By Jeff Shearer
When former Auburn Tiger Josh Donaldson arrives in Dunedin, Fla. for spring training this month, the reigning American League Most Valuable Player will be asked many times what he's planning for an encore.
"I don't set goals before the season starts as far as numbers are concerned," says Donaldson, who smashed 41 homers last year while leading the league in runs (122) and RBI (123). "I go out there and I play to win the game. For me to feel like I had a successful season again, I would want to be able to win another division and hopefully win a World Series."
Donaldson's Toronto Blue Jays came close in 2015, winning a dramatic Division Series with the Texas Rangers, before losing in the League Championship Series to eventual World Series champion Kansas City.
Donaldson and Cam Newton form Auburn's dynamic duo, Most Valuable Players in the same season.
-- Auburn Tigers (@AuburnTigers) February 7, 2016
"It's awesome. He's a special player," Donaldson says. "I've been a big fan of his ever since his Auburn days. It's pretty special for Auburn. I think it will be the first time ever since the awards have been given out that you're going to have two MVPs, one from MLB, one from the NFL, from the same university. I think it's pretty special. It's another thing that Auburn has that Alabama doesn't."
Donaldson played for Auburn from 2005 to 2007, beginning as a third baseman before converting to catcher.
The Chicago Cubs drafted Donaldson in the first round in 2007. He became a star in Oakland before being traded to Toronto.
"I really enjoyed being at Auburn and being a part of the Auburn family," he says. "My time there wasn't as successful as I would have wanted it to be as far as wins and losses, but I felt like it set me up for the future. Auburn gave me every opportunity to become the player I am today."
First-year Auburn head coach Butch Thompson was the Tigers' pitching coach and recruiting coordinator during Donaldson's time on the Plains.
"Josh was a joy to coach," Thompson says. "Josh has a certain level of confidence that you knew he was going to achieve greatness because of his confidence that he displayed every day."
"Butch is a great man, first of all. He has a lot of character," Donaldson says. "He and I had numerous conversations about baseball and about life throughout his tenure when I was there. He was one of those guys that, he wants to win, and he also cares about you as a person. You hear about guys who will run through a brick wall for this guy, that's what Butch Thompson brings to the table."
Thompson remembers Donaldson as being supremely confident and hyper-competitive, traits that have served him well in the big leagues.
"He was so competitive at that age that it probably bled into overdoing it a little bit," Thompson says. "As you grow from a young man into a real man, how you learn how to balance and channel all that, and how he's channeled his confidence, how he's mastered skills, I think everyone at Auburn is very proud. And I think he has more great days ahead of him."
Thompson plans to use Donaldson's success story to inspire current Tigers and attract future ones.
"We use that with our next generation of players that we recruit. We use that with our current players to let them know that, 'Hey, your dreams can come true. Here's an example.' What Josh is doing is phenomenal," Thompson says.
"Players like Josh Donaldson and Cam Newton, and so many others who are on our wall and have played at Auburn, the Auburn greats, they're leaving legacies," he says. "And they're leaving legacies for the next generation of people who come through here to Auburn that you can aim high and can achieve some great things."
Donaldson returns often to Auburn to visit friends and give back. He was a regular at Tim Hudson's charitable Homerun Derby.
During the 2015 Iron Bowl, Auburn honored Donaldson on the field for his MVP season.
"Auburn will always be like family to me. And people treat me that way, like part of the Auburn family," he says. "It's a really a special place to be. And I try to get back there as much as possible. The response I get from fans even more so now has been great. They're always very welcoming. And I'm thankful for their support."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer