Portera Caps Banner Campaign With MSU Alumni Game

It doesn't get much better than the 2002 baseball campaign as far as former Mississippi State All-SEC West catcher Frank Portera of West Point is concerned.<P> There's been enough excitement this summer alone to last a lifetime. Still there's a few more days circled on the calendar.

An outstanding player-coach throughout a storied career, Portera will be reunited this weekend with a number of his former teammates during Mississippi State's 10th Annual Alumni Baseball Game festivities at magnificent Dudy Noble Field, Polk-DeMent Stadium.

A fantastic menu is planned with the "Fab Four" of Jeff Brantley, Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro and Bobby Thigpen along with newly-named Texas Rangers manager Nat "Buck" Showalter among the alumni stars returning.

An on-the-field autograph session is planned before Sunday's Alumni Game with the first pitch scheduled at 1:30 p.m.

It's been a "dream-come-true" extended season for Portera who guided the West Point Bryan Packers to the American Legion World Series National Championship at Danville, Va., to cap a brilliant late-summer run. A motorcade from the Golden Triangle Regional Airport to downtown West Point followed with horns blaring, blue lights flashing and cheers enough for the Packers to rival an Oscar performance.

However, the American Legion National Champions were yet to receive the ultimate reward, a trip to the Major League World Series, featuring the San Francisco Giants led by "Home Run King" Barry Bonds and the California Angels paced by power-hitting Tim Salmon and Troy Glaus.

"It was a fantastic trip, an education in itself," said Portera, who signed with the Cincinnati Reds following a brilliant career with Mississippi State in nearby Starkville.

"We had a wonderful time in California. The players enjoyed the game at Edison Field in Anaheim. They enjoyed every minute of the trip and I enjoyed it also," said Portera, who added, he "hadn't been back to the West Coast" since Mississippi State played in the Riverside National Invitational Tournament in California in 1967.

"It's not the same. So much has changed. It's crowded but we had a great time. The kids enjoyed it and that's what counts," the Bulldogs' ironman catcher replied when asked if things had changed much in California since former MSU Hall of Fame coach Paul Gregory took the Dogs West years ago.

"Yes, it brought back memories," added Portera, who entered private business after hanging up his spikes, his catcher's mask and mitt.

Portera has built the foundation for one of the most successful American Legion baseball programs ever in Mississippi, having won the state championship four of the last eight years.

One of his secrets is hard work and "love" of the game, admits Portera, a very dedicated and likable yet firm leader who knows the game inside and out. Any of his players will tell you as much.

Portera is quick he give the late Paul Gregory, a former Mississippi State coach who signed him out of West Point, a lot of credit as well.

"Paul (Gregory) was a great coach, very knowledgeable, and he knew the game," said Portera of the former major leaguer pitcher with the Chicago White Sox.

Portera was drafted by both the St. Louis Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves, but chose to remain at Mississippi State and finish school before turning pro.

The former Bulldog backstop readily admits that he's looking forward to seeing his former teammates and getting to know some of the younger players this weekend.

"I think it's going to be a great weekend. Ron Polk has done a tremendous job putting the Alumni game together. I'm sure it's a lot of extra work for Ron and his staff, but like everything else, he does a first class job," said Portera from his home in West Point Thursday night while watching Game 5 of the World Series being played at Pac Bell Park in San Francisco.

A couple of the MSU players off the 1965 and '66 SEC championship teams plan to arrive early to visit in the area before the Saturday Golf Tournament and the Welcome Banquet being held on campus. The golf tourney is set for the MSU Golf Course at Lakeside, while the banquet will be held at the Colvard Student Union Building on campus.

All-SEC outfielder Mike Burns, who led the Dogs in hitting in 1965 with a .333 average, is one of the players arriving early as is pitcher Claude Passeau who had a team-low 1.51 ERA during the '65 title-winning campaign.

"They're both due in here sometime Friday, and we have a lot of catching up to do," said Portera of his classmates who played at Redbird Park in Columbus two years while the new Dudy Noble Field was being built. Mississippi State advanced to the NCAA District III Tournament in both '65 & '66, knocking off Florida State in the opening round before being edged out.

Passeau and Portera helped form effective battery mates for the Diamond Dogs who also featured several All-SEC selections - pitcher Ken Tatum, outfielder Del Unser, shortstop Don Bell - joined by Russ Gatlin, Frank Chambers, James Carroll, Bo Gregory, Junior Feild, Bill Hamilton, Gary Washington, and George Patton.

"I'll always believe we were very close to going to Omaha," said Portera, who has long been a winner on and off the field.

It goes without saying that 2002 will long have a place in Frank Portera's heart.


Don Foster, a veteran newspaper writer who is the Sports Editor for the Starkville Daily News, writes a weekly article for Gene's Page.

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