MUNGLE'S HITTING IMPRESSIVE IN THE FALL

Don't be surprised if the biggest surprise of this year's Diamond Dogs is red-shirt freshman outfielder Jon Mungle. A Memphis-area youngster who sat out last season, Jon was very impressive at the plate in the fall.

Mungle hit .470 in approximately 80 plate appearances for Ron Polk's squad in the fall seasonal scrimmages. He didn't hit any traditional home runs, but he did record five ground-rule doubles.

"I have really focused on hitting the ball the other way," Mungle said. "I've learned to be patient at the plate and to try to hit the ball on the ground and beat it out instead of popping it up."

Mungle's power explosion in the fall has presented MSU's coaching staff with a problem of sorts. Where to play him?

Mungle played first base in high school, but returnee Mathew Brinson, who is expected to lead State in the power-hitting department this spring, solidifies that corner. Mungle made a move to the outfield last year, on the advice of former coach Pat McMahon.

"Coach Mac told me that I had good speed and that I would be wasting it at first base," he explained. "So I was a primary first baseman and secondary outfielder for about half of the year, and then I made the move to primary outfielder and secondary first baseman."

Mungle claims he played only about three games of outfield during his entire career at Memphis' Houston High School. But he has gotten a lot more attention in the outfield due to his hitting success this fall. Another option for the coaching staff is to insert him in as a designated hitter.

"I'd rather play in the field," he said. "I'll do whatever is asked of me, but I'd be more comfortable in the field. That way, if you make a mistake at the plate, you can make up for it by making a play in the field, or vice-versa."

It's not often that a first-year player gets to start for the Maroon and White, but an exception could be made for Mungle. He said that his roommate, Steve Gendron, has given him plenty of pointers and advice. Gendron was a rookie starter at third base last season.

"I'm sure I'll be nervous for the first game," Mungle said. "But after I get that first at-bat out of the way, I'm sure I'll be fine."

Mungle was heavily recruited out of high school. The likes of Nebraska, Missouri, Memphis and Ole Miss pursued him, but in the end, State won out. He wanted to stay close to home, and having Brent Lewis and Paul Maholm sign with the Bulldogs didn't hurt, either.

Mungle played against the Memphis-area duo in high school and teamed up with them in summer leagues.

Now that Mungle has had a red-shirt season to learn and digest under the teaching of Pat McMahon, his near future in collegiate baseball will be under the watchful eye of a college baseball legend- Ron Polk.

"I really like him a lot," Mungle said of the new skipper. "His practices are a lot more fun. He jokes around and makes things interesting for all of the guys. he really cares about how we are doing grade-wise. If we miss a class, we have to let him know and he is cool with it as long as it is a valid excuse. But he has to know if we miss. He tells us we can talk to him about anything, so in a sense he is a father-figure type to a lot of us."

While State's pitching corps has received top-notch accolades in the pre-season, there have been some skeptics concerning the offensive prowess of the Bulldogs. Can they hit for power, like the Polk teams of old? Mungle thinks so.

"I think we will really surprise some people this year. Last year, we had an O.K. offense, I thought, but some of our key guys didn't produce a lot. I don't know if we'll hit a lot of home runs, but I think we'll be up there with singles, doubles and triples.

"Manny (Maniscalco) had a good fall," he continued. "He hit something like .440. (Jason) Burkley is hitting good and Brinson looks like he'll be our power hitter."

While he talks, you can see eagerness in Mungle's eye. It's the look of a baseball player that is ready to prove himself, much like his predecessors have done before him. With the season around the corner, Mungle is ready to show his stuff.

"I think I'll be in the line-up somewhere," he said. "It will probably depend on whether the pitcher if left-handed or right-handed (Mungle is a left-handed hitter, right-handed fielder). I think I'll be in right or I'll be the designated hitter, depending on what some other guys do."

If his numbers in the fall hold up, and he produces like that against opposing competition, there's no doubt State's coaching staff will find him a spot.


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 which airs two hours prior to each football game. You can contact him by email at asones8@aol.com.

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