Coach Tommy Slater says that getting the team ready for conference competition by playing tough games is something he believes in doing. In the final tune-up before opening conference play at Georgia beginning Friday the Tigers will face a VMI team that is playing solid baseball.
"We have played a good schedule," Slater says. "I don't think there is any question about that. If you look at who we've played and you look around the country at who other teams that have records like ours have played, I'll put our schedule up against anybody. One thing we've done is that we're always going to play good people. That is clearly evident by the schedule we've played. I think our guys are prepared because we've seen just about every kind of pitcher. Don't forget that we've got two really tough games this week."
Robert Brooks has been a steady performer for the Tigers in the first month of play.
Before Auburn can get to the SEC, they'll first have to survive a test against the VMI Keydets. Slater's alma mater and the place where he got his first head coaching experience, VMI is on a serious hot run with a seven-game winning streak coming into Tuesday night's game at Plainsman Park.
Currently 12-3 on the season with a series win at Florida to their credit, the Keydets will prove to be a tough test for the Tigers as they get ready to begin conference play.
When they do, the Tigers will depend on several first-year guys to get the job done in the big time. Freshmen Eric Skinner, Robert Brooks and Ross Smith have been every day players for the Tigers with fellow freshman Joseph Sanders starting twice last weekend as well. While none were in action for last season's struggles on the field, Brooks says they all watched and remember what it was like for the Tigers and it's something they're looking to continue to change this time around.
"We're just trying to improve from last season," Brooks says. "We're a different ball club. We come out to the field every day expecting to win. When we come to practice we expect to win. We're trying to get our respect. That's the main thing."
The respect has come slowly. Starting the season unranked, Auburn has moved into all four national polls with the highest ranking of 13 entering last week's play. Those could improve even more this week and for the Tigers, that's something they take pride in. It is also something that will give teams another reason to want to knock off Auburn when the Tigers appear on the schedule. Brooks says going from the hunter to the hunted is something this team is prepared to face.
"It kind of gives us a little swagger," Brooks says. "But, it also makes us work harder at practice because now we're getting gunned for instead of having nothing to lose. We're ranked and we have to defend that and improve on that."
Auburn will send a pair of true freshmen to the mound in this week's games against VMI as Taylor Thompson gets the start on Tuesday with Austin Hubbard on the mound Wednesday. Game times for the two-game set are 6 p.m. both days.