Friday's meal-time celebrating wasn't new though. The evening before, having just arrived from Starkville, the Bulldogs were taken to a local eatery for the team meal. Which just happened to coincide with telecast of Thursday's opening-round Major League draft show. Other diners might have noticed that for a while all those young men were quietly intent.
Until all of a sudden, they weren't. When RH Hunter Renfroe's name was called, a lucky13th in fact, the Bulldogs exploded. "It was kind of shocking," Graveman said. "We were all quiet at first watching the TV. I think a lot of didn't understand, when they saw us cheering they were wondering what was going on? To look up on the screen and see someone from Mississippi State drafted in the first round, and for us to cheer it opened some eyes."
Ears, too. But then, "To build team chemistry that way is one thing," Graveman said. "To have a good time together as a team and family was great."
FEELING DRAFTY: Renfroe's first-round selection by San Diego made him the highest Bulldog draft since 2003, when pitcher Paul Maholm was the #8 overall pick. He even exceeded the 20th overall call by former teammate Chris Stratton in 2012. The junior outfielder had a reasonably good idea his name would be called Friday, and probably in the teens; so Renfroe wasn't surprised.
Relieved, yeah. But not surprised. So by Friday's practice, "I feel like a normal person I guess. I'm ready to play some baseball tomorrow and get after it. But I feel the about the same I always do, ready to play Saturday and get going."
For junior shortstop Frazier, going reasonably early on the second day was as much relaxing as thrilling. "I feel pretty blessed and excited to have the opportunity to play for the Pirates. And I'm glad to have that off my chest, and focus on playing ball now I guess. Especially as the day went on you kept getting a little more anxious, so it's definitely a big relief."
If those two juniors took the news with relative calm, well, a teammate had more than enough emotion to spare. "It's unbelievable," said 1B Wes Rea. "Because we came in with the same class, and I roomed with Hunter. These are my two best friends on the whole team so I feel blessed to be their friend and get to do stuff with them. It's kind of odd my two best friends are first on the team to be taken this year. And I can't be more happy for them."
A third-year sophomore Rea may yet be picked this draft is done. That, the big Dog isn't worried about. He's just too happy for his fellow 2011 rookies right now. "We were watching the draft together and it was crazy, I felt like it was me about to have my named called. Some tears came to my eyes, it was an unbelievable moment for me."
As day-two went on, Graveman was drafted in the eighth by Toronto; and a round later the Blue Jays also picked up LHP Chad Girodo.
FIELD & STREAM, AND SEA? Much as he welcomes selection by the Padres, that does leave one pressing matter for Renfroe. A serious outdoorsman, he is an accomplished deer hunter and even better at bagging both waterfowl in winter and turkey in spring. Neither of which southern California is noted for. So, should he make the big club…what is the real game in town?
"Maybe go fishing for marlin off the west coast?!"
NEW VENUE: Post-season baseball tournaments typically limit visiting teams' practice time on the host's field. Mississippi State isn't getting even that chance due to wet weather that arrived about as soon as they did in Charlottesville. Low clouds and occasional spits of rain remained much of Friday afternoon, which kept the infield tarped all day. The Bulldogs and Cavaliers for that matter had to settle for indoor activities as available.
State players at least got to look at Davenport Field today. Advance warning of its size—404 feet to center, 370 gaps and 332 corners—were correct, and encouraging at least to Bulldog pitchers.
"It's a big field, when I go to Trustmark that's what it reminds me of," said LHP Luis Pollorena. That's pretty high praise too, given the senior southpaw's fondness for the minor league park in Pearl. Teammates had their own comparisons, foremost the size.
"It looks a lot like Dudy Noble, the fences are pretty far back," Girodo said. "We haven't taken BP so I don't know how the ball flies, but it looks more like back home."
RHP Jonathan Holder, meanwhile, saw similarities to Auburn. Not in size as Plainsman Park has very reachable fences in right and center. "The stands come close the field," Holder said. "It has a big wall, just not just in leftfield. It's in center. It's deep, it's going to play like our field."
Graveman agreed with the Auburn aspects. "It's a very nice stadium, the acoustics seem like a couple of teams around our league. (But) the field is going to play like our home stadium as far as the outfield, the infield and dirt. So for us to be comfortable here is one thing we're trying to focus on right now."
The pitcher should have consulted with a fielder about how the field and dirt might play after all the rain, though. "The ball is going to stick if it's hit real high and come down," Renfroe said. "So the outfielders can't over-run a ball. We have to stay back on it and not let any balls past us and allow extra bases. Because in a ballpark like this you can turn a single into a triple."
That is a point of concern because Virginia specializes in two- and three-base hits as the stat sheet shows. They swing for gaps and corners more than for their own fences. Or the big wall in centerfield. Now that, and the dark-blue barrier running corner-to-corner, could help State in one way Renfroe said. "Maybe the only difference is the batters can see the ball better off the pitcher's hand. That's about it."
Playing another week in a spacious yard, like Dudy Noble Field or the Hoover-Met, allows State pitchers to stay with their specialties. "But we have to be able to pound the strike zone down low, like we always do," Pollorena said. "Because it's a big field it's not going to change our philosophy and try to leave balls up and try to get away with it."
UNFRIENDLY SKIES: The Diamond Dogs were certainly a chipper bunch Friday. They showed few signs of a Thursday scare. Their flight concluded with an improvised second-chance landing caused by rainy weather and low clouds crossing the Blue Ridge area in advance of the approaching-from-South tropical storm system. In fact, even Friday evening clouds still clung to the surrounding hills."
It had been worse Thursday evening. "It was hard to see the ground," Frazier said. "I know I couldn't see anything out the window, and I don't think the pilot could." Reportedly, team transportation majordomo Everett Kinnard could see the plane coming down when the flight crew's view was still obscured.
The result was a sudden lunge back skyward when the path didn't exactly match-up with the runway. "We got about a hundred feet from the ground and had to pull back up," said Graveman, who himself had already struggled to keep inner composure en route. "It was a good flight for everyone but me," Graveman said. At which fellow pitcher Ben Bracewell interjected—"It was worse to be sitting right beside him!"
"It was bumpy and rainy, yeah, it was bad," Graveman added. "(2B Brett) Pirtle was sitting next to me, the seatbelt light is on and he gets up and takes about a four-row stroll."
"And the lady tells him sit down honey!" Pollorena said. "And he says NO!" Happily after a quick climb and sharp turnaround, the plane did get successfully settled. Along with everyone's lunches.
Speaking of flights…Graveman has heard from some fans who won't be in Charlottesville this weekend. They have however committed to next week, should circumstances prevail. "People have told me we've already got our plane tickets and things like that to Nebraska. So that's one reason I really wanted to come back, to get to Omaha. To have that chance is special."
FINAL CUT: Holder found out between winning a regional and preparing for this super-round he is a finalist for the NCBWA's Stopper of the Year Award. The college baseball writers will choose between he, current saves leader Tyler Rogers of Austin Peay, UCLA's David Berg, Michael Lorenzen of Fullerton, and Oregon's Jimmie Sherfy.
The winner is announced June 15 at the College World Series. Holder, already a Louisville Slugger All-American and All-SEC pick, owns the MSU season record now with 17 saves this sophomore year. He is three-shy of the career record already, and despite working only out of the bullpen leads State in strikeouts with 81.
"It's an honor to be mentioned with some of those guys in there. And to come down to a finalist, I'm just blessed to be a reliever here at Mississippi State and get the opportunities I've had."
Not, Holder joked today, that he expects to work a lot this weekend if Virginia comes with their left-handed lineup. "I figure ‘Rodo will go 20 innings again! Ross, Pollo, we have a lot of people who can pitch."
TODAY'S TEAM, YESTERDAY'S OFFENSE: Mississippi State and Virginia have never met in baseball before. Coach John Cohen has scouted them this week and sees some things that harken back to, well, his own playing days. The Cavaliers crunch the ball.
"They have ‘old' numbers, meaning pre-changing of the bat numbers," Cohen said. He didn't mean home runs necessarily, though Virginia did hit 41 longballs in a fair-sized yard. Their .313 season average was best in the ACC, as was slugging at a .465 clip built on 132 doubles and 31 triples.
"They really swing the bat well, and they can hit situationally," said Cohen. "It's not just they score runs, they don't strike out. They get on base, they make the pitcher work every at-bat. They just don't give at-bats away."
Some of that description sounds suspiciously like what Mississippi State saw over the weekend from Central Arkansas, at least in terms of working for a lot of pitches and making contact on high counts. But those Bears are nothing like the Cavs to Cohen. "This is getting exponential here, you're definitely moving up. Everything is heightened when you look at their lineup and depth and the way they approach at-bats."
Pollorena, who most figure to get the ball Sunday, said by now he and his fellow pitchers have stopped looking so much at what Virginia batters do or don't. "We've got to focus on what we do. They're very good offensively but it's not going to change the way we approach hitters. We're going to stick with our identity and keep on doing what we've been doing all year. Because it's been working."
Cohen won't look past Friday's first pitch as to a game-two starter at this point. "I don't have any thoughts beyond (Graveman). The neat thing about game one is you get to watch your opponent play. For us, our biggest issue is who we use in relief rather than who is starting. Getting an opportunity to see a really, really good Virginia club play against us, we're going to get a chance to evaluate that lineup and see is the best matchup."