Auburn baseball departs for College World Series in Omaha

Will Holland high-fives Auburn fans at reverse Tiger Walk Wednesday morning. The team is set to play in the College World Series for the first time since 1997.

Maybe it’s just a sense of serendipity.

Someone might call it destiny. Another could call it fate.

Maybe it’s simply that certain events in the past have helped shape this new future for the Auburn baseball team.

One way or the other, Butch Thompson’s seen it.

He just calls it “script stuff.”

Auburn’s made it to Omaha for the College World Series, landing there Wednesday to complete a long journey to college baseball’s mountaintop for Tigers coaches, players and supporters alike.

For all of them, the ride’s been about so much more than the final destination.

When Thompson thinks back to how it’s gone, he just smiles and says, “Of course.”

Auburn takes to diamond on hallowed ground in Omaha on Sunday to start the program’s fifth-ever run in the College World Series, bringing a group of Tigers who’ve been through plenty of ups and downs together now onto the pinnacle for one more run together.

It was Steven Williams who dropped his head in right field on a muggy night in Gainesville, Fla. last June, after watching the Gators’ walk-off home run rocket out of his glove and over the fence.

It was Cody Greenhill who was on the mound then, turning to watch that ball soar to the end of Auburn’s season last year in the Super Regional round.

Thompson smiles now. It was Williams who blasted the walk-off, game-winning home run against Georgia Tech that highlighted Auburn’s region win in Atlanta two weekends ago. It was Greenhill who fired the last pitch in the bottom of the ninth in North Carolina last weekend, before Auburn dogpiled with him in the infield to celebrate its Super Regional victory.

“There’s just so much script stuff going on,” the Auburn head coach grinned Wednesday morning in Auburn, as team personnel loaded up the bus humming outside and the team got set to head off to the airport.

“I go back to thinking, ‘Oh, of course Steven Williams is going to hit a walk-off home run after the way season ended last year. Of course Cody Greenhill is going to throw the last pitch to propel us into Omaha, because he threw the last pitch last year in Gainesville. Of course that’s going to happen.’”

“And, ‘Of course, out of 300 schools, we’re going to play Mississippi State in the first game of a College World Series.’”

That’s where Thompson’s own moment of serendipity will fall into play. Mississippi State is where Thompson coached last, for six years as an assistant before he was named Auburn’s head coach in 2015.

Mississippi State was the school just up the road an hour away when he was growing up in Amory, Miss.

Auburn crosses with Mississippi State in the team’s opener in Omaha on Sunday.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Thompson said.

Auburn bused to Columbus, Ga., on Wednesday and flew from there to Omaha, Neb. Thompson, Williams, Greenhill and the rest were sent off by dozens of Auburn fans as they departed from Plainsman Park.

Today, the team will visit the MLB game between the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals at T.D. Ameritrade Park Omaha before the team’s own practice there Friday. College World Series games open Saturday with Auburn’s meeting with Mississippi State rounding out the first round at 6 p.m. CT on Sunday night.

“Of course we’re going to play those guys — a place that’s dear to me, a place that’s prepared me for the job, the opportunity of a lifetime that I have now,” Thompson said. “I think everybody that knows me knows what Mississippi State means to me, but I also think everybody that knows me knows that we found purpose — and our family, our two girls go to Auburn —  and man, we found where we’re supposed to be here in Auburn.

“In a unique, weird way, I’ll turn that around to say this is one of the neatest games I’ve ever had an opportunity to coach in and be a part of, because of so much respect on the other side. I care about a ton of people on the other side, and my Tigers get to play them. I can’t wait to hook it up.”

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