If Auburn had offered Sydney Booker a softball scholarship, she would have turned it down.
Alabama’s shortstop was just raised that way. Her father played football for the Crimson Tide. Her hair may be orange, but she bleeds crimson.
“That’s petty,” she said, “but I don’t think so. He probably would have disowned me. That wouldn’t have happened.”
Booker, a senior from Madison who transferred to UA after her freshman season, will make her only trip to Auburn this weekend. The 12th-ranked Crimson Tide opens SEC play with a three-game series against the Tigers starting Friday.
No. 12 Alabama at No. 13 Auburn
Where: Jane B. Moore Field in Auburn
When: Friday at 6 p.m., Saturday at 7 p.m., Sunday at 5 p.m.
Records: Alabama 18-5, 0-0 SEC; Auburn 25-5, 0-3 SEC
TV: Saturday ESPNU, Sunday SEC Network
Radio: 93.3 FM
Booker understands the rivalry. Her father, David, was a member of Alabama’s 1978 and ’79 national championship teams, playing split end under legendary coach Paul W. “Bear” Bryant.
“For the in-state girls it probably means a little more because you grow up mostly one-sided. I definitely was,” she said. “I was raised not to like the other school at all.”
Sydney says her father doesn’t like any other SEC schools, and especially has disdain for Auburn.
“That’s not true,” David Booker said. “I like a lot of SEC teams, but it’s just a rivalry – a huge rivalry – with Auburn. It was always a huge game when we played them.
“There’s an Alabama competitiveness in me. I’d rather beat Auburn than a lot of things.”
Before Sydney followed in her father’s footsteps to the Capstone, she followed him onto the football field. She played from age 7 through sixth grade. Running back, linebacker, tight end, defensive end, defense back: she played it all.
“She was something,” her father said. “She’s knock the crap out of you. She literally made some boys cry out there.
“She was really good, just a natural. I’d never seen anything like it.”
She gave up football before middle school. By the time she was in high school she was a softball recruit. She ended up at Southeastern Louisiana, a smaller NCAA Division I program. Alabama didn’t offer her a scholarship at the time.
“It wasn’t a big deal,” Sydney said. “It really wasn’t. I was just trying to go somewhere that was going to help me out (financially) with school. Southeastern was the best option in that situation.”
As a freshman, she started 53 games and batted .362, driving in 49 runs. She was a top-25 finalist for national freshman of the year honors.
After one season, she asked for a release. The coach was leaving and she was determined to see if she could play at a higher level. She called Alabama coach Patrick Murphy to gauge his interest.
She was at work at a pizza place when he called her back.
“Are you a waitress?” he asked.
“Are you making pizzas?”
“Well what do you do?”
“I’m the delivery person,” she said.
Murphy liked that. She needed money and was willing to earn it. He offered her the chance to play at Alabama. He told her he probably should have recruited her out of high school and she told him things happen for a reason.
“She had perspective,” he said.
Seeing her play in Alabama crimson was her father’s dream.
“He’s as Alabama as they come and he’s very, very proud that she’s here,” Murphy said.
Booker is batting .226 with three RBIs so far this season, but her defense is what has garnered her a small degree of fame. Three times at UA she has been featured on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” top 10 plays of the day.
Murphy remembers when she was a freshman and UA was practicing indoors. The baseball team was waiting to practice next. Booker made a play on a ball hit up the middle and Mitch Gaspard, Alabama’s baseball coach at the time, was wowed.
“Who the hell is that shortstop,” he asked, “and can I have her?”
Booker is excited about the chance to play at Auburn. She knows the stands will be full and the crowd will be loud.
“We definitely want to go in and do some damage down there,” she said.
If she needs a reminder about what this series means, her father will be there to remind her.
“I’ve been on the girls, you’ve got to win this weekend,” David Booker said. “I think they know what’s at stake.”
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224.