Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Bulldog right fielder Brent Rooker readies for one of the biggest weekends of his life

One will have to forgive Mississippi State sophomore Brent Rooker if he is a little late returning calls and texts this weekend. With a chance to lead his team to college baseball's promised land of Omaha, Nebraska and the possibility of being selected in the Major League Baseball draft, #19 has a few irons in the proverbial fire. Having the chance to play baseball at the highest levels is the dream of most Diamond Dawgs, but Rooker reports his team is doing their best to keep their focus.

While the pro squads will play the grandest version of picking teams of them all, Rooker understands that the roster that currently bears his name has some lofty goals left to reach. The Arizona Wildcats are already in town and preparing to battle the Bulldogs for a spot in the eight team field of Omaha.

"We have kept it a normal week," Rooker explained. "We have just been practicing the same way we have all season. We have been in the weight room keeping our bodies in good physical condition. We are getting ready to go this weekend.

"We feel like what we have been doing all year has been working, so we haven't really changed anything. Our practice schedule and routine is still basically the same as it's been all year."

Bulldog skipper John Cohen has commented several times over the course of the season how loose the Bulldog locker room is and how relaxed the team has remained even through the pressure packed weekends of the SEC. 

Rooker explains that the Bulldogs simply enjoy playing together. No matter the stakes, the team continues to play the same game they have as little leaguers even though the moments have grown along with them. 

"The main reason that we are so loose is that we have a locker room full of guys that like each other," Rooker shared. "We just enjoy being around each other. When that's the case. you're going to have a good time every time you take the field in practice or games.

"That is one of the reasons that we have performed well in tough circumstances. We have kept the same mindset. What we have been doing has been working, so we're just going to keep rolling with what we've been doing."

The Wildcats of the Pac-12 will bring both momentum and tradition when they take the field at Dudy Noble Field. Rooker reports that the Bulldogs will dig into the finer details of the Wildcat program today as game one of the best two of three series begins on Friday.

"They are playing really well right now," Rooker said of Arizona. "I believe they have won ten of their last eleven games. As a west coast team, we know that their pitching and defense will be really, really good. They may play some small ball to score some runs.

"We will prepare for them sort of the same way we did for UCLA and Cal-State Fullerton. We know that they're playing well and anybody playing in the Super Regionals is a great team. We just feel like if we do what we have done all year and that's play hard that we will be okay."

Rooker earned Most Outstanding Player honors last weekend in the Starkville Regional as the Bulldogs won their hosting site's spot into the next round. While any personal accolades are appreciated, Rooker brushes that aside in favor of the team achievement.

"Last weekend was a special weekend and it was a lot of fun," Rooker shared. "I was fortunate to get some RBIs and get us some leads, but in order for me to drive runs in there have to be guys on base. Guys did a good job getting on base in front of me. Our pitching staff was phenomenal and we played great defense. 

"It was basically three team wins and multiple guys contributed and that is what makes our team really good."

On Thursday, the Major League Baseball draft will begin. Rooker is the only draft eligible sophomore on the Bulldog roster. While some of his upperclassmen teammates have seen their names in mock drafts, there is a strong possibility that Rooker is selected as well.

"I have had some contact with some teams." Rooker explained. "I have talked to a good number of them, but that is not where my focus is right now. My focus is on winning a Super Regional and getting back to Omaha. 

"We have so many talented, older guys who are going to get picked. They are all very deserving of that, but we are focused on winning two games this weekend. The other things will take care of themselves."

For many college baseball players the draft is the final step in their college careers. For prospects still competing for a shot at a National Championship, the selection process can be a bit of a distraction. Rooker believes he and his teammates have done a good job balancing the here and now with what may come.

"I think all of us have done a good job keeping that on the back burner for now," Rooker said. "We're not too worried about it. I don't think it's a real concern at all. It will be a bit of relief when it's all over, but nobody is really overly concerned about it right now.

"I think we're doing a good job with it and just dealing with it in the right way and keeping our mindset on where it should be."

There is a good chance that some Bulldog baseballers will have their names called during the draft, while they are battling for win against Arizona. Rooker admits that thought has crossed his mind.

"I know for me, on Friday, I am giving my phone to my dad," Rooker grinned. "I am not going to want to see it all day. I am just going to wait and find out after the game. I am sure most everybody else will do things the same way.

"It is going to be a really fun weekend for this program in the sense that we're going to have a lot of guys get picked and that we're playing in a Super Regional. We have the chance to go to Omaha in front of hopefully record crowds here at home. I'm excited about everything.

"This is why you come to Mississippi State. You get the chance to play in front of 10,000 in a regional and then probably more than that in a Super Regional. It's the atmosphere, it's the history and the passion of these fans for Mississippi State and this team. That's why everyone in that locker room is here."

Like every Bulldog team before them. the 2016 Diamond Dawgs came into the year wanting to add to the Mississippi State legacy. With an SEC Title, a Regional championship and even bigger stakes to play for, Rooker believes his team is writing their names alongside some of the best to ever wear the Maroon and White.

"We have a collection of guys who are really talented," Rooker said. "We have three All-Americans already, Dakota Hudson is going to get picked in the first round and when you look around that locker room, it's amazing.

"You look at the amount of talent that it takes to win as many games as we have and it's amazing. I believe in my heart that there are four or five big leaguers sitting in that locker room everyday. That's a special feeling knowing you're part of a team like that."

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