Auburn, Ala.—When the 2012 Auburn Tigers get down on the baseball field and are searching for answers, Coach John Pawlowski is hoping that some preseason team-building exercises will make the difference for a team depending on newcomers at virtually every position.
With 17 new players and very little experience back with the position players, Pawlowski said he was hoping to build teamwork and team chemistry when he enlisted the help of Major Jeff Struecker to talk with the team earlier this week.
A former U.S. Ranger that was involved in the real life version of “Black Hawk Down” in Mogadishu as well as Operation Just Cause in 1989 (Panama) and Operation Desert Storm, Struecker is now a Chaplain and served multiple tours in both Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq. Pawlowski said his message was one that captivated not only the team, but everyone who heard it.
“We wanted to get someone to talk about teamwork and working together to attain a common goal,” Pawlowski said. “That’s one of the things we did.
"To bring in somebody like Major Struecker to talk to them was big. He led the Humvees through Somalia. We’ve watched the movie and it’s just amazing what those guys went through.
"He came in and talked to our team the other day. Everybody was on the edge of their seat listening to what he had to say. It’s pretty special.”
Recommended to Pawlowski by legendary high school baseball Coach Bobby Howard from Columbus, Ga., High, Struecker made an impact on the players and definitely captured their attention. One of three team captains, Justin Bryant said it was an important thing for the team to hear because it will give them an image to fall back on in the hard times during the season.
“When we first got there we had no clue what it was going to be,” Bryant said of the meeting at the Auburn Athletic Complex. “It means a lot to me personally because knowing what he’s been through and having him share it with us. It was more of a team building thing.
"He talked to us about things you have to be able to do for one another and to trust each other," Bryant noted. "It meant a lot to me and I think our team got something out of it.
“We know we’re not going to go through the same struggles they went through, but the message that he sent applies to a team and how you can be successful. I think it was worth it for us. He knew exactly what he was talking about and how to work as a team.”
It was the second exercise for the Tigers as they prepare for the 2012 season that kicks off on Feb. 17 against Missouri at Plainsman Park. The first came several weeks back as they spent the weekend on Tim Hudson’s ranch working with a pair of guys from Las Vegas who specialize in a team-building workshop. Bryant said he and the team weren’t sure what to expect, but it turned out to be a special time for the Tigers and something they can look back on this season.
“That was a surprisingly fun weekend,” Bryant said. “We had no clue what it was going to be like going down there. We didn’t know what we were getting into. We thought it would be things like a faith fall where you fall off a ladder, but it wasn’t anything like that.
"Their theory was that they were going to make us feel uncomfortable to make our team closer together. When you talk about it, it doesn’t do it justice. You have to see it to know what went down and how it happened. It was a good experience for our team.”
With everyone excited about the new season and positive vibes throughout the camp, Auburn is ready to make a run for the postseason in 2012. Bryant said eventually there will be some bumps in the road when you play such a long season however and that’s when he believes what they’ve learned this offseason will help them persevere and move forward.
“Right now it doesn’t seem like it’s going to play a big role, but I know as we go through the season and have to experience ups and downs it’s going to play a big part,” Bryant said. “I think it’s going to impact us later in the season. It’s not really supposed to help us when we’re up, it’s for when we’re down. I hope we don’t have to experience that much, but it’s going to help us out.”
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