Having the privilege of playing under Coach Polk, I got to see and enjoy firsthand what so many before me already knew - when you came to Mississippi State University to play baseball for Polk, you came to win. You also came to become a better person. I don't know of any one player who has played under Coach Polk who can tell me that this is not true of them. He commanded your attention with his legacy and held it with his quick wit and personality.
There are thousands of players that have played under him, and I am sure each one has a thousand stories to tell. I can only give you my perspective and a couple of things that I was able to experience.
The first experience was the first time I got to talk with him. I was playing summer league baseball in Winchester, VA. I had heard through the grapevine, my father, that Coach McMahon had left MSU for the head coaching job at Florida. There were a few rumors that had been circulating about who was going to be our next coach. The next thing I knew, I was getting a call on my cell phone from Ron Polk. It was the first time I had spoken to him. He told me he was calling all of the players to let them know that he was the new coach and that he expected us to be ready. From that day forward, I practiced a little harder, trained a little harder, and worked a little harder on everything because I knew not only what I expected of myself, but also what Coach Polk expected out of me.
I was going to get to play for a legend.
Although I knew I was going to play for a legend, I did not think I would get as many life lessons from him that I did.
He taught us to run on and off the field at 3/4 speed no matter where we were. He taught us to run that same 3/4 speed down to first base after a walk. He wanted us hustling all the time - no exceptions. He always told us that the game is long enough; you don't need to drag it out by not hustling on and off the field, down to first after a walk, etc.
He also showed us how to be as prepared as possible. He was not going to be outworked or unprepared. As an example, Coach always had us in the right position at the right time for each batter in every defensive situation. These lessons followed me into the real world. I use those lessons every day in meeting people and being prepared in business meetings. I will never be unprepared because I only know how to be properly prepared. That will stay with me forever.
Enough of the serious talk, though.
There are a couple of things about Ron Polk that no one other than the players know. Like when Coach Polk wears shorts, his legs look like the top of Homer Simpson's head, just a couple hairs here and there. There might be more but he covers up as much as he can with those awful tube socks from 1994. The only dress clothes he wears are what people have sent to him. I saw him one day with a Greg Norman golf shirt and dress pants. I asked him, "Hey coach, did you get you some new clothes?" He told me that he got those in the mail from some fan, and he had just taken them to get fitted. You would think he could have afforded to buy his own clothes but I guess someone thought he might need some help. Thank you to whoever sent him those clothes. I would hate to see him dress himself seeing as how he still makes us players wear the stirrups from 1984 with our uniforms.
All joking aside, there was one time when we were playing Ole Miss in 2002. We had already beaten them twice in a double header the day before. If we won that final day, we would not only knock them out of the SEC tournament but it would put us in. And that was the only way to guarantee that we would get into the tournament. We had built up a lead and it was in the seventh inning or so. I was batting at the time. Coach Polk had grown tired of the home plate umpire's strike zone so he motioned for me to come talk with him. He met me halfway down the line, but he never really talked to me. I could tell he was just using me to get closer to the umpire so he could yell at him some more. Well, the umpire had finally heard enough and he began walking toward us. Before I knew it, I was a foot away watching Coach Polk and the umpire continuously yell at each other. I had a front row seat and all I could think about was to try not to laugh too hard. But I couldn't contain myself. I began laughing and continued laughing … and there was nothing I could do about it. That is a story I will tell my grandkids one day.
Stories like that and the memories I have are the ones that I will keep forever. I loved every day playing for Coach Polk. I miss it more than anything. Now I am not going to be able to see him on that field anymore. It won't be easy. It might be a little tough at first, but the dynasty he has built will go on. I know this; his successor will have some rather large shoes to fill...even if they are a gift in the mail.
Matthew Brinson, a former Mississippi State baseball player who played at State during the years 2000-2003, is the MSU baseball columnist for GenesPage.com.