Here is my interview with Jeff Butts.
Basically, I'm just calling you to find out about your official visit to MSU and also about your background.
Did you grow up a fan of any particular school?
"Not really. I guess because I wasn't born in this area I never really got into the Alabama-Auburn tradition. I was born in Houston, Texas. I lived there until the 3rd grade then we moved here."
What schools recruited you?
"Baylor University, Texas A&M, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi State and Miami did for a little while. I visited Texas A&M and Baylor, then I visited State. That was it."
Did you know much about Mississippi State prior to your official visit?
"Truthfully, I did not know a whole lot about them. I watched them several times. That was just about all I really knew. I knew they had a good program and had a history of having good ballclubs."
As you know, MSU draws a lot of folks for their games. Have you played in front of large crowds before?
"Actually, in Cuba this past summer, while playing in the Pan Am games, we had a couple of games where there were about 8,000. But it's kind of different when you can't understand them (laugh)."
You said you were on the Pan American team. Tell me a little more about that.
"I got invited to go try out in Joplin, Missouri. They had a week-long tryout with guys throughout the nation. They put you on a team and you are playing against a lot of the top prospects in the country. I made the first cut there (out of 144 players). There were about 24 guys (who made the cut). Then, we played around the area. They then cut it down to 20 guys. I also made that cut. Then, we went down to Cuba and played, I believe, 12 straight days. I started in leftfield."
How did you do?
"I actually did real well. I batted in the 2 slot. I hit around .470."
Were the Cubans as good as advertised?
"They play good ball. They play a little different style than what we are used to here. They are not as straight-up power, but more like slash hitters. The pitchers threw a lot more sliders."
I guess that has been the highlight of your career?
"I would have to say playing for your country is pretty awesome. Wearing that USA across your chest and hearing the national anthem was a great feeling. It was a great experience."
Talk about your visit to Mississippi State. Was it what you were expecting?
"I had heard a lot about the stadium and the facilities just from talking to the coaches, but until you get there and get down on the field and take it all in, you don't know how amazing it really is. And I wasn't even there during a game. Just seeing the facilities, that is amazing. And that is not even including the coaching staff. The coaching staff are also unreal. They are all great guys and have a long history of being successful."
Did Coach Polk surprise you when you first met him?
"Not really, you hear so much about him, but he is such a great, down-to-earth guy that once you start talking to him, you don't think about the other stuff. He just makes you feel just as important as anyone else."
Tell me a little about the visit. Start with Saturday.
"I believe we took a tour around the facilities. Actually, we took a tour of everything Saturday. We took a tour of the weight facilities. We also met the Academic Advisor and the Athletic Director."
What assistant coach actually recruited you for Mississippi State?
"It was mostly Coach Schoenrock and Coach McNickle. Really, it was mostly Coach Schoenrock. He seemed like a good guy. I liked him a lot."
Did you get to meet the players while on your visit?
"Yes sir, we hung out with them Friday and Saturday nights. I felt like I really fit in with them. They were all very good guys. We got along real well."
Did you commit the weekend of your visit?
How exactly did that work? Did they just ask you if you wanted to commit?
"We all ate dinner together Saturday night. Then, my meeting with the Coach Polk was Saturday night. I went over to the baseball office after dinner and my mom and I visited with Coach Polk. I felt good after talking to him. Sunday morning I went ahead and committed."
Was that a relief?
"It was a huge relief."
Who did you commit to, Coach Polk or Coach Schoenrock?
"Actually, the first coach I told was Coach Raffo. Then, I told Coach McNickle and Coach Rock. After telling them, I went over and talked to Coach Polk."
That's about it, Jeff.
An interview with Liz Butts, Jeff's mother.
I like to sometimes get a parent's perspective when I talk to a youngster who has visited Mississippi State.
Did you know much about Mississippi State prior to Jeff's recruitment?
"Not a whole lot. There are a few alumni in the area. And I noticed right off how committed to Mississippi State they are. We began to get that sense of family from the very beginning. Plus, what really impressed me as a parent was the communication and correspondence from the staff, the way they conducted themselves through the phone calls. There was just a sincerity about them. Coach Schoenrock was just wonderful with his personal letters. We knew he took a lot of time to write them. They were always handwritten and very personable. He expressed, I think, very genuine empathy for the recruiting process. He knew the kind of pressure the recruits are under. It meant a lot to both Jeff and us the way they related to him through the process."
You received mail and phone calls from the coaches, then you went in for an official visit and met the coaches. Were they exactly as you expected based on the earlier calls and correspondence?
"Absolutely. Jeff, his younger sister and myself were able to make the trip. We were really impressed when we drove up and saw the campus. We got a good, positive feeling right away. Coach Raffo came out and met us. It was impressive to me as a parent that he was so personable and really attended to my 11-year old daughter. As a parent, that made me feel good.
"I can't say enough about the way they treated us. Naturally, you expect some of that red carpet treatment but they were everything I expected. Coach Schoenrock's wife, Carol, was at the intersquad scrimmage. By the time it was over, we felt right at home."
Tell me a little about Jeff's decision to go ahead and commit to Mississippi State.
"Coach Polk spent probably a couple of hours with us that Saturday evening. He was as thorough as you would expect him to be. He covered every angle and every reason why you would ever want to play baseball at Mississippi State. He, truthfully, didn't leave any questions. By the time you got through talking to him, you had a pretty accurate picture of the entire situation. Jeff didn't commit on the spot, mostly because my husband wasn't there. We went back and he was able to call him on the phone and explain to him what his reaction was. So he waited until the next morning. We went in and told Coach Polk then."
What did you think about Coach Polk?
"You hear so much about him, you don't realize he will be so real and personable. He was just as genuine and real and sincere as he could be."
Since you were involved in the recruiting process and saw it from letters to calls to the official visit, were you happy with the decision and felt he made the correct decision?
"Sure, there really weren't any doubts in my mind or Jeff's. Really, it appeared to answer a prayer for him. It was a clear answer for him. He never really had any doubts or confusion. It was pretty clear-cut. That made it an easy, positive decision.
"The good thing about (the) Mississippi State staff is they didn't say anything negative about other schools but were positive about their program. There was no undue pressure from the coaches. You never sense that from them."
It was really nice talking to you, Liz. See you at the games next year.
"We look forward to it."
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.