May 21, 2008
Individual pieces form a group dynamic. This occurs in baseball more than any other sport. One athlete ranks superior in gap-to-gap power, another exhibits his speed on the basepaths and other players display their abilities with sensational fielding range.
These qualities mix together and eventually coaches are able to complete their lineup according to the tools they have. The problem they crave to go through is when one of those ballplayers develops successfully in each category. That was exactly what happened when Tyson Auer ventured to UCF.
A 5-foot-11, 170-pound freshman out of Lake Mary High School, Auer blossomed when he was asked to move from his traditional shortstop position and take over in center field in 2005 for the Knights. He made 33 starts in center in his first season and went on to commit just two errors while racking up three outfield assists. Auer also finished 15-for-18 in stolen bases and led the team with seven sacrifice bunts.
What he remembers most in 2005, though, was not his first collegiate home run vs. Florida Atlantic or stolen base No. 1 against Le Moyne. It was a walk in the season-opener.
"I was starting as a freshman vs. Florida International at home and it was one of the biggest crowds I had ever played in front of," reflected Auer. "I ended up getting two strikes early in my very first at-bat, then the count went to 3-2 and I fouled one off. I eventually walked with the bases loaded to get an RBI, so that was definitely pretty memorable. I was really nervous during that at-bat."
Auer did not have to look far for guidance during his journey through his first Division I campaign. His father was a running back at Georgia Tech and had plenty of wisdom for the young college student, while his mother attempted to watch her son as often as possible.
"My parents have the biggest impact on my life," said Auer. "All of my big decisions go through them and it will probably be that way for awhile. My dad is always at the games supporting me, and my mom lives in Virginia and she comes down whenever she can. It's nice to know your parents are behind you when you are playing, and it's great after the game to have somebody there for you, win or lose."
The advice Joe Auer provided Tyson certainly came from an experienced background. Joe was the first pick in the fifth round of the 1963 National Football League Draft and eventually started his professional career with the American Football League's Buffalo Bills in 1964. After two years in Buffalo, he suited up with the expansion Miami Dolphins in 1966 and the move south caused Joe Auer to become a household name in Florida.
Standing on the turf at the Orange Bowl with the Oakland Raiders peering down at him in the first game in Dolphins' history, Joe returned the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. One year later, a future Hall of Famer could credit Joe for starting up his career.
"Bob Griese and I were friends because we roomed across the hall from each other his rookie year in training camp," said Joe. "In our first game John Stofa, is our starting quarterback and Griese is sitting on the bench. Stofa calls a pass play deep in our own end and this 245-pound linebacker runs right over me when I was trying to block. I'm flat on my back and I hear Stofa's leg crack and break from the hit by the linebacker. In trots Bob Griese for his first play as a pro and goes, `Joe, you just proved you can't block so let's see if you can catch.' The team started laughing because it was such a stressful moment. But sure enough, he rolls out, pump-fakes to draw in the defense and lobs the ball to me. I caught it and ran for a touchdown."
Learning of his dad's gridiron days, Tyson tried to copy him at a very early age.
"When I was around two I wanted to be a football player so I would always run around the house tackling pillows," smiled Tyson, who is one of six siblings. "But my mom didn't want me to play because I could get hurt, so she started me up with a local baseball team down the road from where I lived.
"Then when I was in sixth grade, my dad and I talked my mom into letting me play Pop Warner football. I promised I wouldn't get hurt, and I ended up breaking my arm in the second game of the season. So that was basically the end of my football career and I focused on baseball the rest of the way."
Tyson's dad does admit he has been happier watching his son on the diamond instead of the football field.
"I'm glad he is in baseball because I didn't play the sport, and I'm not sure I could, so there is not this alter-ego thing," said Joe. "I am just in awe of everyone that can hit the ball. Since I am an engineer, when you get into the math of it, it seems impossible to hit a sphere with a cylinder of various lengths."
Like any father, Joe does take pride in his son's accomplishments. However, his athletic background causes him to get caught up in Tyson's games.
"I am so proud of his work ethic," said Joe. "It's not like he just all of a sudden became a good player. He started out with tee-ball like most kids and went up the ranks. He worked out very diligently with a personal trainer for strength and speed for four or five years, and these days you have to have that work ethic to do well. The fact that he is fast and has a good arm is not an accident. He really worked at it.
"Since I played collegiately and professionally, I guess I get into Tyson's games a lot from that perspective. He is my son and I love him and I just want him to do well. I have to keep reminding myself that I shouldn't get down just because Tyson made an error last Saturday, for example. It's just wanting the best for my son."
It may be difficult for anyone not to get excited with Tyson on the field. The Longwood native used his work ethic and dedication to UCF in evolving into one of the baseball program's top all-around athletes.
The psychology major has consistently batted over .300 since 2006, and ranks in the Knights' top-10 career record charts in hits, runs scored, triples, at-bats, stolen bases and games started. Being listed next to some of UCF's greats is a humbling honor for Tyson.
"It definitely feels good to be in some of the top 10s," acknowledged Auer. "Coming out of high school, I knew UCF because it was a local school and I always looked up to those players. It's pretty cool to rank with those guys I admired."
Auer's efforts all of the way up to his senior year have enabled UCF to continue its climb through Conference USA after the Black and Gold left the Atlantic Sun in 2005. This generation of Knights will forever be remembered for taking UCF from an already successful past to a very promising future.
"We are getting better with each year, and you can't expect to jump into a conference right away and dominate," said Auer. "I would love to come back in a couple years or even 10 years when I am an alumni and sit in the stands watching UCF play for a national championship. That's what I look forward to, watching this program get better."
And when Auer does return to UCF, recruits should diligently learn from the four-year starter so they can materialize quickly as well.
"When you are a freshman in high school, you kind of think you can play baseball, but you don't really know until you actually get out there and play with those guys," said Auer. "It's the same thing at the college level. But after a couple of at-bats and a few good plays, it's all about believing in yourself and knowing that you can do anything."
- Brian Ormiston
This story appears in the May edition of KnightVision. Produced 10 times per year, KnightVision is the official publication of UCF Athletics. Each issue includes stories about UCF teams, student-athletes and coaches. To order 10 exciting issues from August through June, call 1-888-877-4373 (ext. 121) or 336-768-3400 (ext. 121).