Step Right Up

Austin Anderson is now a veteran of Southeastern Conference and NCAA baseball wars. Three years ago at this time, as he entered his freshman fall campaign, he was just learning the ropes.

Follow SpiritJeff on Twitter

"Time has flown by," said the Florida native and Ole Miss' every day shortstop last season. "I still remember moving into the dorm that first year with Will Allen."

Allen, another Floridian, joins Anderson as seniors who want to lead the Rebels by example.

"As a senior I need to provide the younger guys leadership, show them the ropes and what's expected from our program," Anderson said. "I want to help them along and to get ready for the season."

Anderson said he remembers someone like that when he and Allen and the rest of the Class of 2014 arrived on campus.

"As a freshman, Matt Smith was a great leader," Anderson said of the veteran outfielder and slugger from Georgia. "I remember when I was a freshman, kind of being nervous and just getting started and all. I'm excited to be able to lead and see what this team has in store."

Anderson has played a lot of shortstop since he arrived. The first two years he split time, mainly with Blake Newalu. Last season with Newalu gone, it was all Anderson. His game improved, evidenced by some statistics.

Last year he batted a solid .310 with three home runs, a triple, and 12 doubles. He also had 39 RBI, third most on the team last spring, and is the top returner in the runs batted in department.

"Those first two years I shared time with Blake Newalu," Anderson said. "As a junior last year, it was mainly me. I settled in and was more comfortable out there and more comfortable at the plate. Also playing in the Cape (Cod) last summer (2012) helped and was big for me."

Anderson didn't play baseball this summer, instead choosing to work toward his degree. That's typical of the program, Anderson said, as the coaches usually encourage those heading into their senior years to make sure they are on track to graduate.

"For position players, if you play every game all year, Coach (Mike) Bianco gives you the option of going to play summer ball or not," Anderson said. "For a position player that didn't play much or a pitcher that didn't pitch much, they kind of urge you to go play summer ball to get more reps and better yourself as a player.

"Also after your junior year, it's important to make sure you're on track to get your degree," Anderson continued. "I had played summer ball for three years, and so I stayed here this summer."

Austin Anderson
Bruce Newman

Anderson could play some other positions, and has in the past. He says he's most at home at short, but whatever it takes for the team to succeed, he'll do.

"Coach Bianco's going to play the best nine when it comes down to it," he said. "I hope to play shortstop, since I played there all last year and I'm most comfortable there. And we do have a lot of talent. I played a little at third base my freshman year, a little at second in high school. So wherever they want me and what's best for the team, I'll do it."

Even before official fall ball began late in September and the team was going through mainly individual drills and weight room workouts, Anderson could see the talent level and depth are better.

"We definitely have a lot of depth position player-wise," he said, mentioning just at middle infield new guys like Errol Robinson, Brantley Bell, and Dalton Dulin are extremely capable of contributing and even starting. "We'll see this fall about the pitchers and how things are there. We have a lot of talent there, too. I'm excited to see how they perform this fall."

But it's all about pointing toward the postseason, as usual. Anderson has heard the stories of how great Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field is for the NCAA Regionals and Super Regionals. The only thing is he hasn't gotten to experience that yet. The last time the Rebels hosted was in 2009. So they have their sights set on that this season. And even though a long way off, work toward that and more has begun.

"Whatever it takes to do that, that's what we'll do," Anderson said. "I haven't experienced that. I'd love to see Swayze packed in June for a Regional and Super Regional. You want to host. We'll work our butts off and see if it pays off in May or June."

New strength and conditioning Coach Ben Fleming, in from Kansas State and before that Central Florida, is doing his part to make sure the Rebels are in tip-top shape. Word is it's difficult but what the players needed.

"His workouts are all tough. Everything is up tempo and definitely wear you down but get you stronger. He definitely kicks our butts," Anderson said of Fleming's approach.

But he also knows the Rebels need to finish strong after starting strong, like last season. He knows the better they are now, the better they'll be then.

"The past couple of years we've started off pretty well," Anderson said. "Last season we were 21-2 early. But we hit some adversity. We weren't mentally tough enough to handle it. Coach Fleming's making us mentally tougher, and it will pay off in the spring."

That's already apparent in the fall as Anderson and his teammates have found out.

OM Spirit Top Stories