Remarkable Reunion

It was all in fun, but there was some seriousness to it. The current Ole Miss team beat the returning alumni 7-0.

The score wasn't the most important thing, but it was a chance for the current team to get in some live action against professionals. And it was a chance to get the professionals back on the field they once knew.

"It was fun," said 2009 National League Rookie of the Year, Chris Coghlan. "I haven't played since I've been injured. So it was a lot of fun. It's been about six months since I put baseball pants on."

But when he did, he became a baseball player again. Coghlan, who injured a knee in a festive moment after a Marlins victory last summer, had surgery and rehabbed for months.

Coghlan, seen here signing autographs, was the 2009 National League Rookie of the Year
Courtesy: Bruce Newman
Early in this one Jordan King sent one out to right center. Coghlan, ever the baseball player, laid out his body in a dive to catch it, but the ball got past him.

"I gave it my all," he said afterward. Who would have expected anything less?

"It was a lot of fun, a joy to come out here and support the University," Coghlan said. "At the same time for me it was fun to see all the guys you played with, and see the history and what Coach B's done here for the program."

Centerfield for the Marlins? That's where Coghlan could be this season.

Centerfield for the alum Rebels? That's where he was today.

"Lot of memories at third base here," he said. "I look forward to the challenge of playing center. Never done it before."

The game Saturday itself was fairly low key offensively except for the bottom of the fifth inning when former pitcher Brett Bukvich found the going rough. When the inning was done and Phillip Irwin had come in to replace Bukvich, the current Rebs leading 7-0. That was all the runs anybody could muster on the day.

Current shortstop Blake Newalu drove in a run to score outfielder Jordan King to get things started for the young Rebs. After an Alex Yarbrough walk got Preston Overbey home, Matt Smith singled to score Taylor Hightower and Tanner Mathis.

Zach Kirksey doubled down the right field line to score Yarbrough and Smith. King was up again and singled to score Kirksey. The damage was done for the professionals.

Matt Crouse, projected as the first-game starter for the Rebels, proved again he should be probably there. It was three up-three down in the first inning as the junior got Jordan Henry, Matt Tolbert, and Chris Coghlan all out on strikes.

Matt Crouse projects as the first-game starter for the Rebels
Courtesy: Bruce Newman
"He was good," Coghlan said, and joked a bit. "He struck out the side. That's always good. We were just like 'man we're just trying to make everyone feel good.' All the pitchers looked pretty good. Hopefully they can keep that up."

Alex Presley got a single off Crouse in the second, and Justin Henry got a single off David Goforth in the fifth. That was all the offense for the pros on this day.

In addition to Crouse, Ole Miss sent Goforth, Austin Wright, and Jake Morgan to the mound.

The hits Ole Miss got were from Jordan King (double off Lance Lynn, single off Brett Bukvich), Alex Yarbrough (single off Ryan Bukvich, single off Stephen Head), Preston Overbey (single off Brett Bukvich), Matt Smith (single off Brett Bukvich), Zach Kirksey (double off Brett Bukvich), and Miles Hamblin (double off Aaron Barrett).

In addition to the above professional pitchers mentioned, Drew Pomeranz, Mark Holliman, Phillip Irwin, and Nathan Baker pitched for the pros.

"Excited to see Crouse come out and pitch so well," Ole Miss assistant coach Carl Lafferty said. "He pitched aggressively and with a lot of confidence and gets after guys on the mound."

"It was going to be a tough inning," Crouse said of the top of the first. "Tough outs, but I'm happy with the way it went. Facing big leaguers is definitely a confidence boost."

Returning to familiar grounds:

Stephen Head obviously enjoyed every moment of the game. When he pitched, he was glad to give up a hit so he could pitch some more.

"I wanted to get some work in (on the mound)," said Head, heading back to the pros in search of a team needing a left-handed pitcher. "A ball they threw to Tolbert, it was an easy out. I was yelling 'Tolbert don't tag him, don't tag him.' I wanted to throw some more pitches. Thankfully he didn't catch it. I said, 'That's alright Tolbert. I need to throw some more pitches, so don't feel bad about it.' "

It all came back to Head, just like the old days.

Matt Tolbert looks forward to proving himself again to the Minnesota ballclub
Courtesy: Bruce Newman
"I always threw the ninth inning, and it just kind of played out that way," he continued. "It also gave me a chance to hit today, too. I got on Presley because he flew out with me on deck. I said 'Presley, I wanted to hit one more time.' "

Head said the weekend was a total success.

"It was awesome," he said. "If you could have been in the dugout, we only got two hits. Nobody does anything, and everybody's laughing and having a good time. It was a blast today, last night, and tonight will be. Just great."

Head said he had to re-familiarize himself with the field.

"I used to just catch the ball and run to the bag and step on it," he said. "Today I did that and looked down and the base was about 10 feet away from me. So I said man I must be a little rusty. Stuff like that made it a blast."

On "Target" to get back to Minnesota:

"It was great," Matt Tolbert said of the weekend. "I haven't played on this field since the renovations. It's unbelievable. The surface is great. It was good to get back out there and relive some memories."

Tolbert, already in the bigs for quite some time with the Twins, looks forward to proving himself again to the Minnesota ballclub.

"I'm just trying to go down there and have a good spring training, better than today, obviously. It was good to be out there today. That was the first live pitching I've seen in four and a half months. That was good to get back up to game speed. I'll head down there and see what happens."

Tolbert, the first signee of the Bianco era back in the summer of 2000, said he loved his time in Oxford this weekend.

"It's awesome to come back. It's first-class everything here. One day I figured with Coach Bianco it would be like this. It's unbelievable. It's great to come back and see the guys you played with and meet some new guys."

It was cold, but playing in Minnesota can also be frigid early and late in seasons.

"Target Field is unbelievable," Tolbert said of the Twins' new ballpark. "I want to get back up there at some point."

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