From The Dawghouse

I'm not trying to speak for everyone in Bulldog Country. But boy, was this free weekend ever welcome for yours truly. And, I'm reasonably sure, for every Mississippi State player and coach. Judging by the way the Dogs dashed away from the practice field and in turn campus, they were entirely eager for the open date.

For that matter so was the staff, most of whom still were on the job (in the form of recruiting trips) on Thursday/Friday/Saturday before stealing a rare day-off. How much good the break did everyone involved, we'll start finding out when practices--and preparations for Florida--resume Monday afternoon. How much was accomplished on the recruiting road, we'll find out in February. Safe to say that as this first season plays out Coach Sylvester Croom and staff have been investing ever-more thought and energy in securing size and skill for a long, maybe really long, rebuilding project.

But as for this puppy, ‘free' weekend meant…well, not entirely free time as 87-octane for the drive to Birmingham, some new winter garb, and a really nice meal at The Fish Market did put a pre-holiday dent on the credit card. But it was a welcome change of pace. And no, I didn't buy the car, if yer wondering. Upon personal examination, the Bimmer must have spent at least some time river-running; I mean, rust on the seat rail? Water stains on the upholstery? Thank you, no. But if they get that '97 Z3 in, I'll check it out in two weeks when back in town for SEC basketball media day. Speaking of which, hoops practices are indeed underway and Rick Stansbury had them on the court Sunday afternoon despite the scheduled campus-wide power-down. Generators let the Bulldogs practice as scheduled. Hopefully nobody minded me sticking my head in at concourse-level for a quick look at the closed workout, to confirm Gary Ervin is still slowed by a sore knee. Please, please, please, get well soon, kid. The working scoreboard looked great, though.

See, I didn't entirely disconnect from the sports world. Not with the Baseball Alumni Game to witness and enjoy Sunday. A day at the ballpark was the perfect October antidote to a mid-season football funk. Not so much for the game, if I can use the noun straight-facedly. It was the play, not just on the field but in the dugout and around the batting cage. Seeing old friends, hearing old stories, repeating old lies, and hoping all the old warrants have indeed expired. A good way to spend the day, and in the spirit of things I even indulged in a hot dog and Coke to make up for skipping lunch (church, too) so I could get to the yard in time for a few interviews. You'll read the resulting features in upcoming issues of D.B. You surely won't believe what a minor-league manager asked Matthew Maniscalco last summer. Or how much Dan Van Cleve weighs.

Thanks to near-ideal weather this 2004 edition was much better-attended, with only three committed players not making it to the game. Only about 50 of the former Diamond Dogs actually participated in the game; another two-score or so watched from the safety of dugout and grandstand seats. None used weekend excesses such as golf, dinner, and, umm, recreation as excuses. But I was told by Michael Wardlaw of Maroon & White that later in the evening Rusty Thoms made quite an impression when he jumped on stage, grabbed a mike, and started singing along with the surprised band. I'd have paid the cover charge to see that.

Turnout wasn't bad for a off-weekend and school break, and boy, were there ever a lot of squalling kids roaming the stadium. The future generations of Dogs, I reckon. There a couple of notable names taking a raincheck this year. Jeff Brantley is obviously occupied with his ESPN commentating duties. Rafael Palmeiro will be on campus in a few weeks to be formally recognized for his donation to fund the so-named Center behind the third-base grandstand.

Not that it meant anything, but the final score was 15-4 favor of the Maroon team, the guys from 1983-97. The Whites were pre-1982 and post-1998. Polk also took care of some old unfinished business, presenting Manny Maniscalco and Paul Maholm the 2003 team MVP awards they missed receiving due to reporting to pro ball. The pair who did not participate in on-field frivolities after long summers in the minors.

Rather than reporting on the game or columnizing further on the fun of seeing so many old friends and getting-older faces back at Dudy Noble Field, I'll just provide a selection of vignettes from the day's fun and alleged game. And as every Diamond Dog of the last quarter-century knows, anything said in range of these ears is fair game for reporting and repeating.

…While chatting with Jody Hurst during B.P. about his coaching career, Polk interrupted to ask if I knew Hurst's softball team had won a state championship. I said yes, then asked Polk if he realized this meant Hurst had won more titles lately than he had. Later I told Jack Lazorka the absolutely true story of Polk and the floppy computer disk, which left Jack speechless for, oh, about two seconds. Quite an accomplishment if I say so meself.

…Yes, Will Clark can still go high and long…more the former than the latter in his first turn in the cage. The second and third go-rounds, he left the yard. To rightfield of course. No cork in his metal bat, either, though it was fun to hear him and Chris ‘Hammer' Maloney discussing old professional training habits. Clark talked of watching teammates taking those protein supplements in the locker room, while he stuck to the tried-and-true Coorsliteastine.

…Worst defensive play: a one-hopper that Don Gardiner let clang off his glove. Best defensive play: on the very next batter Gardiner made a nifty two-step snag and flip to the bag for the inning-ending forceout. After ten runs on eight hits, that is, in the top of the first. Runner-up play goes to Lazorka's knockdown and scoop of a Dan Van Cleve shot. Too bad I can't print what Jack said…which actually applies to just about anything that ever comes from the incredibly profane, funny Lazorka's mouth.

…Memo: never let Ron Polk have a walkie-talkie. The coach did a credible imitation of a Hollywood director issuing orders relayed over the P.A. Though the modern technology did come in handy after warm-up pitches, when Gus Ashby had to be paged to take his vacant place at shortstop so the game could begin.

…Hitting was definitely ahead of pitching and fielding alike, such as Craig Bane's leadoff lazy fly ball to right-centerfield. Brooks Bryan has lost a step or three and the ‘drive' fell for a triple that set the tone for the high-scoring afternoon. The day's only longball came courtesy of Jon Knott, in the bottom of the eighth, as he sailed a drive over leftfield off Bobby Permenter.

…Scary moment: in the bottom of the first Bruce Castoria grounded out and got five steps from the plate before stumbling to the turf. Helped up, favoring his right leg, he had to be carted off in the ‘gator'…while Coach Sentimental checked his roster for a replacement runner/first baseman. Tim Weisheim got the call. Castoria reportedly snapped an Achilles, the first serious injury I can recall in the history of the Alumni Game. On the field, that is.

…Both Clark brothers, Scott and Will, had sacrifice flies, and in the same inning. Hmm, wonder if the Mitchells, John and Scott, did that in their playing days together. Scott got plunked in his first at-bat by Steve D'Ercole, but didn't follow fan-please to charge the mound.

…Bobby Thigpen didn't even rare back to pitch in the ninth inning, just tossing from a half-stride. And the ball still had plenty of zip to it. Yes, Thiggy continues to keep track of challengers to his Major League save record, which has safely stood another year.

…And, as always, the Alumni Game featured a return of the man with the most victories in Mississippi State history. No, not him. I mean George Mayfield, of course, who was umpiring before they put stitches on the balls. George took care of first base, leaving home plate for someone with younger knees, but he nearly needed a new ankle when Malone bounced a grounder off him in the first inning.

That's just a sampling of the fun. A good time, an amusing afternoon, and a great way to forget about the more serious matters of the day. But break-time is over, Florida is coming, and basketball is practicing. So, it's back to work on Monday.

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