Diamond Dog World Series Notebook

As the Diamond Dogs boarded their 9:00 flight Coach Ron Polk finally had some travel time to turn off the cell phone. The one overloaded with call-backs and texts that have poured in since Mississippi State punched the ticket to Omaha. The ultra-organized skipper admitted to being some 200 calls behind, owing returns to such folk as Governor Haley Barbour and his old Little League coach.

"Don Nixon," Polk said. "He's 85 years old, living in Phoenix."

With his well-known and entirely justified reputation as a low-tech kind of guy, it does surprise some Mississippi State fans and even media that Polk even has a cel phone. He does and other than during games and (mostly) practices goes through minutes as fast as any suburban teen-queen. But Polk still draws the line at cluttering his office with a computer, though he admits to having an e-address through the baseball office.

"Somehow the word is out and I get e-mails from April Edwards. I'll type up a response and she'll send it." On a real typewriter, he means. Yes, they still make ribbons for such machines.

The coach's phone will be in near-non-stop operation later today after practice and press obligations at Rosenblatt Stadium. And while Polk has repeatedly quipped how the NCAA "hates" the fact that he will be bringing a team to Omaha and again have a pulpit to lambaste the inequities in treatment of college baseball, he has promised to behave…to a point.

"I'm basically the spokesman it seems like for college baseball," Polk said. "But I'll be careful in Omaha, because it's the kids. I did it at Georgia (in 2001), I said this is for the kids but if anybody wants me to interview about my feelings about the NCAA stay around. And everybody stayed around."

ROSENBLATT ROOKIES: This is the eighth team Polk has taken to the College World Series, his sixth Mississippi State squad since 1979. Two members of his coaching staff were on the 1990 club that played in Omaha, when Tommy Raffo was at first base and Russ McNickle a graduate assistant. And media relations director Joe Dier is making his seventh total such trip, having gone with the 1979, '81, and '85 teams as Dawgs' Bite editor.

But the younger folk in Diamond Dog uniforms are all Rosenblatt rookies, at least as far as putting cleats on the field. Naturally it means the most to any senior ballplayer to end his college career at the College World Series. For Jeffrey Rea it's even moreso, since he quite easily could have been spending this weekend at a minor league park somewhere. Drafted last June in the 33rd round by Boston, Rea pondered turning pro all summer before choosing to return for his senior State season.

Yes, he says now, he'd do it all over again. "I'll turn that money down every time if I know I'm going to Omaha. And we were talking, people would pay that much money just to go to Omaha. It's been a dream come true and you couldn't plan it any better, dog-piling on your home field in your last game at Mississippi State. You like to think about it, dream about it, but it's come true. And I'm glad to be a part of it."

Mississippi State had a noon practice so they will have seen the fabled field before actually playing on it. But of course the real ‘first time' comes Friday evening and some Dogs intend to savor the moment. "I've watched the College World Series and seen pictures," said Mitch Moreland. "But I'm going to try to stay away from it as much as I can until I can walk in, and just let it be a surprise to me. I want it to hit me all at once."

At least one Bulldog is somewhat familiar with the Series and stadium. Chad Crosswhite has attended two of these events as a fan. "When I was a junior in high school, and at age 13. It's amazing, it's out of this world," he said.

"And I used to always think man, if I was ever to play here I don't know what I'd do. Now it's happened and it makes you really think." So even if he's seen the show before, being part of it will be that much greater an experience for Crosswhite when his turn comes to toe the rubber for a first pitch.

"Before I step on, I'm going to step back and look around and really sink in. Just like I did (last) Friday night here. And I think it's going to be awesome."

FLIPPED OUT: Baseball is far too serious to take too seriously, especially at the championship end of a long season when ballplayers seek ways to offset inevitable tournament tensions. This roster fortunately features a balance of all-business Bulldogs and more playful pups, with Ryan Duffy definitely listed among the latter. Such as when he reported for the first CWS-week practice wearing a brand-new (tag still hanging) cap promoting some basketball team from Florida. Why? "Because I'm from Florida," the Naples native grinned. "We were messing around at Hibbett Sports, it was only $2 and I bought it."

It was another impulse earlier in the season that has made the reserve catcher a fan-favorite. Duffy is now famed for his pre-game routine of, after the Bulldogs break their prayer huddle and head back to the dugout, getting a running start and turning a series of handsprings. Even the opposition pauses to watch the act, while fans and teammates alike have come to anticipate something Duffy began back on March 24 at Dudy Noble Field.

"I was just messing around, after South Carolina beat us really bad (20-3) on Friday night, Saturday I just told everybody I was going to get ‘em going a little bit," Duffy explains. "So when we broke the huddle I did a back-flip, and everybody's jaw dropped. They couldn't believe I did it because I'm a pretty big guy." Indeed, there aren't a lot of 6-1, 200-pound gymnasts running around college baseball fields these days.

"That's where it started," Duffy said. "We won that game in extra innings and they've made me do it ever since." And yes, Duffy does know what he's doing out there, having taken gymnastics training from age five to 12. He's also been ‘judged' by some peers this year. "At Tennessee we were indoors hitting during a rain delay. Their whole cheerleading squad was in there. I did it and I got a standing ovation!"

But now there's some extra incentive for Duffy to ‘stick' his landings. First, because he absolutely intends to keep it up at Rosenblatt Stadium even though "I'm going to be pretty nervous when I get to Omaha." The why is reason-two. "Because I fell last time and that was pretty embarrassing." Yes, Saturday before the Bulldogs played for the super region title Duffy had his first real miss of the season and went splat before a five-figure crowd. "I think I was too pumped-up, it was perfectly executed then I slipped and fell. It was not good on TV." And there will not be a repeat of that, he insists.

"I'm not going to fall in Omaha. I'm going to practice."

THE JOKER: But the ranking clown in this 2007 carnival is still Chad Crosswhite, architect of many a joke and jest and the occasional water balloon brawl. The funny, so to speak, thing is that Crosswhite would rather instigate the action then stand back and watch. "I really don't pull pranks," he insists. "I just mess with people all the time. It's always something I'm doing." Which is why teammates have learned to, shall we say, guard their backside when doing interviews, since Crosswhite will seize opportunity—and pants—for some on-camera antics.

Crosswhite will also go solo. "There was a circus bike that I rode out on the field at practice one time. I rode from left field to the team meeting. I don't know how I stayed balanced but I did it somehow. (But) Coach Polk never even nodded." Getting a rise out of #1 will take a lot more than that, he's learned. But getting his team loose and State fans laughing is easier.

"It's like the dance thing," Crosswhite says of his pregame steppin' to ‘Cotton Eyed Joe' on days he is not starting. "I did that once and everybody wants it again. At first I was sorry I started it." Now it is part of the drill, though for the super regional—with the NCAA running things—Crosswhite didn't think it would be played on the stadium P.A. "Then they did and the fans started clapping and I said I've got to do it. It's all fun, it really is. This whole year has been fun."

TO CATCH A THIEF: As reported following Saturday's super region championship celebration, outfielder Joseph McCaskill picked up third base for a souvenir of the event even though the grounds crew tried to retrieve it. McCasill reported that he still has the base.

"I've got it in my truck right now, signed by everybody. Coach Polk said was a felony but he wouldn't turn me in." Yeah, but didn't you just snitch on yourself by confessing to print and TV media? "They can come find me," McCaskill grinned. "I'll be in Omaha a week so come get me there!"

The senior added that this memento of 2007 will end up on his wall.

SHARP-DRESSED DOGS: Befitting the occasion, the Diamond Dogs were issued new windsuits for travel wear to Omaha. The adidas brand suits were to be worn on the flight since Mississippi State was to report to Rosenblatt for practice and press conference before they can check in at the team hotel, the Embassy Suites-Old Market in downtown Omaha.

Also, when the team bus was loaded up for Tuesday departure with all the additional gear needed to last a team on the road for anywhere from five to a dozen days, several staff and possibly a few players included their golf clubs.

FAMILIAR FACE: State and North Carolina have not played since 2003 at the Starkville Regional, won by the Tarheels. No current Bulldog participated in that tournament, but there is one ‘Heel who did and made a big difference in the outcome.

Matt Danford was a true freshman in 2003 and a regular in the Carolina bullpen. He was the right-hand called to stop the blue-bleeding in the second inning of the winner's bracket game between the Dogs and ‘Heels, when State had scored twice in the frame and loaded the bases. Danford went down 3-0 before coming back to strike out Brad Corley to end the outburst, and went on to throw a total 6.2 innings with no runs and five more strikeouts. With closing help from two more relievers Danford got the win.

An injury and medical redshirt along the way means Danford is a fifth-year senior in 2007. This season he is 5-0 in 29 appearances, all but one in relief.


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