OMAHE, Neb. (WSFA) - Butch Thompson, in his fourth season as head baseball coach at Auburn University, has his team in Omaha playing in the College World Series. Their first opponent? A familiar foe.
"Of course out of 297 schools, of course we’re playing Mississippi State. Of course that’s who we’re playing,” he said in Friday’s coaches’ press conference.
Thompson spent seven seasons in Starkville serving as Mississippi State’s associate head coach and pitching coach. His ties with the university and Diamond Dawgs run deep.
“I wouldn’t be the head coach - I may not be sitting here if it weren’t for Mississippi State," said Thompson. "This thing really turns into people at the end of the day.”
Thompson is familiar with many of the veteran players that fill the Bulldogs’ roster and you can bet they remember their old coach.
“When we were sitting there yesterday for media and they pull up, they’re following us, and we’re all sitting there ready to go trying to get out of there, and Butch gets out of the car and I’m like, ‘I’ve got to give Coach Butch a hug.’ So my whole team, even the ballplayers, there’s a tremendous amount of respect,” said Mississippi State head coach Chris Lemonis.
Thompson recruited several of the players on Mississippi State’s roster before his coaching path brought him back to Auburn. Players like Ethan Small and Jake Mangum. He says he remembers the recruiting visits with their families and the relationships they built.
Auburn’s head baseball coach has more than just coaching ties to MSU. He grew up 45 minutes from Dudy Noble Field where the Diamond Dawgs have become top dogs. His love of the program runs deep, and he couldn’t be more happy that it’s continued to move in the right direction under Lemonis.
“I was thankful and proud that Chris was able to get this job because, one, I knew he’d do a great job, and I thought he would be genuine with it, and I thought he would lead the program in a great way because I care what happens, growing up, being born and raised 45 minutes away from Dudy Noble field. I’m proud that you’re the coach at Mississippi State,” Thompson said to Lemonis.
But on Sunday evening, at 6:30 p.m., Thompson’s Tigers will take the field against the Bulldogs and they will be enemies playing with the hopes of advancing on into the winner’s bracket. But even then, Thompson knows it won’t be any hard feelings.
“This is about relationships, and you’ve just got them and they’re deep and they’re special. I have to say there’s so many deep relationships that are all rooting against us Sunday, but I hear from Mississippi State folks when we have success, because it’s sincere relationships," said Thompson. "And I think what we’re figuring out through a lot of this stuff is just as you get to a good place, this stuff is bigger than ball. There are things that are, and relationships at the end of the day are more than, and I cherish every one of those real deep relationships that I have at Mississippi State.”
Sunday’s game between Auburn and Mississippi State will be televised on ESPN2.