Mayor's Trophy Relocation Being Considered

Both Mississippi State and Ole Miss would like to play another Mayor's Trophy Game during their 2007 seasons. It's just a matter of having a ballpark to host the event and ballfield to play the game on.

With the announcement that Smith-Wills Stadium is to be replaced, the respective baseball programs are now considering the future of the annual event played at that Jackson stadium. Tuesday night the Jackson City Council approved in principal an agreement with a state developer to build a $40 million facility for indoor football and other events. This decision is not an absolute death sentence for the current stadium, as the developer has until October 1 to show he has funding in place.

In the interim, though, State and Ole Miss have to take care of their own business. "We can't wait for October 1," MSU Coach Ron Polk said Wednesday. "But it looks more and more there's a good chance to move the game because there might not be a stadium."

Of course there is another stadium. Since opening in 2005 Trustmark Park in Pearl has been discussed as a potential venue for the Mayor's Trophy Game, though it obviously is not in the City of Jackson. In April the Diamond Dogs played at the new park, the home of the AA-Mississippi Braves. The date was actually a ‘home' game for Louisiana-Monroe, which sold their game to the stadium. And the teams agreed to play a pair to help State make up for a rained-out SEC game.

The gate for the April 5 game was 6,241. Most of the revenues went to ULM, the home team.

Polk said that he has talked with stadium manager Tim Bennett. "I told him after the season is over (OM coach) Mike Bianco and I will visit, our athletic directors will talk, we'll see what kind of contract we can get and make a decision."

There's a lot involved in the decision, which itself has some questions rising from the still-tentative nature of the other project. If that should fall through and Smith-Wills remain as-is, there are obvious sentiments to maintain the event played there every season since 1980. The 31-year-old stadium was built as a home for the old AA-Jackson Mets and State benefited from playing ball there. "Con Maloney is a good friend and Jeff Brantley is involved," Polk said. The State skipper also sympathizes with Belhaven College coach Hill Denson, whose team plays there.

The two coaches conversed at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, which shares parking with Smith-Wills, on Monday night when MSU's Thomas Berkery won the Boo Ferris Award. Their talk led Polk to do something unprecedented. "I e-mailed the City Council members," he said, explaining over the questioner's laughter that assistant Wade Hedges' computer was used. "Hill is out of a stadium now."

"I hate to see Smith-Wills go, not because it's a beautiful ballpark but it's got a lot of tradition and other teams play there. I understand they'll build a high school field across Lakeland Drive. But I'm concerned about Hall of Fame Parking."

Sympathies and traditions aside, Polk has to take care of his own program and schedule now. "We can't wait for October because Tim has got to put a schedule together for the Braves. Ole Miss has to be involved, too." Polk said he still expects to have a tentative 2007 schedule within three or four weeks.

Besides the Mayor's Trophy Game, Polk said there is the possibility the Bulldogs would return to Trustmark Park next spring for other competition. That too hinges on mutual scheduling with State, the Braves, and an opponent. It won't be as easy in '07, though. State certainly is not going to move a home game.

"They (the Park managers) have got to get our schedule," Polk said. "Next year there's not that many teams to entice, I would think. But at the same time we don't mind going there. We would like to get a better share of the gate than last year, which was not so much."

Meanwhile, State's head coach is also keeping track of college baseball tournament action around the country. With the Diamond Dogs failing to qualify for the SEC Tourney all hopes hinge on the NCAA awarding State an at-large berth when the entire field is announced on Monday. Polk said the latest updated numbers have State's R.P.I. at 32. That's just a bit outside the range of previous NCAA invitations, at least for teams that didn't play in their conference meet. So MSU's chances appear to depend more on who loses in a lot of league tourneys, and a lack of upset champions in mid-level conferences.

"There are six, seven teams you have to root for," Polk said.

State is also thinking about the upcoming June draft. Polk said second baseman Jeffrey Rea is the only veteran he is concerned could turn pro off this underclass roster. But several of his signees are also fair game. "Jarred Holloway, Ryan Powers, Jet Butler, Jared Wesson, any of them could go."

And, Polk said that pitcher Matt Lea will not have to have surgery to correct an arm condition that developed in April. The freshman righthander did not throw after leaving the April 18 game at Memphis with shoulder tightness. Polk said Lea will not throw this summer as there is still inflammation present. And outfielder Andy Rice will schedule surgery to fix a small tear in his right shoulder as soon as the 2006 season is officially finished.

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