," Amonite says. "There's that rivalry there and there's even that much more focus when you come out against your rival. Right now we're just focused on Friday's game. Hopefully we can get a win on Friday and on Saturday and play for the sweep on Sunday. We're not trying to put too much pressure on ourselves though, we just want to take it one game at a time."
If Auburn is able to make it to Hoover it would be an impressive coaching debut for Slater. After losing perhaps his best pitcher in Chris Dennis before opening day and trying to piece together a lineup for much of the year, Slater has his team knocking on the door of the postseason after the Tigers missed out on it last season. He says that this team is one he'll remember fondly because of the precedent the Tigers set on the field with their work ethic and hard-nosed style of play.
"For me coaching this club I couldn't be happier with the way they've responded to me," Slater says. "They've done everything I have asked them to do with absolutely no balking whatsoever. It's not like it has been hard. It has been really easy. The transition for me coming in, they've all bought in and tried to do things the right way, and they have. Karl is a senior and one of our more talented guys. He's done a nice job this year. John Madden has really had a phenomenal year and he's a senior. He's coming off a year you could categorize as mediocre and he's had a solid senior year.
"Then you have a guy like Ben Sprague. I don't know what his total at-bats were last year, but it was probably more than this year. As a senior for him to be in more of a platoon role and really thrive in it and accept it, Ben has shown me leadership skills this year I didn't know he had in the fall. He's really embraced them. He's always on the top step of the dugouts and keeping a chart. He's really a team guy.
"I think that's what you could say about all these guys. Team guys. There are no individual agendas. They want to be remembered as a class that started getting Auburn back in the postseason and where we should be."