(Ryan Gridley) Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Mississippi State shortstop Ryan Gridley is rounding into one of the better middle infielders in the Southeastern Conference.

Mississippi State shortstop Ryan Gridley is becoming a bit of a household name around the Magnolia State. The talented sophomore has become a mainstay in the Diamond Dawg line-up as well as a reliable middle infielder. With the Bulldogs in the thick of things in the race for the Southeastern Conference crown, Gridley is working hard to excel in all phases of his life.

The Milton, Georgia native won a spot in the Mississippi State starting line up last season as a true freshman earning post season honors as the shortstop on the SEC's All-Freshmen team. Now bigger, faster, stronger and more experienced, Gridley is rounding into one of the league's top six hole defenders.

"I am just a lot more comfortable at the plate and in the field," Gridley said. "I have been here. I have seen the crowds and I have seen the pitching. I just feel like everything has slowed down for me now that I have played a year in the league."

The season began with Gridley manning the second sack, while John Holland was working back from an injury. Freshman Luke Alexander filled in at Gridley's regular spot at short. The personable Gridley reports that he is most comfortable where his team needs him the most.

"I would say that I am probably more of a short stop, but I am willing to play anywhere," Gridley said. "I just want to help us. I don't ever complain if he wants to put me somewhere else. I just do what Coach (John) Cohen needs me to do. Shortstop is probably my favorite position, but I just want to help this team be successful."

As a freshman, Gridley hit .243 with ten extra base hits in 169 at bats. During the current campaign, opposing pitchers have seen more balls with with more authority when #10 has come to the plate.

"I feel like I have really begun to drive the ball more this season." Gridley said. "Last year, I didn't feel like I had that 'pop' in my bat. Now I feel like I can pose a threat in the line-up this year. I think my arm has gotten a lot better since last year as well, so I have been able to make some difficult plays in the six hole."

The 2016 Bulldogs are a blend of talented veterans and rising underclassmen stars. The emotional and physical demands of a full season are difficult to prepare for, so Gridley has done his part to try and prepare the newcomers for the long haul.

"Those guys are so good," Gridley said of the freshmen contributors. "They came out of high school and they were ready to go. I try to do anything I can to help them. Like if we're talking about 1st and 3rd plays, I may need to remind them where they need to be. Those guys are all really good, but they know that they can always ask any of us for help."

On the road at then #1 Florida, Gridley stroked a solo home run that helped the Bulldogs to a 2-1 victory and series win over the Gators. That hero moment was a big one for both Bulldog team and player. Gridley explains that the role of the big stick in the line-up rotates around with regularity.

"You never have to really put it on yourself," Gridley said. "In high school, you know that if you don't perform that your team is going to lose. Here it's not like that at all. If you don't have a big game, you can still depend on the guys in front of you or behind you to make plays and hit the ball."

A consistent theme in Bulldog player interviews is the talk of a unity and togetherness. In the words of each individual it appears to be all about the team. 

"This team is really close," Gridley said. "This team probably has better chemistry than any team I have ever been on, way more than what we had last year. The guys are all really competitive and we click really well when we're on the field."

With players coming in and out of the line-up at times during the season, consistent playing time can be hard to come by. With John Holland completely healthy, freshman Luke Alexander saw Holland getting more of his at bats.

Recently, Alexander came in off of the bench and launched a two run home run deep into the left field lounge. Two of the first players to greet Alexander after he touched home were Gridley and Holland.

"That was awesome," Gridley said with a smile. "We really like him. He's such a good guy and he's quiet. He just does his job and he doesn't complain if things don't go his way. He just gets it done. He never gets over emotional. When hit that home run, he came around and just touched home plate like it was nothing. We all really appreciate him."

There have been some big moments for the Diamond Dawgs this season with a sweep of then #10 Oregon and huge road series wins at Vanderbilt and Florida. The stage in this league is among the biggest in all of college baseball. Those big moments on the big stage are some of the things that drew Gridley to Mississippi State.

"We all love the competition that we face," Gridley said. "In a three week stretch, we played Florida and (Texas) A&M and now we're about to play LSU. Those are some of the best teams in the country. I feel like we're one of the best teams in the country and that is why I am here."

Not short of confidence, Gridley firmly believes that this Mississippi State team belongs in the national conversation. The talented shortstop credits that team's work ethic and approach to preparation as keys to the team's success.

"It's just how we work and all of the things we do when nobody else is looking," Gridley explained. "We have some real power in this line-up and some real speed. You can just tell that we have some of the guys it takes to be the #1 team in the country. If it all comes together, then I really feel like we can win it all this year."

While winning a national championship is one of Gridley's biggest goals, he is hoping to use his platform as an SEC student athlete to share his faith in things other than baseball. Every at bat at Dudy Noble stadium, Gridley uses his walk-up song to share his beliefs.

"David Crowder is one of my favorite guys," Gridley said. "I am really into Christian music. I heard that song when I was at home hitting during Christmas break. I thought that was it and that it would be perfect for my walk-up song. It's got a great message and I feel like people are starting to get into it a little bit.

"I have gotten a lot of feedback for the song, which is really cool. I think about Christianity all of the time. I feel like that is my main objective. Baseball is not my main objective. My main objective is to spread the Gospel, so if I can do that by playing a simple song to get people to think about God, then that is exactly what I am here for."

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