Sims Managing A Role With Bulldog Bullpen

Dudy Noble Field folk are used to checking Diamond Dogs trotting to the bullpen. What most don't know is who awaits each new round of relievers. Or how much responsibility Ronald Sims accepts in preparing them for high-pressure duty. "They do trust me, and it means a lot to me," the manager said.

That's right, the manager. Sims is the ranking student staffer for Mississippi State's support team this season, in his fourth year in fact. As such he attends to all the usual tasks, or at least has the four younger managers under his charge do them. Rank does hath privileges after all, and the Hazelhurst native has done his time since coming to campus from Copiah-Lincoln C.C.

What makes Sims a story though is the extra and interesting job of bullpen catcher. He's not the only one to be sure; there are roster Dogs available. The fact remains Sims has been the backstop of choice for many of this pitching staff during the regular season.

"I did catch in high school," Sims said. "It wasn't much of ‘baseball' though, I'd consider what I do here a lot more baseball!" As well as a lot of extra work. Instead of sticking around the dugout and doing in-game items or just enjoying the action, Sims stays busy. Or just plain stays in the bullpen with Coach Greg Drye, ready to swing into immediate action as game events indicate.

Sims has been serving as warm-up catcher for a couple of years already, so it's not a novelty to be sure. Yet outsiders would still be surprised as just how much faith the coaching staff and pitching corps have in him. Nor does Sims take it for granted.

"Not being able to play on this level but having guys believing in you and wanting to throw to you," he said, "It makes you comfortable back there. And being in a situation where you feel you're helping out the program in a lot of different ways." One of them also being handling the ‘chip barks' stick, an informal tradition begun in 2011 where Sims finds a proper piece of wild wood to be trimmed into a rough walking stick; then smoothed, varnished, and carved with a season-long highway of opponents and the ultimate NCAA goal. The '13 version is more ornate than ever.

So, how about some bullpen dirt, hey? Who is the toughest Bulldog pitcher Sims has to warm-up on the current staff? The answer doesn't surprise. "This year I'd have to say Evan Mitchell. Everybody knows he's kind of struggled a little bit But lately he's starting to figure it out in the pen so it's a little bit easier to catch."

OK, so who challenged him most in the past? "Oh, man, probably Devin Jones. That was a high-velocity guy when he was here. And he was a little sporadic at times, he didn't always have exact control over the ball. But as you know he's done well since he left and figured some things out. And I've caught him since then, and he's definitely gotten better."

Moving to the other end of the tough/easy spectrum, again it isn't a shock that "I would definitely say Ross Mitchell is one of the easiest guys. He doesn't have much velocity! But he definitely knows what he is doing when he's throwing it." Which is after all the whole idea of warming a pitcher to start or step in. Sims and Drye aren't there just to get an arm loose or up to speed; they are judging how ‘in tune' the next guy is for who and what and why and etc.

And a good bullpen catcher can tell very quickly, maybe better than even the pitching coach could.

"It's definitely easier when guys on the bump have an idea of what they're doing," Sims said. "It makes it a lot easier to get back there and get comfortable and make sure they're in rhythm to go into the game and perform well."

Speaking of having an idea… There are those specific pitchers who absolutely have their own notions. And other stuff. Experience gives Sims perspective on how to handle such individuals, and especially a true individualist like Jonathan Holder. Talk about the closer's legendary routine is entirely true, per Sims.

"Jonathan is definitely one of those sticklers! He has his own routine and I try to do my part in it, but I don't ask any questions when he's in his routine! He does as many throws, I stand where I need to, I receive the ball and I get it back to him!" And everybody lives happily ever after.

It's not attitude of course, just a guy who knows his business. Besides, Sims likes handling Holder for other good reasons. Even that wicked curveball. "It's actually easy to receive. He has an idea where it's going. You can just put your glove out there and feel comfortable." Of course Sims isn't trying to hit that big ol' hook either.

Such stories need a good beginning and Sims' has one. He enrolled at State after junior college and wanted to be part of the baseball program. The bullpen catching opportunity came soon after; the acceptance took some natural time, and approval by the real experts.

"It was I think Caleb Reed that actually started it. He just said Ron, I like the way you receive the ball, it makes me feel comfortable on the mound. And his performance here at State, all the guys saw what he did and they liked his success. So I think they wanted to emulate what he did."

And the rest as they say…"It went to Kendall and Pollo and some of those guys don't want to throw to anyone but me! So I'm appreciative of that from them."

Or take the example of Chris Stratton. Sims says this is an excellent case for never giving up on a guy with obvious ability despite a rough stretch. And Stratton certainly struggled as a 2011 sophomore, losing his starting job by May. Then 13 months later he was a first-round draft choice and today is on a fast track to the show.

Sims saw the change from one year to next. "It wasn't the same guy. And that just comes with experience and understanding how to control things. They understand the control of the ball a lot better."

Barring some much-wanted help in the form of an upset in Charlottesville, this weekend sees Sims in the DNF bullpen for the last time(s). And, only in practices now; NCAA post-season roster rules cap the number of coaches and staff who can participate so Sims won't be warming-up guys during games. Regardless, Sims has had a fine time of it, and naturally would love to pull on the armor in Omaha practices in a couple of weeks. Afterwards?

"I don't know if I'll have an opportunity to catch anywhere else! But I definitely enjoyed it while I was here."

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