AUBURN, Ala. (WEGL) — For Auburn’s baseball chaplain Scott Shepherd, two things have always been a constant in his life: his love for the game of baseball and his love for Auburn. However, he would say that both pale in comparison to his love for the Lord.
Shepherd grew up in Atlanta in an Auburn family. His grandfather, an Auburn alumnus, was the first play-by-play radio announcer for Auburn baseball. His brother and his sister went to Auburn as well. He would come visit his siblings and attend Auburn games regularly. He “fell in love” with Auburn. It makes a lot of sense that he would grow up loving both Auburn and baseball.
Shepherd played baseball in high school. He was not a highly recruited player in high school. He got some offers to play for some community college and junior college teams, but his heart was set on coming to Auburn and playing for the school that he loved. “I’d rather come here and not play than go somewhere and play,” Shepherd said. Shepherd ended up walking on to the Auburn team his freshman year.
When he got to college, he had never been on his own before. A former honor student in high school, Shepherd initially struggled in the classroom at Auburn. He failed his first class. During that same time period, Auburn baseball coach Hal Baird redshirted Shepherd for his freshman season. Shepherd felt somewhat lost. “Two of the huge rocks in my life were athletics and academics. Both of those were kind of taken away, and I didn't really have anything left,” Shepherd said. As a result, Shepherd turned to partying and got away from the faith that he had grown up with.
One Sunday during his freshman year, Shepherd woke up and was “dissatisfied” and knew something was missing in his life. He showed up to Lakeview Church, the church that his sister had attended in Auburn. That morning an evangelist named Junior Hill was speaking and sharing the gospel. Shepherd decided to step forward and receive Christ. Shepherd points to that moment as the moment that his life changed. “It was just awesome,” Shepherd said.
Shepherd got involved with Athletes in Action and Campus Crusade on campus at Auburn. He started going to church more regularly. Rick Stark and John Hardie, the Auburn baseball chaplains at the time, discipled Shepherd throughout his college years. Through them, Shepherd began working for Athletes in Action.
Shepherd continued to play for Auburn. He was never a started. His role was that of a backup on the field. But off the field, Shepherd was much more than that. “It was cool how God placed me in a leadership role,” Shepherd said. He began leading the team’s Bible study with Jay Waggoner and Mark Bellhorn.
After college, Shepherd went on staff with Athletes in Action. He spent five and half years at Clemson acting as the baseball team’s chaplain. After his time at Clemson, Shepherd went to Xenia, Ohio, for a little over a year and a half to the Athletes in Action training center to help train new staff members for Athletes in Action. Finally, Shepherd took a position at Georgia with Athletes in Action and spent over thirteen years as the chaplain for Georgia’s Olympic sports teams.
About four years ago, an opportunity emerged at Auburn for Shepherd to come back to the school that he loves. The opportunity came out of the previous relationship that Shepherd had formed with current Auburn baseball coach Butch Thompson while he was an assistant at Georgia from 2002 to 2005. The two had stayed in touch throughout Thompson’s career. When Thompson was hired at Auburn in 2016, Shepherd reached out to Thompson to congratulate him. Not realizing that Auburn had already given Thompson a new phone and phone number, Shepherd never heard back.
Later that year on one of the Saturdays during football season, Shepherd brought his family to Auburn to attend Auburn’s football game against Idaho. Once Shepherd got to Auburn, he took his family to visit Plainsman Park where he had played years ago. It was in front of Plainsman Park that Shepherd ran into Thompson. They began to catch up and reconnect. Shepherd asked Thompson if he wanted a team chaplain. Shepherd admits that he was not even thinking of himself; he was thinking of several people he thought would have been good fits around the Auburn area. Thompson told him, “‘I’m not really looking for a chaplain. I’m looking for someone to disciple our young men. I’m looking for someone like you.”
From that point on, Thompson, known for his prowess on the recruiting trail around the nation, began recruiting Shepherd to return to his alma mater to become the team’s chaplain. After a few months, Shepherd said that it was obvious that God wanted him to come back home. He made trips to come meet with the Coach Thompson and the staff. He became more and more fired up about a potential future at Auburn.
When he would return home, Shepherd said that the comfort and familiarity of his life in Athens set in. It took one statement from Shepherd’s eleven-year-old daughter Bailey for Shepherd to make up his mind that he wanted to come back to Auburn. “[Bailey] said, ‘Dad, don’t you know that God wants us to come. Why don’t you stop wavering and make the decision?’” Shepherd said. Shepherd believed that God was telling him to come back to Auburn for good. Shepherd called Thompson the next day to let him know that he was coming home to Auburn.
Shepherd admits that the first season was not the best in terms of building a ministry in the baseball program due to the fact that he still lived in Athens and had to commute to Auburn every weekend. Shepherd and his family moved to Auburn that June and have been back on the Plains for three years.
Moving back to Auburn allowed Shepherd to take a larger role as the team’s chaplain. He leads chapel during the season. He leads Bible studies with the players and coaches. He takes the time to meet with players and discuss where they are in their faith. The players have embraced “Shep” as they call him. “Coach Thompson really wanted somebody who could be here for the guys, and someone that could relate with me being a former player,” Shepherd said.
Shepherd has loved his time at Auburn. He has enjoyed watching Coach Thompson build the baseball program up. Likewise, Shepherd has built a ministry in the program. Shepherd has seen so many of the players in his four seasons at Auburn open up to the ministry. He has gotten a front-row seat to watch how their lives have changed. To get the opportunity to foster a ministry in the baseball program that he was once a part of has been an experience that Shepherd would not trade for anything.
“I have the best job in the world,” he says.