The Inseparable Six

They walked into the UMAA building, three at a time, this group of six freshmen baseball players.

"The others are right behind us," one of the first three inside said. The word this month is they have become almost the inseparable six.

They aren't the only newcomers to Ole Miss baseball for the 2011-12 school year. There will be more than six in the additional group that arrives in a few weeks, depending on who signs a pro contract and skips college.

In this group of six, they all say they're coming back to college. That sounds a little misleading for six guys who just graduated from high school. But they now have a semester of summer school under their collective belts already. Their exams were over today.

We've talked to them by phone. All but a couple we'd met already. Those are the two Floridians. One of those almost appears to be the group's spokesperson.

Sikes Orvis is his name. He's from Freedom High School in Orlando. Maybe it was because he was sitting at the end of the conference table. Or that he was nearest us. But he felt confident enough to answer many of the questions.

Like where he might play at Ole Miss. A leadoff guy at times in high school with 20 stolen bases last season (he jokingly reminded us of that), he thought he would play first base and catch and still might.

"Apparently now maybe third base and outfield," said Orvis, who actually played at Fenway Park this summer on a visit to the Red Sox, who drafted him. A great experience he couldn't pass up, he said, but he'll be back at Ole Miss next month for college.

"I'm coming here," Orvis said.

Supporting Their Team(s)

Their headgear was interesting. Three of the four drafted players in the bunch sported caps from the teams that chose them. Obviously they are at least fans of ballclubs that would think so highly of them. Chris Ellis with a Dodgers cap, Hawtin Buchanan with a Nationals cap, Orvis a Red Sox cap.

We basically started off talking to them about the month they've been through in the weight room, working out and conditioning with Ole Miss strength coach Rich Levy.

"Has it been anything like you've been through before?" I asked. There were smiles and some laughter, meaning "no" even before they said so.

"It's a lot different from high school," said the 6-foot-2 Orvis, leading the way with one of the first questions asked. "Coming from high school, I thought I was in pretty good shape. I threw up the first day we worked out."

That brought much laughter from his teammates.

"It's a whole different ballgame," Orvis continued. "They don't play around. They work you ‘til you can't really walk. The first week I could barely walk up the stairs at our dorm. It was pretty tough."

Buchanan of Biloxi, all 6-foot-8 of him, said things were getting a little better, now some four weeks into the program.

"Once you get into a routine and get used to it, it's not too bad," said the right-handed pitcher who lowered his chair not long after he sat down just so he wouldn't tower above the others, although this is a fairly tall group.

Ellis, of Hoover, Ala.'s Spain Park High, is 6-5 and a right-handed pitcher. Josh Laxer from Madison Central, with an outgoing personality a little like Orvis, is a right-handed pitcher as well and listed at 6-feet. So is Chase Reeves, an outfielder and left-handed pitcher from Hamilton. Auston Bousfield is also listed at 6-feet tall. He's an outfielder from West Orange High in Orlando.

The two Floridians are new to Mississippi and anything Ole Miss.

"It's not quite like Orlando," said Bousfield of the road system in Oxford as compared to his hometown.

Ole Miss Ties

The other four – Ellis, Buchanan, Laxer, and Reeves – all are tied in some way to Mississippi and Ole Miss.

Although from Alabama, Ellis' parents are both from Mississippi and are Ole Miss alums.

"I've always wanted to come here," Ellis said. "I just love it here and want to go to Omaha."

"We came to football and baseball games here since I was little," Reeves said.

Buchanan's from a big Ole Miss family. His grandfather was a football star for the Rebels. Raymond Brown was the 1958 Sugar Bowl MVP. Buchanan made it known for months he was all about Ole Miss – unless something really special happened with the June draft. The Nationals drafting him in the 19th round didn't do the trick.

Laxer's road was different.

"It was the opposite for me. I have a sister that goes to (Mississippi) State, and my brother is talking about going to Southern (Mississippi). I guess it's good to bring some diversity to the family," said Laxer, drafted in the 20th round by the Nationals.

Orvis and Bousfield also knew each other from playing with the Orlando Scorpions, a summer league team that has become fertile Ole Miss recruiting ground. They both know incoming freshman pitcher Casey Mulholland, who played with them there.

"I talk to Casey about once a week," Orvis said. "He's real excited (about coming to Ole Miss)."

They've all known each other in some form. Baseball among the elite players can be a small world.

From competing against one another in high school, or playing on all-star teams together. Or summer showcases and tournaments in Atlanta, North Carolina, Florida, or other locales. Or just from being recruited by Ole Miss and visiting here.

The question of who knew who created an inaudible few moments of how they met and when. The main point is they have grown close the past month, and that bodes well for their futures.

"I knew pretty much everybody from somewhere along the road," Buchanan said. "But being here you obviously get to know everybody better."

A Baseball Bond

They talked about being on the same floor in the dorm, leaving their doors open and moving from room to room in a communal setting. They agreed they feel they have a leg up, so to speak, on the other newcomers since they arrived early.

"We knew coming up here (early) would help us in the fall," Laxer said. "We knew we'd have to make some sacrifices, which is not playing summer ball. We don't want to be known as freshmen when we get back here for the fall."

They got more serious when talking about making Ole Miss a big winner again. They know last season wasn't where the program has been for a decade. They feel they are the group, along with the additional newcomers, to lift the Rebels again.

"We talk baseball every day," said Orvis, which should come as no surprise. "Lineups, rotations, positions. We know the older guys are still here, and (we talk about) where we could fill in. We talk about it daily."

"We all want to come in and compete," said Buchanan. "And get to the College World Series."

"Omaha 2012 twitter," said Bousfield, which drew laughter and approval as he pointed out what's often tweeted by the players in the class. They don't take credit for it, however. "I think Coach (Cliff) Godwin started it," they collectively agreed.

"I saw him do it and like three of the older guys do it," Buchanan said of the tweet tag Omaha 2012. "Then all of a sudden I see Bous (Bousfield) do it. I think it took off from there."

"I don't twitter," said Orvis, which brought some "get with the program" chatter from his teammates.

"You're the only one on this row (that doesn't)," Buchanan said.

The pitchers of the class – Buchanan, Laxer, and Ellis – know the weekend rotation slate was wiped clean through graduation or the draft. They are excited about the possibilities that brings.

"We're gonna come in, and that's what we want to do. We want to compete as freshmen," Buchanan said. "That's definitely what we want to do."

"The fact that all the starters are gone, the thought of that might have been easier (before arriving)," Laxer said. "But when we got here, we met all the other pitchers, and there are so many of them fighting for the same position. It's really not going to be that easy."

Knowing Their New Coach

Orvis and Bousfield are familiar with Godwin.

"I met him through the whole UCF recruiting process," Orvis said. "He and (Coach) Laff (Carl Lafferty) were the two recruiting coordinators I really liked. I know a lot of times I played at UCF, and they (Knight players) all raved about how good of a hitting coach and catching coach he is. That made me real excited."

"When he was recruiting at UCF, I loved him," Bousfield said. "He was awesome. I think he's great. He's real excitable, and he knows what he's talking about when it comes to hitting. I actually heard it from one of my friends that plays at UCF. He text me and said ‘you just took our hitting coach from us.' I had no idea what he was talking about. When I heard he had come to Ole Miss, I was really happy about that."

"I found out on twitter," Reeves said. "(I heard) that's who we were going to get. I saw on twitter it was official. He seems like he's full of energy. I think he's a good guy."

They say they have also bonded with the upperclassmen Rebels who are here for the summer. They are adjusting to the programs they have, the pitchers doing their thing, the others with their routines. It's been a productive month for them as they focus on being a big part of Ole Miss baseball right away.

Reeves said he knows this group wants to be a part of a quick turnaround in Rebel baseball fortunes.

"Seeing them last year as they struggled, it's good to come in and hopefully us be the class that builds it back up," said the longtime Rebel follower. "It would be good to do that."

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