By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala - Jackson Burgreen traded his cap and gown for a cap and glove.
The senior attended Auburn’s Commencement ceremony Saturday morning, then hurried back to Tuscaloosa to start for the Tigers in the outfield Saturday night against Alabama.
It capped a whirlwind 24 hours for Burgreen and three fellow graduates.
With Athletics Administrator Randall Dickey behind the wheel, they left Tuscaloosa after Friday’s game, arriving in Auburn around 1:30 a.m. Saturday, with an 8 a.m. wake-up call for the 10 a.m. graduation.
“I think it was worth it, since my parents invested so much, and thankfully they got to come down and watch me walk across the stage, which is the most important thing they’ve seen in a while,” says Burgreen, who’s from Athens, Ala.
Burgreen earned his degree in Interdisciplinary Studies, with emphasis on sport coaching, business, and community and civic engagement.
Asked what he wants to be "when he grows up," Burgreen does not hesitate.
“A baseball player,” he says with a smile.
Burgreen interned at United Way last summer, an experience that enhanced his interest in non-profit organizations as a potential career destination after baseball.
After Saturday morning’s ceremony, Burgreen and teammates Cole Lipscomb, Izaac Yarbrough and Sam Mason briefly attended a reception for student-athletes at the Auburn Athletic Complex. Then it was time to return to Tuscaloosa.
By the time the new Auburn alums arrived, their teammates were already in uniform at the stadium.
“We go straight to the field in our regular clothes, and change in a little backroom in the dugout,” he says. “It was a pretty quick turnaround.”
Saturday’s starting pitcher, Justin Camp, also graduated this spring, but chose to remain in Tuscaloosa.
“I was very tired,” Burgreen says. “I wasn’t really thinking about a game. Just trying to get through the rest of the night. It kind of took a little pressure off me.”
Jackson went 2-for-5 with an RBI.
“Sometimes, the less you think, the better you do,” he says.
After that marathon Saturday, insomnia was not an issue for Burgreen.
“I probably didn’t even finish my postgame meal before I fell asleep,” he says. “I think all four of us who went back were just wiped out.”
Auburn won Sunday’s series finale to avoid a sweep, evening the season series between the rivals at 2-2.
“At this point in the season, you’ve got to pick up every win you can,” he says.
“During batting practice before games, you have to take every read on a ball in the outfield like it’s a game,” he says. “Because you never know when you’re going to be in there.”
He’s started and reached base in 17 consecutive games since Palacios’ injury, including all three in Tuscaloosa.
Burgreen’s defense has been equally stellar, with several of his catches earning replays on late-night sportscasts and social media.
“Defense is pretty easy to practice, because taking batting practice, you get a hundred balls every day,” he says. “You’ve just got to have fun. That’s really what it’s all about. Being out there. Not getting caught up in the moment. Just take deep breaths and relax.”
That strategy works in baseball, and in juggling the demands of being a student and an athlete, especially on the same day with two events in two cities 157 miles apart.
“I don’t think I have any regrets,” says Burgreen, a walk-on. “My parents spent so much money on me and they wanted to see me walk across the stage. I figured I could do it for them.”
— Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) May 9, 2016
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer