CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Back in Auburn, they rolled the trees in the rain.
Auburn’s in the College World Series for the first time in 22 years.
And even before the team’s heroes’ welcome back home, and before any banner or flag could be unfurled over the Plains, it was clear already on the hallowed diamond in Chapel Hill that the Tigers had made a special piece of history.
Auburn’s going to the College World Series for the fifth time ever. Soon, next to the immortal seasons of 1967, 1976, 1994 and 1997, there’ll hang the newest entry, 2019 — the number telling the story of a Tigers team that roared back from ups and downs on a wild ride all the way to Omaha, Neb.
It’s been a run cherished by supporters in orange and blue from far and wide.
And it’s one Auburn, all around, won’t soon forget.
Butch Thompson knew Monday in the Carolina sun what that trip to the College World Series will mean for his program, its school, and his players.
“When you punch your ticket to Omaha, you’re connected forever,” Thompson said Monday, reflecting after the dogpile in the infield, the cooler dunk, and his celebration with family, friends, supporters and his team.
“Those guys are going to be able to come back to Auburn for the rest of their lives, and there’s a legacy,” he said postgame, thinking of his players who fought their way to college baseball’s final destination. “There’ll always be a number, a year, associated with this accomplishment.
“When you’re with a group and you play a game and reach something of pinnacle — I mean, those guys are connected for life,” he also said.
Thompson knows it in a way some of those young players don’t just yet. He need only to look to his phone.
As Auburn’s made this thrilling postseason run, Thompson said he’s gotten texts of encouragement from his former players from another special season close to his heart — on his 1997 Jefferson State Community College team, that made its own run to a championship series.
Now more than 20 years later, that group is together pulling for Thompson, and Thompson expects in 20 years or so, this Tigers team will have that same kind of kinship, no matter how things end next week in the College World Series.
“What’s neat is those guys are texting me like crazy. ‘Come on, Coach,’” Thompson said with a smile.
“To hear from a handful of those guys, it just lets you know what it means to win a world series.”
That’s on top of what this ride means for the school and its alums — now cheering on a team going back to the College World Series for the first time in two decades just months after the men’s basketball team made its first-ever run to the Final Four.
History’s been made again by Auburn baseball.
It won’t soon be forgotten on the Plains.