Back At Work

Ben Fleming sat in his office inside the Starnes Center weight room. The College World Series had only been over for five days. The road to Omaha, never with an absolute starting line, was already underway for 2015.

Fleming, heading into his second year with Ole Miss baseball as strength and conditioning coach, was talking about what it would take to get there again. While the road map is an inexact science, last year at this time Fleming came on board to try to make the Rebels tougher, among other things.

It became the code word for the program, one used often by coaches and players, and remained as such all the way up through the Rebels' visit and lengthy stay at the College World Series until they tied for third with Texas. Now he looks for another word for this year's team.

"We might use some form of toughness," Fleming said. "There's going to be some word to describe who they are. It will be something that defines who this 2015 Ole Miss baseball team is."

So while they're searching for that word, they work. Monday was the unofficial start for the new group of players in for summer school's second semester.

Most are here, the new class of Rebels, both from the high school ranks and the junior college ranks. A couple are working or playing summer baseball or both. Two drafted high school players – left-handed pitcher Foster Griffin and shortstop Ti'Quan Forbes – have signed professional contracts, which was expected.

Only a handful of veterans are here. Sikes Orvis, who will return to Omaha this week to compete in an annual home run derby at TD Ameritrade Park, is here this summer. So are Christian Trent, Sam Smith, and Holt Perdzock. The other returnees are playing summer baseball.

Fleming is not only focused on the new players and their development, he's also working with the few vets on campus this summer to improve them and in some cases build them back up. Smith didn't appear to be quite as strong and durable at the end of the season as he was earlier. They'll focus on aspects like that, how to help a guy like Smith push through and be as effective late as early.

"Holt will probably jump right into everything this week," he said. "Sikes, once he comes back from the home run derby, will be doing everything normal. Christian and Sam are doing some base stuff to get their legs back underneath them this week and will be full go next week."

Perdzock was highly effective this season as a pinch hitter. His late-game heroics in Lafayette and Omaha helped the Rebels stay alive and move on.

"The biggest thing we'll address with Holt is to continue to put on body weight and size," Fleming said. "He knows that's the biggest thing. He understands that. We started addressing that last year. He did improve body weight and strength. He knows putting on more size and weight will help him be a potential everyday DH. So weight gain is a big thing for him this summer.

"Christian and Sikes both had great success. So how do we make them better? I think the biggest thing with Christian is to continue to make him a better athlete, to change his body. He's an undersized pitcher when you talk about starting rotation guys, not a big, 6-foot-3 lefty, or anything like that. So what can we do to make his body even better, because he is strong and he is powerful? So we'll address some things like that with him this summer."

Fleming was excited last summer about what he could potentially do to help a player like Orvis. He's equally excited this time around to help the senior slugger become even more of an all-around baseball player.

"Like we talked about this same time last year, Sikes really understood he's a 230-pound beast. That's why he hit 14 jacks this year. He maintained his strength throughout the season, and that was shown by his power production and what he was doing. Now he's so hungry for more, and he wants to continue to put on size and build strength. He was working out (Monday) morning, putting in a lift before he goes to the home run derby. He wants to maintain that strength. He doesn't want to lose it. We'll just keep on building with him, and that's exciting. We'll work to make him even more athletic. The potential for what can be for his senior year is unbelievable. He's excited about it for sure."

Fleming said the players returning understand what's ahead of them this offseason. The new players have heard it and will experience it.

"The big challenge in year two is that what we did last summer and last fall was hard and it was grueling. But the blueprint doesn't change just because we had one successful year and a lot of guys drafted or you might have played a lot this past year. It will be as hard or even harder because we're going to throw new ideas and obstacles in front of you. It has to be that way to create that blue collar culture of hard work. And at the end of the day it's about who is the toughest, and who believes they can win those walkoff games."

Fleming said the whole environment surrounding the program this year was a key factor in the success it ultimately had.

"Coach (Mike Bianco) is a master of the mental game and keeping the guys focused on the present. This team, more than any other team I've ever been around, bought into that. They were prepared. They were good. Don't let a little bump in the road bother you, and they didn't. With the leaders we'll have next year, I see no reason it won't be the same."

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