This is it. The series I have personally been waiting for since the start of this college baseball season. This weekend, the Vanderbilt Commodores I’ve come to know and love travel to Auburn, Alabama, to take on my beloved Auburn Tigers.
The Tigers: the team I watched every game while I was at Auburn; the team that will always have a special place in my heart; the team for which my friends have played and got drafted from. Auburn: the place that’s forever stamped on my heart.
Then there’s the Vanderbilt Commodores.
The Commodores: the team I’ve been watching and writing about the last few weeks; the team I’ve gotten excited and cheered for a comeback; the team I’ve interviewed and laughed with the fans since mid-February.
To be fair, this has always been a favorite series of mine. Vanderbilt has been my second favorite SEC team for as long as I’ve known about the SEC (the first obviously being my alma mater). I traveled to Nashville, as I did many times throughout my Auburn career, to watch this series back in 2012.
That being said, I’m here to tell you what you should know about the Tigers this season.
The Tigers have that James Dean, day dream look in their eyes. No, but seriously. They’ve done pretty well, up until they faced Texas A&M last weekend. A&M, in the meantime, has been on their second best start in school history, going undefeated for the first 22 games.
They’re doing well. They start conference play against the two toughest teams in the SEC, but that’s what Auburn does. That’s what Auburn’s always done. They had the power hitters and the long ball. They had Championship Sunday. They play a tough schedule and they play through the losses.
I don’t imagine this year will be any different.
Auburn has a habit of getting insanely talented players who don’t usually amount to their potential in college. They often get overlooked while at Auburn and fall deeper into the draft, but emerge in professional ball as some of the best prospects. Some make it, some don’t.
The players I’m familiar with this year were freshman by the time I was a senior, so I never got to watch them play much outside of fall ball. But it’s weird seeing them all grown up, starting the weekends and actually performing. It makes me proud.
You can expect them to perform. Rocky McCord, the Saturday starter, will put up some work. Sam Gillikin was a top name before I left Auburn, and so was Jordan Ebert. Seeing them in the lineups puts a smile to my face. As for as the names I’m unfamiliar with, Nulph has come up quite a few times for the Tigers.
Auburn has a left field wall similar Vanderbilt. That, generally, is one of their strengths-- but this weekend, it’s a weakness for Auburn. The Tigers take advantage of how most opposing teams don’t know how to play a ball off the wall; unfortunately for Auburn, that’s something which Vanderbilt is all too familiar.
Plainsman Park just recently had some upgrades and additions to it, mostly aesthetic but the home team bullpen is now inside the mini-monster in left. The new athletic dorms are [FINALLY] built in right field to give a slight Camden Yards-feel to the quaint ballpark. Jordan-Hare is across the street from the left foul line, and off to the right is a road that is often hit with foul balls. The setup is very similar to Vanderbilt’s athletic portion of campus, except not NEARLY as cramped. This is, remember, the loveliest village on the plains.
There is a student section at Auburn, right behind the Auburn dugout, and there are loud fans that will heckle you and your left fielder to no end. Mostly, though, the students are generally polite and quiet-- until they are needed to cheer. There is a good mix of students and alumni and fan regulars, and they are fairly evenly dispersed throughout the park. You will also see a couple of RVs in the parking lot across the street. The opposing team fans are treated well, and are sat right behind the opposing team’s dugout.
The Parking Garage
Ahh, the good old parking garage. At Vanderbilt, there’s an eight or nine story parking garage that sits out over the right field foul pole, across a cross-section of road. You see a couple fans out there, trying to watch the ants throw a speck around the park.
At Auburn, there’s a three-story parking garage that sits right behind the left field foul pole... And that is filled every game. Set your tailgates down and open the coolers because you have a view of the field similar to a third tier seat at a major league park, and the cops generally leave you alone if you’re not outrageously belligerent.
As much as I’d like to say Auburn will pull away with at least one win, and as much as I think they’re capable of doing so, I think that would be more detrimental to Vanderbilt’s season than anything. Auburn got swept by Texas A&M last week and A&M is flying under everybody’s radar right now. Vanderbilt needs this sweep to maintain its status as the top team in the SEC... I mean, with A&M unknowingly nipping at their heels in the West.
So, who am I rooting for?
Haha, don’t be silly. As I’ve stated on twitter, I’ve been avoiding this question like the plague.
Professionally, I’m completely neutral. I will cover Vanderbilt athletics win or lose in an unbiased fashion.
So I hope the Tigers and the Commodores play an exciting series, as both teams have been known to do in recent seasons.
And war eagle.