OMAHA, Neb. — Edouard Julien walked back out on that haunted field, the place of his nightmare.
He stepped back into the spotlight, back in front of hundreds, taking a lonely walk to the batter’s box for the first time since that night he’ll never forget.
He gripped his bat in the summer sun and stepped up to stand at the plate, when, all around him, he heard them.
Julien wasn’t standing alone.
The Auburn fans in Omaha rose from their seats to give Julien a standing ovation on Tuesday in his first at-bat against Louisville in the College World Series — his and his team’s first game since Julien’s throw sailed in a heartbreaking flash in Auburn’s loss to Mississippi State on Sunday night.
The play will haunt him forever.
The support after, though, is something else he won’t soon forget.
“It was special,” Julien nodded . The fiery, French-speaking sophomore from Quebec City, Canada, felt the support from his college home at Auburn.
“That has never happened to me — to have a lot of people standing for me and being behind me even after what happened,” he said.
Those cheers behind him, Julien fought through a 10-pitch at-bat, reached base on a single, worked his way around the bases, and when Auburn scored its first run against Louisville in the bottom of the second inning, it was Julien charging across home plate for the run scored.
That was Auburn’s first run since Sunday night’s gut-wrenching loss.
With two outs down, Auburn was a groundout away from a big win on college baseball’s grandest stage and in front of a packed stadium under the lights in primetime, when the would-be winner rolled to Julien at third. He waited in frozen time as a baserunner passed in front of him. His throw flew over the first baseman’s head. The Mississippi State runner scored on the error to tie the game. Then the Bulldogs danced in the Tigers’ misery with a walk-off win, as Julien walked off the field in shock.
“What are you doing?” Michael Wilbon said breathlessly on ESPN the next afternoon — Julien’s pain replayed time and again on national TV for the world to see.
Auburn, though, had Julien’s back — his teammates and the Tigers fans alike.
“I think him having that Auburn uniform on paid dividends for him,” Auburn head coach Butch Thompson said on Wednesday afternoon. They both spoke then after Auburn’s 5-3 loss to Louisville ended after delay, ending Auburn’s ride to the College World Series.
“We wouldn’t be here without him. We wouldn’t have been in that ballgame with the lead without him the other night. But I think Edouard sensed, as he rolled up to the plate and his name was being announced — he saw an Auburn family behind him like crazy.
“The loudest ovation we had going into yesterday’s ballgame was for Edouard Julien. That’s what he’s got. I hope that’s his takeaway, of understanding how people are behind him.”
Julien was drafted by the Twins in the 18th round of the MLB Draft. He could return to Auburn for another year. He’ll make his decision soon. He played designated hitter for Auburn last year, before working to sharpen his skills this season and carve a spot in position play to match the hot bat he brings to the lineup. He hit a two-run homer and an RBI single earlier in that Mississippi State game to put the Tigers up 3-0 on three RBI’s in the first place.
Julien’s often beloved by Auburn fans. His being an international player and native French speaker adds to his persona and the fans’ perception, along with the emotion he wears on his sleeves on the field. “Oui oui,” they tweet out when he comes up with a big hit.
The feeling’s mutual.
Two days before Sunday, after last Friday’s open practice at Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park, Julien spoke excitedly about seeing the 24,000-seat ballpark from the field for the first time. He talked about the team hotel across the street, the NCAA’s FanFest across the street, and how he’d see Auburn fans in orange and blue in town already. He couldn’t wait for even more of them to get into town on Sunday.
“We’ve got two more days and then it’s going to be ‘War Eagle’ time,” he smiled back then.
Sunday, the fans shared his pain.
Then, they gave him a helping hand.
“It was pretty cool,” he said.