Auburn at Tennessee
Records: Tennessee (23-28, 5-22 SEC); Auburn (28-25, 13-14 SEC)
* Time: 6 p.m.
* Pitchers: LHP Steven Gruver (4-7, 4.08) vs. RHP Jon Luke Jacobs (1-3, 3.44)
* Promotions: Thirsty Thursday: All 20 oz. drinks are $1; Trading Card Set #5 Giveaway to first 500 fans.
* Time: 6 p.m.
* Pitchers: RHP Nick Blount (1-4, 5.52) vs. RHP Derek Varnadore (5-2, 3.60)
* Promotions: Dollar Hot Dog Night; Mascot Night; Free skin cancer/stroke screenings courtesy of UT Medical Center; Show your UTMC ID and receive free admission.
Time: 2 p.m.
* Pitchers: TBA vs. TBA
* Promotions: Senior Day ceremony prior to game; Kids 17 & under get in free and will receive a coupon for free food and drink. They can also run the bases and get autographs from the team on the field post-game; BINGO Day: Play for a chance to win free Chick-fil-a for a year; Badges and Ladders: All police, fire fighters and EMT receive free admission with ID.
Mike Hamilton never issued a public ultimatum.
The Tennessee athletic director probably didn't really need to explicitly outline the bar for his baseball coach anyway.
After three years without postseason action of any kind under Todd Raleigh, in some ways the standard for his fourth season was implied before it even began. And with a berth in the SEC tournament long since out of reach for the Vols before the season-ending series with Auburn that starts this evening at Lindsey Nelson Stadium, perhaps all that's left to play for is Raleigh's future and team pride.
And in the aftermath of another disheartening non-conference loss to Belmont on Tuesday night, Raleigh made clear those two issues should remain separate.
"I've never addressed it (the future) to the team one time," Raleigh said. "I just don't think it's the place to do that. These are college kids, they're not professional. They need to go out and play and they need to stay focused on what they're doing.
"I'm a professional, and I'm going to show up every day, chop wood all day long and work as hard as I can. We'll be as prepared this weekend against Auburn as we always are, and I expect the same from (the players). It's just one of those things, and I don't bring them in on that situation. I've never once, and I never will. It's not for them."
The ultimate decision will have a direct impact on the Vols (23-28, 5-22 SEC) going forward, and like his preseason stance, Hamilton hasn't made any open declarations of which way he might be leaning at this point. He declined comment about the coaching situation in a text message to the News Sentinel this week, but Hamilton has spoken on several occasions about his high expectations on the diamond - specifically because baseball has the advantage of a fertile local recruiting area that he says should lend itself to at least being competitive in the league.
"The goals haven't changed," Hamilton said before the season. "Ultimately we want our baseball program to be consistently in the SEC and NCAA tournaments.
"I don't ever project forward or anything like that, because you never know what's going to happen over so many games. But I think Todd is a guy who came here knowing what the expectations are, and I think he's excited about those expectations and feels good about his ability to meet them with the team we have."
Instead, Year Four under Raleigh will end in the same way as the previous three, with the Vols on the outside of the top eight spots in the SEC - the minimum requirement for the conference tournament and generally enough to get teams into the NCAA tournament.
UT rarely threatened to qualify this year, battling injuries, poor hitting, inconsistent pitching and then falling apart down the stretch with all those issues contributing to the 11-game conference losing streak it takes into the final three games of the season with the Tigers (28-25, 13-14 SEC).
"I mean, you've got to finish it out," Raleigh said. "We started great, and I knew going into the year we were going to have to have some things go our way, you know, and with injuries, I feel like if we had stayed healthy it would have been a little different.
"I'm just staying focused on that right now, you know what I mean? We're banged up, we only hit 11 people before the game, most people hit 16 in the batting practice groups, and we have to deal with that, too. But you still have to play, it doesn't matter what your situation is. I'm just staying focused on that right now. I'm not worried about stuff like (the future) right now, I'm really not. I don't have time for that."