By Jeff Shearer
b>AUBURN, Ala. - Q.V. Lowe’s most vivid memory of Auburn’s first College World Series team occurred more than a thousand miles from Omaha.
The 1967 Tigers advanced to the CWS by winning the District tournament – the precursor to today’s NCAA Regionals – in Gastonia, N.C.
That’s where Auburn beat West Virginia, Florida State and Clemson to earn its trip to Omaha, the final out occurring in extra innings of a doubleheader. The postgame party culminated with players throwing no-nonsense coach Paul Nix into the hotel pool in the wee hours.
“Three o’clock in the morning. That’s what time we finished,” said Lowe, Auburn’s ace in ’67 with a 15-1 record. “It’s the only time I saw Coach Nix laugh out loud in my whole time with him at Auburn. Those are memories that won’t go away.”
Fifty years later, Lowe returned to the Plains for a reunion of former players honoring Auburn’s 1967 and 1997 World Series teams.
“This bunch was so close,” Lowe said. “It brought back all of the memories of a great time and what we did and achieved. Some of them I haven’t seen in 50 years. Of course, they didn’t recognize me, I didn’t recognize them, but it’s like we never left.”
Thirty years after Lowe made the All-Tournament team in Omaha, pitching the Tigers to a third-place finish, Auburn made its fourth CWS appearance in 1997. Just like in ’67, closeness created confidence.
“I think it’s always chemistry,” said Colter Bean, a freshman reliever in ’97. “We had a great group of guys. Everybody got along. We hung out together, on and off the field. That always brings everybody together.
“We enjoyed being around each other. You’re at the ballpark with each other all the time. When you’re with 25 guys the majority of the day, if you’re getting along with them, that’s always going to show on the field.”
More than 100 former players participated in the reunion, which included golf, on-field recognitions and an autograph session.
“It’s a great thing,” said Curt Cope, an outfielder from 1973-76. “To see all of these people come back, teammates and folks I listened to on the radio growing up here in Auburn and then seeing. I’ve been to the games ever since I graduated. It’s amazing to see the progress of the new kids and the old guys, too.
“It’s all because of Butch Thompson. He’s done an amazing job. Tickled to death to have him at Auburn again.”
Evan Crawford, a former big leaguer who pitched for Auburn from 2006-08 says the reunion benefits former and current players.
“As a player, you want to see that everybody cares,” Crawford said. “Guys who came before you. They want to know that they’re part of the family. That’s what it feels like when you’re in the clubhouse.
“Butch is really pushing that and it’s huge. It’s easy for him because everybody wants to be a part of his family. Everybody wants to be around Butch.”
The former players saw the Tigers win the South Carolina series Sunday in dramatic fashion on Conor Davis’ 3-run walkoff home run.
“You’re always an Auburn baseball player,” Crawford said. “When they’re doing good, you feel like you’re doing something. It’s been fun to watch.”
If the Tigers, ranked No. 7 by Baseball America, continue their winning ways, it could be Thompson finding himself in the pool after postseason success. Just like Q.V. Lowe’s coach 50 years ago.
“I believe every successful team goes through this,” said Lowe, who established the baseball program at Auburn Montgomery, serving as head coach from 1987-2014. “They have that closeness no matter how many years pass. I go to bed at night and remember the big plays, the big games, just like they do. It’s a wonderful thing.”
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer