Brian LaNinfa Talks About the Upcoming Season

Brian LaNinfa, a fifth-year senior, knows this is his final year as a Mississippi State baseball player. And it will be a bitter-sweet year.

"I've thought about this being my last year. It's sad thinking I'm going to have to leave this place, leaving the players and coaches," said Brian. "But that's the way it goes because you have to leave sometime."

And Brian has a plan in place that he hopes includes an opportunity to play pro ball. If not pro ball, then he has another option that he will happily take.

"I want to play ball if the opportunity comes," said Brian. "If not, then I'll move back home and work for my dad (Gerry LaNinfa). And my high school coach wants me to help with the jv team."

Working for his dad will be more special for him than it would for most sons due to Brian's mother passing away a couple of years ago.

"My mom (Barbara LaNinfa) passed away two years ago December 28th. It was the hardest thing I have ever gone through in my life," said Brian. "My mom suffered for a long time with cancer and that was hard to watch. And it was tough to see her go. When she passed I had to come back (to Mississippi State) and had to leave my dad by himself. That was tough because I know he needed me and I needed him. One of the toughest parts is leaving your family. To tell you the truth, this was the last place I wanted to be when everything happened."

But having his teammates and coaches by him helped him get through a very difficult time in his young life.

"It helped to have the coaches and players up here. They did everything they could for me," said Brian. "And I thank them for all that they did, but nothing can take the place of your mom."

One person that he will never forget is head coach Ron Polk, a man who is almost like a second father to him.

"Coach Polk is a special person. He treats us like he would treat his kids," said Brian. "He treats me how my parents treated me. He's someone real special that I will never forget."

Brian, as you would expect struggled the season following his mom's death, hitting .264 with two home runs after hitting .267 with 5 homers the previous season. His offensive stats improved to .304 with 10 home runs and 57 RBI the following year.

Although he's not sure what his role will be this year, he wants to help wherever he can.

"I'm not sure where I'm going to play. It'll either be first base, the outfield and some DH," said Brian, a career .279 hitter. "I will do whatever I can to help the team. It doesn't matter if it's my hitting or coming in and playing defense."

But hitting is Brian's forte and he knows that.

"I think everybody knows I can hit. And I had a good year hitting last year, thankfully," said Brian, who has hit 17 home runs and knocked in 103 runs during his career. "I just want to be in the lineup everyday and help this team succeed."

As for this year's team, Brian is very excited about the potential.

"I think we have tons of talent. I think our hitting is going to be real good," said Brian. "Our offense should be something else, having J-Rea back and Ed (Easley), Mitch Moreland, Andy Rice, Matt Richardson, Joseph McCaskill and Jeff Flagg. If we can all stay healthy and put it together, there's a lot of potential."

Most people know about Rea, Easley, Moreland and a couple of others, but names not so well known are Rice and Flagg. Based on what he's seen, Brian is expecting big things out of both youngsters.

"Jeff Flagg is one of the hardest workers that I have been around," said Brian of the 6-5, 242-pound outfielder/first baseman. "He doesn't stop working. And he's an amazing talent. He's got unbelievable power. And he's such a great athlete and he's so strong. It's just whether he can go out there and do it.

"And (outfielder) Andy Rice has been working real hard. He got hurt last year and has been working hard to get back to where he was. He's got tons of pop."

A couple of freshmen have also made an impression on Brian.

"There are a couple of freshmen that might get in there and play," said Brian. "Connor Powers (3B, 6-2, 217) has good power and can play a good third base. He's just got to get in front of a couple of thousand people and see what it's like. If he can put it together, I think he will be a heck of a player. I think the same about Jet Butler (SS, 6-2, 190)."

Due to the loss of freshman pitcher Matt Lea, there's some concern about the MSU pitching. But Brian likes what he sees from the pitching staff.

"Pitching-wise, we have a lot of great arms. (Pitching) Coach Mac (Russ McNickle) is doing an excellent job with them," said Brian. "If a couple of people step up, we could surprise a lot of people. There are a lot of young kids who have great arms and can pitch. It's just that they have to do it in front of people and show that they can do it under pressure."

It wouldn't surprise Brian if three or four young arms, including a couple of freshmen, step up and play important roles on this year's team.

"(Redshirt freshman) Ricky Bowen has a very live arm. He throws hard and hits his spots," he said. "When he's on, he's a tough pitcher to face. If he can step up and show that he can pitch in big games, he could be something special. (Sophomore) Aaron Weatherford came back in the fall and started throwing a split-finger fastball a lot more than he has and it's nasty. I faced him a couple of times and it's one of the better pitches that I have ever seen. There are a couple of other kids like (true freshman) Tyler Whitney. He is going to be something special. There are some others like Jared Koon and a few new kids that people haven't seen. They can be good if they can put it together."

Mississippi State fans get their first opportunity to see the Diamond Dogs in action February 23rd against Murray State.


Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.


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