SEC road challenges baseball team

By Matthew George

UK third baseman Chris McClendon crept past the bag and into the infield grass. As the 5-foot-11-inch junior readied for his pitcher’s delivery, a Tiger fan along the third base line, one of more than 2,000 that packed Auburn’s Plainsman Park, shouted out.

“You might want to get off the grass!” the fan yelled. “You’re not going to get any Miracle Grow to make you any taller!”

McClendon said the heckling was just a taste of the treatment that greeted him during last weekend’s series in Auburn. The junior college transfer from Texarcana College had never experienced life on the road in the Southeastern Conference.

But UK head coach John Cohen said that was the type of atmosphere McClendon and the rest of the new players should come to expect when they visit other clubs in the SEC.

“I liken it all the time, because I’ve been to all these venues so many times, it’s like teams coming into Rupp Arena,” Cohen said.

“Every college baseball atmosphere in this league is extraordinary,” he said. “It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen. Every trip in this league is very volatile from the fans standpoint and when you talk about how many people show up to the games, it’s big and you have to get used to it, because you have to be able to play in those kinds of conditions.”

The Cats struggled in their first SEC road weekend. After opening the season 19-0, tying the records for best start and longest winning streak in school history, UK dropped two of three to Auburn, barely salvaging a win in Sunday’s third game.

Despite the outcome of the series, Cohen said it was important for the Cats to get that first conference road series under their belts.

“It’s very important,” Cohen said. “Every atmosphere in our league is very similar, and to have already had that atmosphere at Auburn, now going into South Carolina I think it really helps us to have that under our belt.”

Sophomore outfielder Troy Frazier said that coming off a 15-game home stand just before the Auburn series made it difficult to adjust to making a road trip.

“I think last year, I kind of got a taste for how it was going to be on the road,” Frazier said. “We played Vandy last year and we played here (at UK) when I was at Western. I was used to it a little bit, so I was ready,” said Frazier, a Western Kentucky University transfer.

McClendon said the Auburn series was more important for those who had never experienced a large and hostile crowd to be able to move forward.

“It’s good to get that first weekend out of the way and get those first-game jitters out,” McClendon said. “Hopefully we can roll into South Carolina and just play normal and be ready to go.”

Now that the butterflies are gone and he knows what to expect, McClendon said he is excited about UK’s road trip at South Carolina this weekend. He said he was even excited about the heckling he was sure fans would rain down on him again.

“It’s fun to beat the team,” McClendon said. “And it’s fun to beat the fans as well.”