(Photo of Riley Self) Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Mississippi State freshman pitcher Riley Self reflects on the realization of his childhood dream of being a Bulldog.

In less than 24 hours, lifelong Mississippi State fan Riley Self will show up and suit up in the only college baseball he ever wanted to wear. The Diamond Dawgs open the season on Friday afternoon at 4 PM against Texas Tech. For Self, he will finally be able to call himself a bona fide Bulldog of the baseball order.

While many college baseball prospects sweat out the process and spend time agonizing over their decisions, Self set his sights on a future in Maroon and White as soon as he was offered the opportunity. 

"Things got going between my 8th and 9th grade year," Riley Self said. "They came to see me pitch at Ole Miss that summer when I was pitching for my summer ball team. I think I committed that following January.

"I am happy with how things worked out. I was happy to get out of the way. I didn't have to worry about impressing anybody else or taking a lot of trips. I grew up a State fan, so once they offered I knew what I wanted to do."

Major league baseball scouts followed Self throughout his high school career, but the former Magnolia Heights Academy ace had his mind made up. The talented right hander wanted to play for Mississippi State and chase his dream of Omaha and a possible national championship in Maroon.

"This is amazing for me," Self said. "It's a dream come true for me to be able to take that field and do what I have always dreamed of doing. I can't wait for Friday. It doesn't matter to me where they plan to use me. I just want to help the team out in every way I can this year. It doesn't matter if they want me to start during the mid-week or come in for relief on the weekend. I am going to do my best no matter what role I have on the team."

Self begins his college career under the supervision of Coach Gary Henderson, one of the top pitching coaches in the country. The talented freshman hurler reports that Henderson has had a consistent message for him throughout the preparations for the season.

"He is always telling me to stay strong and really work on the mental part of the game," Self said. "I have to be able to control the game and know where I want to go with the ball. I have to be able to attack the base runners and attack the hitters on both sides of the plate. He's done a great job of helping me get ready."

With a semester of fall ball under his belt as well as his first pre-season practices now complete, Self believes he is ready to toe the college rubber and see how he measures up against D1 competition.

"I feel like I have made a lot of progress controlling the hitters and messing with their heads a little bit," Self said. "I have been working hard to have better command of my pitches and being able to spot them up on the corners. I want to really control my fastball."

Self will take the field at Dudy Noble for the first time with long time teammate and good friend Dustin Skelton. The high school battery mates will be able to develop and mature together as Bulldog baseballers this year.

"We grew up together. He has been my full time catcher since I was thirteen," Self said of Skelton. "We went to high school together and we played summer ball together. Once I committed, I was telling him that my catcher had to come with me. Just having him here is just amazing. I enjoy having him behind the plate. It's real special."

New Bulldog skippper Andy Cannizaro spoke glowingly about Self and Skelton during his pre-season press conference last Saturday. The positive impact of that praise from the first year head coach is not lost on the talented first year pitcher.

"It doesn't put pressure on me, but I know we have to prove ourselves," Self said. "I am glad to hear him say things like that, but I know that I still have to go out there with a chip on my shoulder and prove myself."

The proving grounds will open up Friday afternoon. While there is no guarantee that Self will pitch this weekend, the talented frosh reports that the first pitch of the season will bring the realization of a lifelong dream.

"I think it will really hit me when we get under the lights,' Self shared. "I have been watching these guys my whole life. Now I get to go out and practice with them and take the field with them. This has always been what I wanted and I have enjoyed every second of it so far."

Mississippi State will take on Texas Tech at 4 PM Friday as part of a four game opening weekend that will have the Bulldogs playing a pair of games against Texas Tech and Western Illinois.

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