Auburn Baseball: A Numbers Game
Jan. 31, 2013
by Dan Froehlich, Auburn Baseball Media Relations Director
Ask any Auburn fan who is number 34 and it will not take long for them to tell you that number belonged to 1985 Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson. How about another famous Auburn 34, the Round Mound of Rebound, Charles Barkley, who donned the number from 1982-84 for the basketball team? Appropriately enough, both of those Auburn legends have had their jersey's retired by Auburn. But swing over to Plainsman Park this season and you will see number 34 squatting behind home plate, calling the pitches for the Auburn baseball team.
Blake Austin, a junior catcher who has worn 34 since coming to Auburn as a freshman in 2011, is the 14th different player to wear 34 since Bo Jackson did so in 1983 and 1984. Jackson, in fact, changed his number to 29 for the 1985 and '86 seasons on the diamond.
In between Jackson and Austin the list of 34s has been Stacy Jones (`86-`87), Mark Smith ('90), Ray Walker ('91), Rob Warren ('92), Mike McKenna ('93), Chris Smolky ('95-'96), Patrick Dunham ('97), Joseph Zanthos ('98-'01), Reid Price ('02), Jim Miksis ('03-'04), Cliff Mullins ('05-'07) and Phil Rossi ('10). Jones went on to become a third-round pick of the Baltimore Orioles in the 1988 draft (he wore number 33 that year) and had a very brief Major League Baseball career while Patrick Dunham was a third-round pick of the Seattle Mariners in 1997 and played five years in the minors and independent ball.
But what is it that make players pick certain numbers?
With complete numerical rosters (thanks to media guides) available going back to the 1983 season, it was time to put together an all-time numerical roster for the Auburn baseball program. If you follow along on twitter (@AUTigerBaseball), you will see that we have been counting down the days to first pitch via old numbers. This, of course, led to some interesting facts on numbers - and some interesting history behind them.
Fact number one: Someone has worn the number 12 every year since 1987, the longest consecutively worn jersey number on the team. The list of number 12s: Joe Siwa ('87-'89), Don Bice ('90), Brad Brown ('91), Torey Kimerl ('92), Mark Bellhorn ('93), Kevin Humphreys ('94-'95), Jason Gregory ('96-'97), Ellis McManus ('98), Lynn Shoop ('99-'01), Josh Todd ('02-'03), Tyler Johnstone ('04-'06), Austin Hubbard ('07-'10), Zach Alvord ('11-'12).
"There is significance in that number for me," Johnstone, a Brampton, Ontario native, said when asked why he chose 12. "I actually have a tattoo of a Canadian flag with a baseball and number 12 inside of it on my left shoulder that I got when I was 16. The number was chosen after Roberto Alomar whom I idolized growing up, mostly due to his contribution to the '92 and '93 back-to-back World Series championships by the Toronto Blue Jays."
"I just always liked that number," said Austin Hubbard, the owner of the jersey from '07-'10. "I wore it my whole life and I got very lucky it was available when I got to Auburn. I wore it in football, baseball, soccer... any sport I played my whole life. I guess it is my lucky number even though I had plenty of unlucky outings while I played at Auburn. I always thought it was a good looking number whatever sport you played and whatever position you played in that sport."
Unfortunately, the string of a player (key term here) actually wearing that number comes to an end this season.
"I was 20 in high school and it was also the number my uncle wore when he played," Dunn said. "I was lucky that Jay (Waggoner, number 20 from '92-'95) finished the year before me so it was available when I came in. My choice had nothing to do with Jay having worn it, but looking back it is kind of neat for two friends from the same high school (Vestavia Hills) wore it back-to-back and both had good careers." Dunn and Waggoner would both be drafted, Waggoner in the 23rd round by the Detroit Tigers in 1995 and Dunn by the Kansas City Royals in 1999. Neither lasted long in the minors, each playing two years of A-ball. Fradejas, meanwhile, was a 35th-round pick of the Colorado Rockies in 2010 but chose to return to school for his senior year. After signing as a free agent following the 2012 season, he is back at Auburn now, finishing up his degree while wearing number 12 as a student assistant coach for the baseball team.
Fact number three: Auburn has had two Southeastern Conference Players of the Year, and both wore number 15.
Auburn's first SEC Player of the Year came in 1997 by a guy you might have heard of - Timothy Adam Hudson. Hudson, who was also the national player of the year that year, went from a sixth-round draft pick to the all-time winningest former SEC pitcher in Major League Baseball history and is just three wins shy of joining the 200 wins club. Hudson has worn 15 for all but his rookie season in MLB, when he went with 52 for the 1999 Oakland A's (15 was already taken).
Auburn's second SEC Player of the Year came in 2010 from a guy now seemingly on the cusp of making the big leagues. Hunter Morris, who was also named the SEC Freshman of the Year in 2008 (one of only two people that can make that claim), tore up SEC pitching in 2010, hitting a team-best .386 while tying the school record for single season home runs with 23 and driving in 76 RBI. However, that was Morris' only season in that jersey as he wore number 28 his first two seasons.
"I was actually just given 28 my freshman year because I wasn't there when people got to choose numbers," Morris recalled. "But as it turned out I had randomly been given 28 when I played for Team USA in high school so it was a cool coincidence when I got it at Auburn. I started wearing 15 in travel ball and my last year of high school but my freshman year (at Auburn) Woody (pitcher Bryan Woodall) was already wearing it. I didn't even think to change before my sophomore year until it was too late. I decided to go back to 15 my junior year when I actually had some seniority and got to choose and I have tried to stick with that as much as I can, even in pro ball."
Fact number four: Five players have worn number 49, but only one player has worn a number higher than 50.
"I switched back to 28 my senior year because Coach Baird said some of the scouts were asking why I wore that number and he thought it was a good idea to change so the scouts would not put that strike against me."
Fact number five: There have been many players that have worn three different numbers over three years but there is only one player since 1983 to wear four different numbers in four years.
That player, Dallan Ruch (pronounced Ruke), wore number 19 in 1993 (he red-shirted that season), 18 in 1994, 40 in 1995 and 29 in 1996.
"I always wanted number 23," Ruch said recently. "I believe Frank Sanders had it, but I always wanted it because Don Mattingly was my idol. When I came to Auburn I was a walk-on and I was going to take whatever they would give me, I was just thankful to be there."
For Ruch, it wasn't only Sanders that stood in his way of matching Donny Baseball on the uniform. Sanders did indeed wear number 23, but only for one season (1994). Instead Ruch gave way to Jason Johnson, a right-handed pitcher from Willamsport, Pa., who was wearing it in 1993 when Ruch got here. After Sanders one season in the number it wasn't a player that wore the number but rather newly hired assistant coach Tom Slater, who would wear it from '95-'99 before leaving the program for another job. When Slater returned to be the head coach in 2005, Jeff Boutwell, the last player to hit an inside-the-park grand slam at Plainsman Park, was wearing 23 so Slater went with 33 for three years before going back to 23 in his final season at Auburn.
So what does all of this mean going into the 2013 season?
Follow Auburn baseball on twitter at @AUTigerBaseball
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