LEWISTON – It had been two months since Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier, but the tension in the Brooklyn Dodgers’ clubhouse was still so palpable that even a fresh-faced kid from Auburn could feel it.

Tom Auger was at Ebbetts Field in Brooklyn for a three-day tryout with the Dodgers in June of 1947. He’d just graduated as a three-sport star from Edward Little, and had come to Brooklyn via Boston, where the Red Sox had put him through a one-day tryout at Fenway Park.

The short visit to the borough made quite an impression on Auger. Now, with Major League Baseball celebrating the 60th anniversary of Robinson’s historic achievement, the memories are rushing back to him.

Like the first time he set foot in the big league locker room.

“The white guys were on one side of the dressing room, and Jackie Robinson sat by himself on the other side,” Auger, 79, recalled from his Lewiston home. “It wasn’t too friendly of an atmosphere.”

Right-fielder Dixie Walker, a popular, Georgia-born team leader, had circulated a petition during spring training, protesting having to play with a black man. General Manager Branch Rickey heard about the potential mutiny and suppressed it before the season started. But even though some of Robinson’s white teammates had begun to embrace him by the time Auger arrived for his tryout, Robinson was still far from gaining total acceptance by his own team.

“There was plenty of tension in the locker room,” Auger said. “I think Jackie got most of the problems.”

“I was very impressed with Jackie Robinson,” he added. “I think I respected him more than I did Dixie Walker, Carl Furillo and the guys that were giving him trouble.”

Part of Auger’s tryout was to throw batting practice against some of the Dodgers, including Robinson. Unfortunately for the man that would be named Rookie of the Year in 1947, Auger didn’t have his best stuff that particular day.

“He asked me to throw him a curveball, and the curveball didn’t break and I knocked him on his ass,” Auger said with a chuckle. “He said, ‘No more. No more curves. Just throw it in here.'”

Auger still impressed the Dodgers enough for them to offer him a contract to play with their Class B club (equivalent to today’s Double-A) in Nashua, N.H. There, he would have played with Dodger legends in the making such as Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe. But Auger, knowing he still had a tryout scheduled with a St. Louis Cardinals scout back in Lewiston, turned them down.

He did sign with the Cardinals to play for their Triple-A club in Columbus, where he counted Joe Garagiola and Harvey Haddix among his teammates. But he never saw the field. He traveled with the team, pitched batting practice, and “did a lot of the dirty work that needed to be done.”

“I was out of my league there,” he said. “I should have went to Nashua. I think I would have felt more comfortable.”

He finally saw action playing for the Cardinals’ Class B and C teams in Albany, Ga., and Duluth, Minn., then was released in spring training. He then played independent ball in Halifax before injuring his rotator cuff, and hung up his glove and spikes for good.

Auger went into the tire business and eventually founded VIP Discount Auto Center. He was inducted into the Auburn-Lewiston Sports Hall of Fame in 1993.

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