Cleaning out the baseball notebook

As Ole Miss heads to Hoover, Ala., for this afternoon's practice at Regions Park, a day after Scott Bittle was recognized as Mississippi's best in '08, there are storylines in every direction - some past, some present, some future.

It's always a bittersweet time for teams that play on. Because of a limited number of players who are allowed on postseason rosters, that means a number of guys who've been important to a team are done, some through graduation or transfer or injury or redshirting.

Evan Button isn't traveling this week. That may be the saddest story of this baseball season. The junior SS had worked two-plus years to get ready to play, waited his time behind All-American Zack Cozart, and then a back injury wouldn't let him go.

Button's a co-captain, and it's hard for a guy to be a true team leader when he's hurt, much less so when he's not even traveling.

He could suit up in the NCAA Tournament, but that's wait and see now. Evan's been an important part of the program for three years.

So has Thomas Flautt. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound RHP came to Ole Miss in the fall of 2005 from Hinds CC and Jackson Academy. Although his role has been limited, being a part of the team was important for Flautt.

"I knew I wanted to come to Ole Miss," he said, "and I wanted to give baseball a shot."

Flautt was a team guy who understood his role and yet relished all aspects of his experience.

"From my teammates to the coaching staff to the fans and the friends you make and the respect you have for being an Ole Miss baseball player. I'll admit it. Some of it was selfish. I didn't want to give it up."

He always believed in himself and felt he was helping the program by being there every day. He only made two appearances in games this season, and on the last day of the home season after being honored that weekend as a graduating senior, he knew he was taking the Rebel uniform off for the last time.

"It's been an unbelievable experience," he said. "I remember the first time I walked out here with the uniform on. To make all these friends and play for a program like this, it's been a really great feeling."

The biology major and chemistry minor started a job in Memphis last week. Flautt wants to work for a while to make enough money to support himself in medical school. To say he has things in perspective would be accurate.

"I knew my role was limited, but I was hoping I could be around to help some of the younger guys, like Will Kline and Bradley Lum did for me when I got here. I just tried to stay positive and keep everybody else positive."

Mission accomplished.

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Michael Guerrero finally got his feet healed enough to play. Then in his first game back, the outfield was more like a lake than a baseball field.

That was the unfortunate situation last Thursday at Kentucky where the junior played outfield for the first time since being diagnosed with a stress fracture in his right foot.

"It was tough. I managed to get to some balls I thought I wasn't going to. And I didn't get to a couple. It wasn't a good night for outfielders."

Guerrero said it's been a difficult thing dealing with his injury. But he feels he can go now.

"It was brutal at first. I went to the emergency room and got it checked out. It just kept getting worse."

Until he couldn't play. And now he can again.

"We're all excited about being in the SEC Tournament," said Guerrero, mentioning the final game at UK was perhaps the most intense situation he's ever been a part of in baseball. "It was nerve-wracking up there (in Lexington). We have a good reputation in Hoover, so we're going over there to do well. I hear we'll have a lot of fans there, and it's a new season for us. It's a big ballpark, and we've got to hit the ball."

Something that Guerrero is highly capable of, and now running to catch them, too, with his injury hopefully completely behind him.

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"We've had ups and downs, like being on a roller coaster this year," Zach Miller said of the 2008 season. "We're separating all that from this (Hoover). It's a new season and we're starting over. We're worrying about the present and not the past."

Miller said the Rebels' first foe, top-seed Georgia, is quite a ballclub. He and his teammates saw them the first weekend in May in Athens. The Rebels won one of three games there.

"Their hitters just battled against our pitchers and made them work," Miller said. "As hitters we need to be more aggressive. We just need to keep competing at the plate, put some hits together and make some things happen."

Miller has had to adjust some this year to a new shortstop. Make that new shortstops. It appeared it might be Button early, and now the platooning of Sean Stuyverson and Tim Ferguson.

"It's been different this year," the second baseman said. "They're both good players. It's coach's call on who plays. It's challenging at times for us, but you have to get the outs. It's baseball and you go out there and get it done."

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RHP Jake Morgan is one of several pitchers, besides the usual headliners of Lynn, Pomeranz, Satterwhite and Bittle, who have become important to this team.

Postseason play, especially in tournaments like this one that can go several games over five days, means guys like Morgan become even more prominent. Some of the past Rebel pitchers' top moments came in Hoover, like back to back Saturday wins over Florida in '05 when Anthony Cupps, Tommy Baumgardner, and Stoney Stone pitched the Rebs into Sunday.

"One of my goals was to be able to help this team by pitching in the postseason," said Morgan, with a 2.88 ERA, a 2-0 record and one save in 15 appearances with one start in 34.1 innings pitched so far. "At the beginning of the year I struggled with command more. Lately I've worked on filling up the strike zone. It's a big confidence booster when you get in there and pitch well."

This time last year the then freshman redshirt was basically awaiting his turn as an Ole Miss Rebel - on the field, that is. He remembers when he was one of those guys mentioned earlier in this story about not being around this time of year as the Rebs played on.

"I was at home working out," he said of late May last spring. "I know this week will be amazing and an awesome experience."

And there's a good chance after becoming an important pitcher for this year's team, Morgan will figure into whatever success the Rebels have between now and late on Sunday afternoon.

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