Scott Bittle: Another season with the Rebels

The first time Scott Bittle runs onto the baseball field for a home game next season, I hope the whole place stands and cheers. Collectively and for a while.

If ever a Rebel deserves it, it's Scott.

Much maligned by many his first year as a sophomore from junior college, all he did was become the Rebels' best pitcher his second year and win the prestigious Ferriss Trophy as the top college baseball player in Mississippi.

Then he got drafted by the Yankees. The New York Yankees. Love 'em or hate 'em, and there's usually no middle ground when it comes to the Bronx Bombers, the franchise with the most World Series titles came calling.

On the last day of negotiations, Bittle said no to the Big Apple and yes to a return to the Little Easy.

I don't know what all went on this summer as the days went by and Bittle remained unsigned. Some of it we know, some of it we can guess, and some of it we don't need to know. It's private.

What we do know is that Scott Bittle, the Rebels' best pitcher in 2008, will be back on campus shortly, getting ready to pitch for his school again.

I have quite a level of respect for basically all players who have come through Ole Miss in whatever sport. They all come here as kids and most work their way into adulthood with all the trials and tribulations that come from being among thousands at a major university, along with all the good times that accompany that journey.

Scott's own journey has been like few others. I remember talking to him before he ever pitched in a game. A polite, quiet but confident kid, I saw the wear and tear of many difficult times during that first season take a toll.

I remember, after such a successful early season that first year, walking up to him after the Rebels lost that first SEC game he'd come in to close at Vanderbilt. We talked to him a bit, I told him to hang in there, patted him on the back, and basically said "get 'em next time."

His next opportunity would be two days later. The result was basically the same.

More of that was to come as 2007 unfolded, like the Friday night in Baton Rouge when the Rebels were trying to win the opener. The game was tied and a Tiger was intentionally walked to load the bases with Scott on the mound to try to get out of it and move on to another inning.

Scott then unintentionally walked the next batter, and if there was a lower point that season and in his season, I can't remember it, unless maybe when he came in late in the 17-inning loss to Mississippi State that prevented the sweep in Oxford as the Bulldogs rallied.

Had Scott walked away that summer and gone elsewhere, it wouldn't have surprised me. At times, I thought it might be best that he do so, just because I didn't know how much more the kid could take. But I was wrong.

He stayed. And he conquered.

Now he's back.

I can't recall very many Rebels I thought more aptly fit the category of courageous than Scott. Sure, there are many who have overcome injuries and fought through personal strife and made it through some tough academic times. We've seen many do so.

But Scott Bittle is to me as much the poster guy for what it means to stay focused and persevere and keep the faith and maintain your composure as any Ole Miss Rebel in years.

I may have a hard time not standing up and cheering the guy myself when he walks to the mound for the first time in 2009. So I'll probably ease outside the press box and join you, because I know that's what you'll be doing.

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