Evan Button pushes himself to help his team

If you had to pick out one player to show where Ole Miss baseball has moved to at this time in this era, Evan Button might just be your man. Surprise choice? Read on.

Likely no player represents the talent and depth and how the Ole Miss baseball program has progressed this century than the 6-foot, 180-pound infielder from St. Louis. For many Ole Miss teams in the past, Button would have been a starter right out of the gate.

Button arrived at Ole Miss in the fall of 2005 as a highly-recruited player. He had lots of choices for college as do most of the players recruited now to play for the Rebels.

Button chose Ole Miss, knowing that at his usual position - shortstop - there was a consensus All-American in Zack Cozart who was just coming off his freshman season.

Didn't faze Button. He wanted to attend Ole Miss and be a part of the baseball program here. He wanted to work hard and push himself - and Cozart, so they both could become better players.

That wasn't all there was to it, but you get the picture. Button was excited about coming to Ole Miss then, and as he enters his second season playing with the Rebels, he remains so.

One of the fastest players on the team, Button played some in the outfield last season and was glad to get into the games, even though outfield was basically a new area for him. He started 35 games in 2006 and played in 51 of the Rebels' 66 contests. Sometimes he was the designated hitter. Sometimes he only came in to pinch run.

In the summer of '06, Button played for the Danville Dans in the Central Illinois Collegiate League. Danville finished in second-place in the CICL Tournament after posting a league-best regular-season record of 25-19. Button hit .272 with 17 RBI, six doubles, a triple, and a home run in the wooden bat league. He led the team with 27 steals on 32 attempts, second best in the league, and started 39 of 40 games.

Button kept his passion and desire to help his Ole Miss team and himself improve. It's what he continued to do in the fall and this preseason as a shortstop starter in intrasquads but as a backup to Cozart when the games begin this weekend.

"I've just tried to keep getting better," said Button, who batted .265 last season at Ole Miss with three doubles, three triples, and 19 RBI, along with five stolen bases in six attempts. "At the plate, I've worked on my swing, and changed some things in my stance. I've tried some different things just about every day to become a better hitter. Just seeing live pitching at this level helps."

He's also worked to gain an edge in other areas.

"I think I've gotten a little faster, but I've also gotten stronger," he said. "I've worked on my quickness too, and I worked out a lot over the (holiday) break so I'd be ready when I got back here for (preseason) practice."

Button said he ran up hills and down again back home in St. Louis, did a lot squats and stretching, and continued to dedicate himself to being ready and available whenever called upon by the Rebel coaches.

He ate well too and gained some weight, which he wanted to do.

"Spaghetti, chicken, I ate a lot (over the holidays)," said the 20-year-old Button. "I got a little bigger and I wanted to do that."

But he says it hasn't affected his speed at all. Obviously speed is one of his assets.

"Bigger, stronger, but still faster," Button says. "And I want more power. I feel like I'm getting there, I've just got to keep working at it."

But that's nothing new for Evan Button. It's the attitude he brought to the program when he got here, and the one he still has today as season two for him begins this weekend.

Ole Miss plays New Orleans at Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field at 1:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

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