Getting Fit

There's a smile on Ben Fleming's face when he talks about the progress the Ole Miss baseball players have made since summer. Pre-fall ball workouts, fall baseball, and end of semester training are all in the books, and Fleming said he's pleased with how things have gone.

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But he also knows that from August through the fall semester and into this time of year is a long period for players to wait until the season actually starts in mid-February. So one of his goals, one of his tasks, is to keep the players motivated.

"The fall with baseball is one of those things that we always want to keep it exciting and keep it fresh, continue to be innovative and keep the attention of the guys," said Fleming, who came to Ole Miss from Kansas State, which hosted a NCAA Regional last June. "With baseball, that season is so far down the road. You have to keep them motivated and striving for those goals, even though they are far away at that time."

Before his two years at K-State, Fleming was at Central Florida for four years. It was there he worked with current Ole Miss assistant coach Cliff Godwin.

Fleming said baseball training is a year-round, complex effort. The fall is an important time for players as they return from summer baseball or other summer activities to rejoin a team whose goals are focused on spring and early summer.

"There are intrasquads and the weight room in the fall," he said. "But outside the weight room, we're trying to get everybody competing and getting exciting about that winning feeling. There won't be actual games for several months, and we work our schedule to point toward that."

Lots of schools have an "Omaha Challenge" at the end of fall ball. Ole Miss is no exception. All schools have different formats they use. Fleming likes the one Ole Miss had late last semester, with part of it what was already here and part of it what he brought in.

"This Omaha Challenge was by far the best one I've ever been a part of," he said. "Coach Bianco's been doing this for like 12-plus years now at Ole Miss. His is different from other universities I've been at. We go for a week long, and some of the same events they've always done here. There's a tradition of things they do. But we want to keep it fresh and do some new things."

The Omaha Challenge mainly consists of non-baseball activities in a competition setting for the players, who are divided into four teams.

Will Allen
Bruce Newman

"I was unbelievably proud of the way they finished it," Fleming said. "What these guys have done physically and mentally and emotionally over the fall, we're all so proud of what we put them through and how they finished. It was pouring rain and 45 degrees that last day. They were soaking wet. But it was a really good feeling how they finished."

Then it was time for the Rebels to head home after exams for several weeks of holiday time. That can be a mixed bag of good and bad. The coaches know that and want them to enjoy themselves. But they also don't want the players to come back having lost ground on all they had worked toward the previous four months.

"Going home for like three weeks or more at the end of the fall semester, we just keep reminding them, yeah you're going home but the season is coming," Fleming said. "Don't let the gains you've made now go to waste. You still want them to relax a little bit, because it's a sport that we want to be playing well into the summer. Baseball plays longer and there isn't as much rest as some of the other sports."

Then Ole Miss players return from the Christmas break early. The winter intercession, which began this week, allows that. They can take a class and also kick start their training for baseball season again.

"The winter intercession is a huge advantage for the guys at Ole Miss," Fleming said. "I've never been a part of that at any other university. They can get ahead in the classroom and come to the weight room and train, be around their teammates and do workouts.

"They're excited to be back. You can see that," he continued. "They hung out with their high school buddies and had a lot of family time. Now they can feel the start of that race to baseball season is here, and they're ready for that."

Fleming said the next couple of weeks before spring semester classes begin and actual preseason baseball practice gets underway is extremely important.

"Up until classes start, they'll train hard," he said. "They'll be getting that conditioning back underneath them. Then we'll adjust to their in-season training once classes start and preseason practice gets underway. And that will be another exciting change, knowing we're one step closer to the actual games being played."

Ole Miss opens its season Feb. 14-16 with three games at Stetson in DeLand, Fla.

(More from Fleming and players in story two on the winter intercession workouts)

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