Closing Out This Omaha Notebook

TALLYING UP A CAREER: Senior Jeffrey Rea finished his Diamond Dog career with 335 hits and 998 at-bats, both Mississippi State records. He also ended up third in SEC career safeties, and tied for third in official at-bats. Those records remain at 352 and 1,019 respectively.

In his final game Rea got a second hit in the seventh inning, and soon he knew he'd be getting another chance in the ninth. As it played out he would lead off the team's final inning of '07, and for a rare time Rea was a bit nervous. "Coming in from centerfield I was like ‘please don't strike out, please don't strike out!'," he said. "I knew it would probably be my last at-bat, but with them being ahead he'd probably try to get ahead and groove one to finish out the game. So I sat on a fastball and he served it up."

For a clean base hit into centerfield, his third safety of the day. "It was very fitting, and a lot of fun to end on a good note. I've had a great career, a lot of fun, and I loved playing for Mississippi State." And especially for Rea and his fellow upperclassmen to get to play in maroon-and-white on the ultimate stage before he was done.

"It really means a lot. In the past we'd only seen video and heard stories. For us to experience it means a lot, it's something we can take with us."

DECISIONS, DECISIONS: RF Mitch Moreland barely missed his 11th home run of the season when his drive to rightfield hit a raised piece of extended padding at the top of the wall. It was still good for his team-best 26th double this year.

Moreland was a 17th-round pick of the Texas Rangers last week and his decision to stay with State or turn pro now will impact the 2008 outlook greatly. "Moreland is a big factor, we hope Mitch decides to come back," Polk said. "He's a three position guy." And a reliable run-producer from the cleanup swinging slot, too. Moreland's ten home runs this year exceed the seven total shots for his first two college campaigns. The team title belonged to C Edward Easley with 12 shots in '07. The junior backstop was also drafted, the 61st pick of the supplemental first round, which should guarantee him a sizable signing bonus if he does ink. And Easley almost surely will.

"We've got talk about it, negotiate about little stuff," he said. "The Rangers have been very nice about it and told me don't worry, go play and have fun and when you get back we'll talk about things." About the details that is. "I'll probably go on and play," Easley acknowledged, saying the decision will be made in a ‘week or so'. "That's been a dream of mind and to get an opportunity to get picked like I did by a good organization it's going to hard to pass up.

"It's been great playing for Coach Polk, I've had fun. It's an experience I'll never forget."

Nor will Polk forget his…well, if not very favorite player certainly one who will rank with the elite of his own career. "Pound for pound he's probably the best hitter I've had," the coach says.

TWO-AND-THROUGH: Only once before had a Diamond Dog team lasted just two games at the College World Series. And that was the very first Mississippi State squad to play at Omaha. In 1971 Coach Paul Gregory's only team to make the CWS lost 5-2 to Tulsa and 3-1 to Brigham Young. The next seven State clubs (1979, '81, '85, '90, '97, and '98) all won at least once before leaving the field. However, State has never won more than two games in Rosenblatt. The 1985 Dogs opened with wins over Oklahoma State and Arkansas before losing to Series finalists Texas and Miami. Mississippi State is now 7-16 in College World Series play. Coach Ron Polk is 6-12 in the CWS with State, 8-14 counting his trips with Georgia Southern (1973) and Georgia (2001).

BUT, MARK YOUR CALENDAR: 2B Brandon Turner commenting on the 2008 outlook: "The thing about it, with all the players coming back we got a taste of it this year. So we know what it takes to get here and I'm pretty sure we'll be back."

COMING ATTRACTIONS: The 2007 roster listed nine true freshmen. Of these only four saw action as rookies: SS Jet Butler, 3B Connor Powers, RHP Greg Houston, and LHP Tyler Whitney. Not only did all four play in '07 but they also each made the Omaha travel roster.

True frosh yet to play are OF/3B Jason Nappi, SS Ryan Powers, C Donny Stephens, and C Brent Tanner. Also, LHP Jarred Holloway who did not play this year will transfer to a junior college.

With the largest portion of the June lineup and primary alternates coming back for 2008 there won't be a lot of open slots for the redshirts to seize. But at least a couple have very good chances of earning prime roles as second-year rookies. And who better to ask about the leading candidates than someone who went through the redshirt process himself, such as 3B Russ Sneed? "Hmmm. I haven't seen those guys in a month or so!" he smiles.

"Ryan Powers and Jason Nappi are great high school players. Nappi has gotten a lot bigger, strength and conditioning have paid off a lot. Ryan has always been a good athlete and I think he'll be coming in and competing hard for shortstop and anywhere else. He can swing a bat good and Nappi swings it well. Those would be the two I look for."

Like any rookie Sneed thought he could have played right out of high school, though with the '06 depth on the corner he knew a redshirt was in line. And it turned out nicely. "It was great. That was probably the best year for me, I got so much stronger and my body got up to everybody elses. And I just learned a lot from everybody. I learned a lot from Thomas Berkery, he looked after me a lot, and all the veterans on last year's team. Just being around them and learning all the ropes."

And, getting bigger, by adding over twenty pounds from his prep weight. Having reached 215 the 6-2 Sneed plans to trim down to 205 for his sophomore season.

TURN, TURN, TURNER: Turner ended his first varsity campaign with a team-best .399 average, becoming the first Bulldog freshman (true or redshirt) to lead State in hitting since Rafael Palmeiro posted a .406 average in 1983. He barely missed joining Palmeiro as the only MSU first-year players to hit .400 or better.

MSU-ELLANEOUS NUMBERS: In their five NCAA first and super regional round wins the Bulldogs batted .315 with 11 hits per game. In the two College World Series setbacks they averaged .324 and again 11 hits.

HAVE GLOVES, WILL MOVE: It's easy to tell what non-catcher hauls the heaviest game-gear sack to the ballpark. It's the most versatile Dog on the roster, Mitch Moreland, who has to come prepared to play—and field—at three different positions.

So, "I have three gloves," the RF/1B/RHP says. And keeps them stored in the dugout for use, though it is rare he'll need more than two these days since becoming the regular rightfielder. For that matter Moreland hasn't gotten that many opportunities to pitch. Still, "I carry all three around with me.

"My pitching glove is a little bit shorter, the outfield glove of course is going to be a longer glove. And I have a first base mitt. I just tote them around with me." Literally, that is. "I carry them myself. I'd trust a manager but I don't want to put that on anybody, my bag already weighs about 30 pounds anyway so I try to take care of it myself." Though they get varied amounts of use, Moreland says all three are in good game condition and ready for action.

"The oldest is probably my first-base mitt, I've had it since my freshman year. It's good, broke-in right. The newest is the pitching glove, it could be a little stiff. But I like it."

Not that Moreland babies his leathers. He doesn't even have any special spots in the dugout for their storage, or any teammate designated to find the appropriate tool for his next task during position changes. "Whoever picks it up for me, they just toss it to me."

HIS CORNER OF THE WORLD: Ron Polk takes a merited measure of pride in having coached, lead or assistant, nine teams from four schools at the College World Series for five decades now. Mississippi State fans know about his 1979, '81, '85, '90, '97, and now '07 Bulldog squads; as well as the 2001 Georgia team he skippered to Omaha, and his 1973 Georgia Southern club.

Polk's first appearance at the Series was as an assistantat Arizona in 1966. But for his Omaha debut, the then-Wildcat aide didn't actually assume his usual position in the third base box due to injury. It happened in pre-tourney practice back in Tucson. "We didn't have pitching screens then," Polk said. "And Eddie Leon, who played in the big leagues, he hit a rope right back in practice off my foot. I thought I'd broken it. I couldn't coach third base at Omaha."

Only once since has State's skipper not thrown BP protected, when he took Team USA to Cuba in the early 1990s. The host team provided no screens either. "We used shopping carts."

Polk has made the third base coaching box his preferred post when his teams are at-bat. He can count on a catcher's mitt the number of times he's missed such duty; again with Team USA in 1991 when his former aide and then-Texas A&M Coach Mark Johnson wanted the duty. "I told him go ahead, I'll handle the dugout and flash signals. That worked pretty well."

Yet there are always risks, and while Polk hasn't been hit in a long time he has been known to pull a leg muscle avoiding a hot-hopper or line-screamer sent his way. Talking about the Friday night grounder that 3B Russ Sneed just couldn't pick up off the bat, partly due to so many fans in white or light colors, even the coach admitted such things aren't comforting to a 63-year-old coach trying to survive in the third base box. Still,…

"Rather than yell out to the third base coach I'd rather do it myself," Polk explains, adding " There's not too many of us (head coaches) left that do it, I don't understand why.

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: There's a distinct irony in the fact that Ron Polk does indeed occupy a coaching box, or for that matter is a coach at all. In fact if his original idea of how to stay in the game of baseball had come to fruition, Polk would be a coach's #1 pain. "I originally thought I was going to be an umpire," he says. "When I graduated from Grand Canyon College I didn't know what I was going to do."

Fortunately for the sport—if not for the men in blue—Polk was saved from that fate after receiving a graduate assistantship in the P.E. department at Arizona. "I was teaching classes in bowling, weight training, other things while I got my masters." During the fall semester Polk chose one day to just drop by the baseball field to watch the Wildcats practicing, under their legendary and aging coach Frank Sanset.

"I said I'll just go see the old man, tell him I'm here if he needs someone to hit fungos. And he welcomed me in and made me the third base coach, I'm throwing BP. I became an assistant coach at age 21. There were guys on the team older than I was!"

AND, WHAT MIGHT YET BE: And speaking of age; now 63 himself, with four-plus decades of coaching and 34 in the SEC, how much longer does Polk intend to stay a skipper? It's a question he's deftly evaded for a long time with media and fans alike, and no more informative answer is offered now. "As long as my health is good and the kids don't mind me being around, and Larry doesn't get too mad at me for blasting the NCAA," is the response, which of course says nothing…and everything. Unless the NCAA's new regulations and guidelines for baseball scholarship distribution and roster size drives him out, Ron Polk will be in the third-base box for a while yet.

How long? Asked yet again if he will be back for 2008, he would only respond "I haven't talked to Larry yet!" But Polk did at least hint at the length of his remaining tour of Dog-duty saying that if the more restrictive and absolute guidelines to scholarship usage do go into effect, that will tip him towards leaving Mississippi State and college baseball in general in younger hands.

Until then, he'll keep coaching because he simply enjoys working with college kids, while admitting "It's not many more years that I've got. I'm not going to (coach to) Wayne Graham's age!" That being a reference to Rice's 71-year-old-skipper.

READ ALL ABOUT IT: And if Polk does step down he will continue to impact the game, and not just at the college level. His Baseball/Softball Playbook has sold 95,000 copies in three decades, though the rate has slipped in recent years due to so many colleges no longer offering courses in baseball to the general student body. But Polk's publisher (he turned over the shipping to them a few years back) still moves enough annually.

"It's 27 years old but it still sells about 1,500 a year."

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