Three years ago Rowdey Jordan, Ryan Watson and Brooks Fuller shared a dugout at Auburn High School. Tonight, the trio will share a spot on college baseball’s biggest stage.
The three Auburn High alumni are part of the rare group of players who will be in the College World Series this weekend, with Jordan playing for Mississippi State and Fuller and Watson playing for Auburn University. The Bulldogs and the Tigers open the double-elimination, eight-team tournament by facing each other at 6:30 p.m. CST. today.
“It means a lot. Auburn High School has a special place in my heart and always will,” said Watson, now a junior at Auburn. “It's a special, special feeling being in Omaha, especially with one of my high school teammates on the same team as me and another one going to be in the other dugout. It's a pretty neat experience, and I'm really thankful for it.”
Watson, Jordan and Fuller were all one year apart in school, and each helped the Tigers find success in their own ways.
Watson, who graduated in the Class of 2016, was the intimidating pitcher who left more than one batter shaking his head. Standing on the mound at 6-foot-5 and hurling near-90 mile per hour fastballs to the plate, Watson established himself as one of Class 7A’s top pitchers.
As a senior, Watson went 5-1 with a 1.98 ERA and 58 strikeouts to help the Tigers reach the state finals, where they lost to Hewitt-Trussville.
“I just think of family, really. I feel like we never really grow apart,” Watson said about his high school career. “The friendships, relationships and bonds that we made back in high school, they still stick today. It's just a bond that I feel like won't be broken.”
Jordan earned attention for his play at the plate. The switch-hitting outfielder’s tireless work ethic made him a natural with the bat in his hands, as evidenced by earning the Class 7A batting title in only his sophomore season.
Jordan ended his time as a Tiger on a high note, hitting .389 with an area-high eight home runs to go with 12 doubles and 30 RBIs in 2017. Auburn returned to the state title series in Jordan’s senior year but fell to Hoover in three games.
Jordan spent countless hours at Auburn High’s field and in the batting cage at home with his father, Kevin. While he brought the dedication necessary to play baseball at a high level, Jordan said his time as a Tiger taught him about enjoying the sport.
“(Auburn High head coach Matt Cimo) made practice fun. He made playing real fun,” Jordan said. “Really, I just remember enjoying the game. That's really the biggest thing I get from that. It was such a blast to go to Auburn High School and to play for coach Cimo. He taught us a lot of things about playing hard and keeping your head up through tough times. It just made me love the game even more.”
Fuller was on teams alongside Watson and Jordan that were oh so close to winning it all, and the left-hander helped Auburn High break through in 2018.
Fuller answered the challenge of being the Tigers’ go-to guy as a senior, going 8-2 with a 1.27 ERA and 59 strikeouts in 55.1 innings of work. None of those innings were bigger than the final seven, which came when the lefty shut down Hewitt-Trussville for a 4-1 win in Game 1 of the state title series.
Auburn took Game 2 in a 1-0 victory to give the team its first state title since 2010.
“I don't think that can be topped by a whole lot of stuff just because we worked so hard the two years prior and came up just short,” Fuller said. “With the team last year, honestly on paper it was probably the worst out of the three that we've had in the state championship. We just really clicked. We played really well when we needed to. It was a really special year.
“I still hang out with some of those guys. Whenever they come back, half the conversations are about the state championship and just how special it was.”
All three players credited playing at Auburn High for teaching them how to handle the big moments in baseball. Whether it was pitching against the likes of Central-Phenix City and Smiths Station or standing in the batter’s box with a state title on the line, they learned what pressure felt like on the diamond and how to handle the good and bad.
The trio’s triumphs over the years and their college teams’ trips to Omaha left Cimo beaming.
“I've been so blessed to have so many great players and to get to see three guys that are living their dreams to play in a College World Series. It's just an awesome feeling,” Cimo said. “It's a tribute to all the players who've played here and all their hard work. It's amazing, and it's just special.”
This week has been a whirlwind for the three players, but between practices and media sessions Watson and Jordan ran into each other after lunch Thursday. The two former teammates chatted and talked about Sunday, a conversation that was less trash talk and more marveling at the moment.
Jordan, who played in the College World Series last season as a freshman, admitted being one of three Auburn High alumni in this spot hasn’t hit him yet. Watson, meanwhile, was still trying to process it but understood just how rare an opportunity like this is.
“This is going to be a moment that I'm going to remember for the rest of my life,” Watson said. “This is just going to be a special experience that we won't ever forget.”