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Friday, Sep 22, 2023 | Latest Print Edition

Foster's 'flu game' set foundation for Auburn baseball

Cole Foster up to bat 4/10/22
Cole Foster up to bat 4/10/22

Cole Foster was sick.

Diagnosed with a number of illnesses during Auburn’s trip to the College World Series, Foster had begun feeling bad while the Tigers were in Corvallis, Ore. for their NCAA Super Regional, but it all came to a head in Omaha.

“I was just coughing up a storm, throwing up, all this awesome stuff,” Foster said. “I got some steroid shots in me. I got diagnosed with strep and I think the flu. It was no fun.”

Fresh off a 2-1 performance to win the super regional, the Tigers had flown out of Corvallis on June 14, arrived in Auburn around 10 p.m. CST that night, then went home to pack and sleep before departing for Omaha, Neb. the next morning. 

“I started feeling a little weird in Oregon. At first, I thought it was just the three different states in 24 hours, then I got progressively worse and worse and worse,” Foster said. “Then we got to Omaha and I couldn’t get out of my bed.”

He was feeling particularly bad for his roommate Mike Bello. The two were roommates in both Corvallis and Omaha and Bello was subject to sleepless nights due to how ill Foster was feeling.

“I felt bad because I would wake up at like four in the morning and just cough all night and I would leave my room so Mikey could sleep,” Foster said. “Then Mikey started feeling bad. It was just not a good time.”

Upon arriving in Omaha for the College World Series, participating teams were met with unseasonably high temperatures. The Tigers’ first matchup was against the ultimate national champion Ole Miss Rebels and Auburn ultimately lost 5-1.

“I threw up before the game and I talked to Tony about it and he’s like ‘Alright you’re fine,’ so I said ‘Okay’ and played four, five innings then came out,” Foster said. “I went to go have IVs put in me, then we were off the next day.”

It was a sickness of a severity an athlete usually has no need to play through — the moment is rarely so large or demands that much, but this one did. Auburn had to play Stanford, a No. 2 seeded team that hosted its own Super Regional and emerged victorious.

Leading up to the game, Foster was unsure if he would be playing and once he got into the game, it was a battle.

“I didn’t know if I was going to play or not then I ended up in the lineup,” Foster said. “I felt fine the majority of the day. I had energy but then in like the fifth inning, I hit a wall and just couldn’t move. I had to go in the training room in the clubhouse between innings so I could get some air conditioning and have a drink of water.”

In the top of the sixth inning, Auburn was down 2-0. To open up the Tigers’ at-bat, Bello singled. Blake Rambusch did the same. Brody Moore knocked a fly ball to center field. 

Sonny DiChiara was hit by a wild pitch and thus the bases were loaded. Bobby Peirce was hit as well, walking in the first Auburn run of the day. Brooks Carlson struck out. With two outs and the most production the Tigers had had all day, Foster stepped up to the plate. 

“It was rough. So I’m on deck and I tell (Garett Farquhar), ‘Hey, get ready because I might not finish the game.’ I walk into the box and the umpire asks, ‘Cole, you okay?’ and I said ‘No.’ I go out — first pitch strike, swing at it," Foster said. "Second pitch — ball. One and one count.”

Then, the hit.

“He throws me another changeup and in the moment, I thought I’d hit fastball. Hit a changeup and ended up hitting a double off the wall," Foster said. "I remember looking up, pointing my finger then going straight to my knees, then I see Trenton (Reynolds) running out to get my elbow guard. It was just an awesome feeling but at the same time it was like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t even cheer.’” 

Three runs were batted in — Peirce, DiChiara and Rambusch were able to get across home. The Tigers were up 4-2 and that hit ultimately secured the win.

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“It was probably the biggest moment of my college career," Foster said. "(Head coach Butch Thompson) said that in his postgame interview, but it was definitely a great feeling to come out on top against Stanford.”

The base hit often made it onto the team’s highlight reels but the conclusion rarely did — Foster lands on the base, briefly celebrates the moment with his teammates and then doubles over at the waist, hands on knees.

“I remember running because I rounded first base and I almost fell and I was like, 'Oh my God, let me just get to the bag.’ I knew everyone thought I was about to throw up,” Foster said. “That’s what it looked like apparently.”

It was a 'flu game' performance from Foster, an effort that transcended what he should’ve been physically able to do and changed the scope of Auburn’s postseason berth.

“That was definitely the most sick I’ve ever been,” Foster said. “I think, in general, that was worse than when I had mono. That was worse than everything. It was brutal.”

Following that key double, Foster's teammates continued to do their job. 

“Bobby, later, got a double. Sonny had a big game. Rambo got a couple hits. Brooks Carlson, Kason, everybody,” Foster said. “I couldn’t have done it without everybody else because everyone had a huge part in it.”

In Auburn’s first College World Series win since 1997, the Tigers took down Stanford 6-2. Following that game against the Cardinal, the Tigers ran into SEC foe Arkansas, ultimately an 11-1 loss that put an end to the run in Omaha but regardless of the result, the experience marked a major milestone for the program.

It was a historic berth for the Tigers and one that hadn’t been anticipated by some — Auburn had been picked to finish seventh in the SEC West in a preseason coaches’ poll and ultimately finished as one of eight teams to make it to the College World Series. 

“Coming out predicted to finish seventh in the West and not make a regional, then we ended up hosting a regional,” Foster said. “To have that mindset of, ‘Oh, we weren’t going to be good enough,’ all year pushed us to what we turned out to be.”

Foster says a big part of what made the season so memorable to him was his teammates — the guys he played beside each day. The team received their College World Series rings on Oct. 29 in front of a packed Jordan-Hare Stadium crowd. 

“It was definitely a season that we’ll always remember and will always be a part of. Everybody was so close. Looking back, that’s what everyone wants as a team,” Foster said. “I think, to recap the season, it was just awesome…Seeing everybody come back, that was the best part.”

Auburn finished at 43-22 (16-13 in the SEC), capping off its season with a program-high eight players selected in the 2022 MLB Draft.

Looking to the upcoming season, Foster says it’s just a matter of a few “missing pieces that you have to fill,” but the 2022 season set the foundation for where Auburn’s program wants to be in the future.

Callie Stanford | Sports Editor

Callie Stanford, junior in communications, is the sports editor at the Auburn Plainsman. Currently a junior, she has been with The Plainsman since January 2021.

Twitter: @Stanford1Callie

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