In baseball, there never is a sure thing. But don't tell that to Ron Polk and the throngs of fans who follow MSU baseball. State's sure-handed junior shortstop, Matthew Maniscalco, has wowed spectators for the past two seasons with one spectacular play after another.

In fact, "Manny," as he is affectionately known by teammates and friends, led the Southeastern Conference in fielding percentage among shortstops in both his freshman and sophomore seasons. His .967 mark last year set a school record.

Maniscalco, who is the third of four brothers, claims he doesn't have the surest hands in the family. "Tony, my older brother, has the best hands I've ever seen," he said. "I'm still trying to get as good as him."

Tony is currently beginning his senior season at Faulkner (Ala.) University.

The Maniscalco brothers came from a seasoned baseball pedigree. Their father, Charles, played baseball at Jacksonville (Ala.) State. The elder Maniscalco seldom turned his sons down for a game of catch.

"Dad never would say no," Maniscalco said. "When he wasn't there, he had taught us to throw a ball up against a wall, and field it against the rebound."

The strength of State's team appears to be pitching and defense, especially on the infield. State returns at least a part-time starter at every infield position. The natural leader of the infield is Number Seven, and that is a role he eagerly accepts.

"I am definitely a leader out there," he said. "I think it comes natural. I'm not a big 'rah-rah' type, and I don't yell at people or anything. But I like to take charge. And if there is a big play to be made, I want the ball hit my way."

So it's no secret that Matthew Maniscalco can field. But Matthew's results at the plate, especially last season, have been nothing short of perplexing.

He hit .253 his freshman year, with four home runs and 40 RBIs. But last year, he slumped to .230, with no long-balls and 24 RBIs.

"Last year was tough at the plate," he admitted. "I've never been through anything like that in my life. I really struggled. But I'm a pretty even-keeled guy. I just put God first and worked hard to take care of it.

"The first day I came back, Coach Polk moved my hands on the bat a little. That made all the difference in the world. I'm swinging with a lot more confidence. I had a great fall. Last year, my confidence level really went down, but I feel like it's back to where it was in high school."

He came to State with explosive numbers and credentials, especially at the plate. Alabama's "Mr. Baseball" hit .504 with 14 dingers his senior year. He led off for Oxford (Ala.) High School, at one point setting a state record with a 35-game hitting streak.

But until now, Maniscalco hasn't felt truly comfortable at the plate as a Diamond Dog.

Maniscalco worked hard in the off-season and in the fall to better his hitting skills. But the emergence of Polk and his seasoned coaching staff has certainly benefited, as well.

"Everybody is a lot more relaxed this year," he said. "I didn't think I could have any more fun than I had the last couple of years, but this past fall and this pre-season have been great.

"We haven't played a game with the new coaching staff, though. You really find out how people really are when you go through the tough times. And we'll have some tough times."

With a character grounded in family and in his faith, Maniscalco has found his niche at Mississippi State. Concerned initially about playing baseball nearly five hours from his hometown of Oxford, Ala., he has found a second home.

"I definitely wanted to play baseball in the SEC," he said. "I really didn't know that much about this place. But I asked God to help me decide and things have really worked out."

At least one parent attends every game, home and away. Charles and his mother, Natalie, rotate between Mississippi State games and Tony's games at Faulkner. Only once, during his freshman season, did Maniscalco play a game without family present.

"It was a game at Southern Mississippi, and I played horrible," he said. "I committed errors and couldn't do anything at the plate."

With a younger brother participating on the ninth grade "B-Team" this year, it will be difficult for his parents to make every game. But the college season stretches a lot longer than the high school slate, so there will be plenty of opportunities for his parents to see him play late in the year. And Maniscalco believes this year's team has what it takes to play a lot longer.

"Our hitting has come on in the fall and the spring. We are going to try to hush the critics and newspaper writers who say we need to produce more runs. If people like me step up and produce, we'll surprise some people at the plate. Our pitching and defense are already strengths.

"We have a coaching staff that has been there before. We intend to ride this season all the way to Omaha."

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

Gene's Page Top Stories