MATTHEW BRINSON READY TO START

In a pre-season where just about every position is up for grabs, State fans can find some stability at first base. That's because MSU's leader in batting average, hits, homeruns, RBI and slugging percentage among returning players is returning first baseman Matthew Brinson.

Brinson, a 6-5, 235-pound, left-handed sophomore by way of Northwest Rankin High School, expects to use a solid freshman campaign, in which he drew 55 starts, to help him get even better. Having been through the fires as a freshman will mean that Brinson will be looked upon to help the newcomers learn the ropes.

"When I first got up here, I had Jon Knott at first base," he said. "I had a lot of questions for Jon and he really helped me out. Now the roles are sort of reversed. Even some of the guys that are not freshmen, but may be seeing playing time for the first time, are asking questions and looking up to me for guidance."

It's hard to comprehend the success that Brinson had as a redshirt-freshman. Many newcomers get starry-eyed with the big crowds and festive atmosphere that comes with playing in the SEC. But Brinson saved his best moments for the big games.

He was awarded NCAA Columbus Regional MVP honors after going 8-for-12 with three doubles, four home runs and seven RBI. He drove in a season-high four runs in that Regional against Delaware, behind two homeruns, and scored the winning run in the tourney-opening 10-inning affair with Kent State.

Even in his debut as a starter, in State's eighth game of the season, Brinson hit two singles in three at-bats versus Jacksonville State.

"I was nervous at first," he said. "Now I know what to expect, what it is like playing in front of nine or ten-thousand fans on Super Bulldog Weekend. Having a year under my belt will take some of the pressure away that I felt last year."

Brinson already had an idea of what MSU baseball was all about. A devout Mississippi State fan growing up, he and his dad made the two-hour trip from Jackson to State's campus several times to watch MSU play baseball and football. He attended his first football game when he was six.

So, according to Brinson, Mississippi State was his "first and foremost choice" when it came time to decide where to play baseball collegiately.

"I came up here for my official visit, and I already felt like I was at home because I grew up loving MSU baseball," he said. "I knew right then where I wanted to play baseball. There is no better place than here."

Brinson faced a tough red-shirt season before being thrust into a starting role as a freshman. He had played the game since he was four, and sitting out a year was the hardest thing he had faced.

"It was a tough adjustment for me, but I am glad I did it," he said. "Offensively, I wasn't ready. I got dominated when I first got here. I think it was about two weeks before I got my first hit."

The slump wouldn't last for long. Brinson worked on his game, and when State needed to find some hot bats early last season, Pat McMahon decided to move veteran first baseman Jon Knott to the outfield and insert the freshman Brinson. The gamble paid off.

Known primarily for his strong defensive abilities, Brinson provided State with 21 multi-hit games. But if you ask him his strongest suit, he'll tell you it is defense.

"I'd rather go 0-4 at the plate than make an error in the field," he said. "I feel like I let the team down when I make an error."

Brinson has tons of confidence in this year's squad, which is a consensus Top-25 pick by the experts.

"I was talking with some of my teammates about that subject, and we all agree that there is no reason we can't go all the way," he stated. "We have the talent. We definitely have the pitching. We just need a little luck. And people like me have to step up at the plate and make things happen.

"Individually, I set my goals high. I always expect more out of myself. I always set goals that are almost unrealistic, because they aren't goals if you don't set them high. Last year, hitting .350 was my goal. This year, I want to hit .400. I'd like to hit 12-15 or more home runs. And it'd be nice to drive in 75 runs."

There is a new skipper in town that would love to see him achieve those goals. Brinson has just as much confidence in Ron Polk as Polk has in him.

"Coach Mac was a great coach, but coach Polk has made it fun again," he said. "He's more relaxed and it is fun to be around him. He has energized us. I remember looking around in our first team meeting about two weeks into school and thinking to myself that things were going to be a little different from now on."


Aaron SonesAaron Sones is a free-lance correspondent for Gene's Page. Aaron, who is a student at Mississippi State University, works part-time in the MSU Athletic Department. He is also co-host of WFCA FM 108's Gameday show. You can contact him by email at asones8@aol.com.

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