Summer Of Change

Ben Fleming wanted to get things started off right for the Ole Miss baseball program, so he and the players that were in Oxford this summer went shopping. They headed to the grocery store.

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Fleming's coaching and teaching are obviously not limited to the weight room or the actual baseball facility.

"We had the carts all lined up as we went around the store," Fleming said. "I think some of the older players saw some people they knew and told them what we were doing, after they got a few looks."

But mostly Fleming wanted the players to be aware that the way they shop and what they buy to eat are important.

Then, of course, there are the other more common tasks of being a student-athlete when the season is not going on.

Voluntary workouts, by NCAA rule, are what happens in the summer. Coaches can't make players attend. There is no penalty for missing. All the players in Oxford this summer chose to participate, as you would expect. They weren't going to not be doing what their teammates were doing.

"It's been going really well," Fleming said of the first few weeks of his time at Ole Miss after replacing Rich Levy who after three years with the program moved out of state where his wife was already employed. "We've been running. We did yoga in the mornings. We did a new throwing program Coach (Carl) Lafferty has added this year. For the ones who didn't go play summer ball, it's been nice. They've been doing some good training."

Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco, who just returned from a month with Team USA, liked Fleming from the start.

"Through the interview process, he kind of blew us away with his energy. And he's got a great reference in Coach (Cliff) Godwin who he worked with at Central Florida. They went to Regionals there, and then he did so at Kansas State. It seems like a lot of success has followed him. That's not surprising when you talk to him."

Bianco said he's heard since he returned how things went for the players who were here and their new strength coach.

"I've not only gotten feedback from (Fleming), I've gotten it from the players and coaches," Bianco said. "Everybody told me the impact he's made in one month. They've been getting after it."

Fleming said not all players choose to play summer baseball, and that allows those who stay behind on campus the opportunity to focus on other important aspects of the game.

"There are positives of not playing in the summer, especially for some of these older guys who have played every single day as starters," he said. "Just taking the summer off and getting away from the baseball grind, focusing on the weight room and getting their bodies healthy again. And catching up on their classes if they need to, or taking a class and getting ahead."

Fleming came to Ole Miss from Kansas State where he spent two seasons after spending five at Central Florida before that. He said his June arrival at Ole Miss came at a good time.

"The summer is a great time to train," he said. "The freshmen can come in and train with some older guys who are here. Then they don't feel like freshmen when school starts in the fall."

Ben Fleming
File Photo

But for the players who were gone this summer, texts and twitter and various forms of communication have spread the word that it's a new day as far as the training aspect of the program.

"I definitely think they're getting the feedback that it's going to be a little bit different," Fleming said. "My pace of workouts is a little higher than what they're used to. Speed and agility work. The positives of yoga are that it forces them to stretch and puts them in different positions that are engaging their hips and mobility in a different way than what they're used to. We enjoy it. We have fun with it. It's challenging. It's strength-based yoga, just another tool we can use to get better."

Fleming said speed and power are two of the main aspects he focuses on with the hitters.

"You do us no good if you get to first but you can't go first to second. If you can't get green-lighted to go first to second, it does us no good," he said. "Same thing if you're 230 pounds and you can't drive the ball deep or in the gap for a standup double or drive in a RBI, then you're not doing us any good.

"There are fast guys who need to be fast, and strong guys who need to be strong," he continued. "You can't be big and not be strong. And you can't be fast and not be explosive. So we're always preaching to find your niche in the weight room, find what's going to translate onto the field."

As for the pitchers, he wants to condition them so that they get stronger and can pitch longer and more innings in games as the regular season moves into the postseason.

He works with players on their stamina, helping them to be prepared for any situation, from moving a lot to not moving at all.

"Baseball games are sometimes three or three and a half hours," Fleming said. "That's a long time to be on your feet. They're not moving all that time, but there has to be stamina. In the weight room we step up the intensity, constantly moving from one thing to the next."

Fleming said he believes there will be improvement in the overall condition and strength of the team this school year.

"You're going to see bigger, faster, stronger Ole Miss baseball players, and I'll stake my claim on that," he said. "Because I see the potential in the bodies, especially of the returners, and I know one good fall will show a lot of change in those older guys."

When Fleming was at Central Florida, the team went to back to back Regionals. When he was at Kansas State, they hosted a Regional and went to a Super Regional. Fleming plans to take the success he learned and contributed to in those programs and implement them at Ole Miss.

"We want to get tougher. Everyone has an Omaha Challenge. What did you do before that in your training and offseason? That's such a big key," he said. "We're here to take it to that next level. In the fall I see the players way more than the other coaches. I get to push them at a different level. If I'm doing my job, they'll be more successful."

Fleming exudes enthusiasm and confidence and is pleased to be in the Southeastern Conference with the Rebels.

"I'm excited about being at Ole Miss," he said. "I'm excited about all the tools we have here. If we can get the strength and conditioning side of things right, which I believe we will, we'll see some crazy things this year."

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