OMAHA, Neb. — One by one, the Tigers filed in, with bags slung over their shoulders, sunglasses masking their weary eyes, stepping past the twisted steel of a chain-link fence glowing in the morning sun — and walking out onto the baseball field again.
Yes. Less than 12 hours had passed since Auburn’s nightmare, and the Tigers were already back out on the field working to erase the memory.
Auburn returned to practice Monday morning at Creighton University’s old ballpark in Omaha, just down the road from TD Ameritrade Park where, late Sunday night, the world watched Auburn’s dreams unravel in an indescribable bottom of the ninth that saw Auburn crumble and Mississippi State charge back to a walk-off win that sent Auburn into Tuesday’s elimination game.
And there Monday in that quiet little stadium removed from the big stage, head coach Butch Thompson spoke with his team, the players threw catch to warm their arms, Edouard Julien and the rest started taking groundballs again in the infield, and the Tigers looked at peace again.
Maybe they started to clear their mind out on the field. Maybe baseball is the best medicine.
“Seems like the right thing to do,” Thompson nodded in the sun aside the third-base line.
Auburn plays Louisville in an elimination game at 1 p.m. CT Tuesday back at towering TD Ameritrade Park. Auburn will be at center stage again, in front of 24,000 seats and with the world watching on ESPN. Auburn’s misery was revelry for Mississippi State and fans watching for a walk-off thriller. Auburn led 4-1 going into the bottom of the ninth, saw two runs score and then watched in shock as Julien’s two-out throw to first sailed over first baseman Rankin Woley’s head, allowing the game-tying run to peel around third and to home. The game-winner seemed inevitable from there.
Julien seemed shocked in the postgame locker room, while teammates all around him vowed the team would turn the page and get back to work.
Monday, the Tigers did just that out on that practice field — and Julien was right there with them.
Thompson said he gave his team some space Sunday night. He said he spoke with them for just 30 seconds or so in that locker room. Then it was time to move forward.
“We just reiterated some things about who we are and how we respond,” Thompson explained. “We would get up early and get back out here on the baseball field and be together, talk about what we learned and start preparing for tomorrow and turn the page,” he said at Monday’s practice.
“That’s basically the plan. That’s what we’ll execute this morning to get ready to play a game. Every time we’ve had a tough loss or a setback or experienced any adversity, this ballclub has responded in a very good way, and I anticipate — and hope — that’s the case again.”
Thompson said his team was quiet on Monday morning. It was an early turnaround. Auburn’s loss to Mississippi State ended at around 10:30 p.m. Sunday night and Auburn was at practice on Creighton’s campus by 10 a.m. Monday morning.
But the Tigers started to stretch and chatter. Julien asked a trainer for a snack bar, looking every bit as back in the routine as he could be. Auburn’s young reserves took a TV camera’s microphone and joked around with it in the dugout. The field came to life with the sounds of clapping, familiar encouragement and the smacking of baseballs.
It was back to baseball for Auburn — for at least one more day. Auburn’s on the brink of elimination against Louisville, with nothing left to do but play to win.
“I’m looking forward to practice here to just try and get back into a rhythm,” Thompson said.
They’ll ride the rhythm for as long as they can.