“Absolutely,” says the senior Diamond Dog. “This game will humble you in a heartbeat. Everyone knows that, that’s played the game for this long.”
Cody Brown has played baseball for a long time, and Mississippi State baseball now for four varsity seasons. Rather than see himself as a finished sort of product, Brown has stayed open to changes.
That’s both in his defensive duties, and at the plate. This senior is suddenly the Most Versatile Player in the lineup and delivering in each area.
Such as on offense. Over the last ten games Brown is 15-of-37, a stretch which coincides with a pretty major move. To cleanup, of all places. It’s a slot which safe to say does not exactly match…much of anything.
“It’s a different spot in the four-hole for me,” Brown agreed. “I’m more of a get-on-base kind of guy, leadoff-type approach. But moving me into that role has been good.” Obviously so. This recent heating-up has raised Brown’s season average to .302, for example.
But there’s more to the better batting that slotting. Here is where the new tricks comes in. This older Dog listened to advice after a slower start to the senior season.
“I had to clean up my approach a little bit. It’s a big point of emphasis, me and Coach Brown talked a good bit about that. The approach cleans up the stroke, is what he says.”
So, about that approach? “I started looking out over the plate, looking more left-center gap, things like that. And starting to pull more baseball cleanly, not rolling-over as many.
“Just looking out over the plate like that can really clean up a swing. I’m hitting balls more flush because of it and getting into better hitters counts and stuff just by recognizing pitches out of the hand earlier.”
Brown surely saw one well a week ago. In Friday’s game-two against Ole Miss he got all the way around on the Rebel pitch and lined it over the rightfield bullpen. That was, yes, a clean pull if ever there was one. It was Brown’s third homer of the season.
Which is really something of a twist. This is a ‘cleanup’ Dog who isn’t looking to go long much. Yet if pitchers groove something Brown can make them pay. He also is seeing more such hittable stuff because of Dogs hitting ahead of him with Jake Mangum and Ryan Gridley swinging either side of the sizzling Brent Rooker.
In fact, Rooker’s ridiculous streak has caused another cleanup-slot oddity: Brown’s 15 hits have netted just three RBI, because usually the bases are cleaned ahead of him! “And that’s fine by me. Hey, if he’s going to get ‘em, go ahead and get ‘em!”
The larger point being that Brown is no relief for the pitcher who just got hit by the top-third of the order. “He’s been such a really big bat in the middle of the order,” Coach Andy Cannizaro said. “His at-bats have been phenomenal, just that veteran presence in the middle of the order where he’s hitting left-on-left home runs. He’s driving balls all over the field.”
Playing all over the field, too. An outfield regular for his first three seasons Brown did get a junior-year look at middle-infield when injuries hit the positions. Coming into this season the new coaching staff figured a senior Brown could do more good as a full-time infielder. Just, not with one full-time job.
Oh, second base is the most likely. But Brown has alternated as first baseman, and even taken turns at third as needed. He says the transition wasn’t easy, yet now he’s enjoying it.
“Because not so many people can say they’ve played as many positions as I have in college baseball. To get that opportunity to play second, first, third base, left field, right field, things like that is pretty cool. I can look back on that and say I played as many things as I could to the best of my ability.”
That mention of corner-outfielding is a clue. Mississippi State hopes to get Hunter Stovall back at second base this month, if not this weekend. Rooker has settled in at first base. This leaves Brown as a real outfield option again, a left-handed hitter too.
“Cody and I have been talking about what his role is going to be when Hunter comes back,” Cannizaro said. “I don’t know where, (but) he’s going to be playing somewhere and hitting in the middle of the order for us.”
And, he hopes, still hitting well. Batting in the middle has brought different pitches and patterns and Brown has adjusted so far. He surely will have to do it again. And again, before the senior season is done.
Besides, “You can have a nine-game hit streak and go down, strike out four times in a row the next game. It’s really cool experience to grow even this late in my career.”
Better than cool--“Awesome” is what Biloxi native Brown called it—was in his final career series with the arch-rivals taking the sweep.
“I feel any time you can go there and beat them three-out-of-three is pretty special. It hasn’t been done in a while, and I thought it was pretty awesome my last go-round with them we got to go up there and sweep ‘em.”
That sweep, and brooming Tennessee as well, pushed Mississippi State on the plus-side of the SEC standings at 6-3. Now they host a Kentucky team which comes in with an even better 7-2 mark and leading the Eastern Division as well. Tonight’s opener is at 6:00, with the same Saturday start time and a 1:00 Sunday finale.