Working His Way Back

It's Matt Smith's last season of Ole Miss baseball, so he'll miss the important series with Mississippi State because of hand surgery last week.

He walked up to us Tuesday afternoon, serious scar with stitches on the top of his left glove hand, and talked to us about several subjects, like, well, his hand and the Mississippi State series.

"It's a lot better," said the fifth-year veteran of Ole Miss and Mississippi State wars. "Actually it's ahead of schedule. I'm only like (a few) days out and I can pretty much, I mean...not completely a fist yet."

And he shows us how he can almost close his left, repaired hand into a ball. But not yet, as he says. That means he won't play this weekend against the Bulldogs. But we've known that since the day he had surgery.

That he would have a chance to be back for the Arkansas series, which has always been the hope, remains that.

"It's getting better. I can tell," he said. "My strength's coming back every day. Hopefully in five days I'll be picking up a bat, whether it's a whiffle ball bat or whatever. Just doing something. I can grip a bat already, it's just really weak."

That would be about Saturday or Sunday. The series with the Razorbacks begins a week from Thursday.

"It's going to hurt regardless. I'm just waiting to get my strength back," Smith said. "I'm hoping for getting back for Arkansas."

He protects it now with a guard, and he will also have to wear one of some sorts when he plays again.

"I have to keep a guard on it most of the day. I take it off to do my rehab and stuff," he said. "I'll definitely have to have something on it (when he is able to play in a game) if it gets hit or whatever. That bone is not ever going to break again. It's got eight screws and four plates in it. It's probably the toughest bone in my hand now."

Smith said the Rebel offense was able to carry on without him last weekend.

"It was awesome," he said. "I think Miles (Hamblin) and (Matt) Tracy as far as senior leadership did really good offensively. They had big hits throughout the weekend. Offensively in general I think it was an awesome weekend for us. Everybody swung it. We got big two-out hits more often than we had been. That was neat to see."

Mathis knows this rivalry now
Bruce Newman
The Rivalry

Although he won't play in the MSU series, Smith said he is helping to make sure the younger players understand what's at stake. He said Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco is also making sure.

"Coach has already mentioned that. He said get ready for a big weekend, the biggest rival weekend we have. It's more than just a series for the SEC standings. It's going to be an intense weekend, and we're playing good right now. It's going to be a big weekend."

Tanner Mathis, although an out of state sophomore from southwest Louisiana, said he knows what this weekend means as well.

"I've been here a couple of years, and I've seen it," said the Rebels' leadoff batter. "I got to go to State last year and saw how much they hated us. As soon as we beat South Carolina Sunday, a bunch of people came up and said man, this weekend was huge but this next weekend is even bigger. They said gotta take three, gotta take three. Even the guys not from here, they still get the message."

Mathis said he remembers the words of Bianco last season prior to playing Mississippi State.

"He said ‘I'm not from here, but I know.' As soon as he said that, I thought this is pretty big. (Jordan) King has talked to me some. He's got some buddies that play for State. They hate us and we hate them. All they want to do is beat us, and all we want to do is beat them."

Mathis said winning the last two games against South Carolina lifted this team's confidence like it hasn't been all season.

"I think we have all the confidence in the world to come out here and play our best baseball the next three games just like we did the last two games," he said. "It's a very important weekend for the fans, and it's a very important weekend for Hoover and postseason sakes."

Matt Snyder, from Virginia, said being here makes all the difference in understanding the dynamics of Ole Miss-Mississippi State.

"When you're from Virginia, you know about it because of ESPN. But when you come down here and see how it really is, especially with baseball and football, it's something people don't really understand farther away.

"But when you get down here and start playing and seeing the reactions around the game, you can't beat it anywhere in the country."

Snyder said that is especially the case, in his opinion, Thursday through Saturday.

"This weekend is going to be huge because of the standings in the SEC right now," he said.

"We definitely know how big this is to everybody around here. And it is to us. If we play like we did the past two games, we'll be fine. We haven't had that feeling much this season, and we want to make sure we keep that feeling going. Especially against the Bulldogs, that would be times two."

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