Pre-fall Baseball Notebook

With fall baseball less than a month away, go inside for Mike Bianco's thoughts on the stadium expansion, injuries and new scholarship rules.

Remember the Date

The start date for fall baseball practice is tentatively scheduled for Saturday Sept. 20. Sept. 19 was the original day, but the Rebels are planning to move it back due to Oxford High hosting Lafayette in football that Friday night.

"Oxford has been more than accommodating in allowing us to use the facilities, and we don't want to do anything to disrupt that important night," Mike Bianco said.

The opening day will again be used as a showcase for scouts to view the players. The Rebel football team will host Vanderbilt at 6 p.m. the same day.

Ole Miss' 2009 season will begin Saturday Feb. 20 in Mobile, Ala. The Rebels are taking part in a tournament that weekend hosted by South Alabama. The first home game is Tuesday Feb. 24.

Stadium Situation

While fall practice is taken care of thanks to the generosity of Oxford High School, the Rebels are looking toward the start of spring practice and Opening Day as important dates concerning the Swayze Field expansion.

"We know the fall is out, but what about when we return in January," Bianco said. "Can we get on the field? Can we get in the lockerooms? Or should we make other arrangements? That would be very difficult."

"My two concerns with playing a baseball game are the light standards and the lockerooms. Those light standards have to come down and be put back up and aimed. I hope that happens well before February. The other issue is the lockerooms, because there aren't any right now. I can't fathom not having those in the spring. Then, when can we get on the field? The number one priority is the field I would think, and a very, very close number two is that the people that pay for their seats get them."

Regarding the fall, logistics are currently being ironed to choose how to transport the team, how to park and when to get in weight training.

The indoor pitching complex at Swayze will be unavailable, however, the batting cages may be operable on certain days around the construction.

Scholarship Changes

Ole Miss placed approximately 37 players on some type of partial scholarship last season, but that number had to be dwindled to 30 for the upcoming season per new NCAA rules. In fact, the entire roster can't exceed 35. Also, every scholarship player must receive at least 33 percent aid. That accounts for 10 scholarships, thus leaving only 1.7 schollies available for creative use.

"Some kids had to lose their scholarship, and then we had to work in the signees and the players we weren't expecting to come back," Bianco said. "We had to do some juggling this summer. Number one, kids previously on scholarship may return and not be on scholarship anymore. Number two, with the roster size, some kids were fortunate to get to be a part of the team. And I don't mean that in a bad way, nobody likes these rules.

"However, scholarships are to help the parents with the money and the ability to pay for school. Once the kids are here, that doesn't matter. The best play, no matter the scholarship situation."

Injury Update

Tim Ferguson returned to Oxford after less than 20 at-bats this summer in the Great Lakes League due to an injured labrum on his throwing side. The injury was first noticed toward the end of the 2008 season before worsening early in the summer. The sophomore isn't 100 percent, but he should be by the start of fall ball.

The coaching staff will limit his throwing as a precautionary measure, as Ferguson could see time at shortstop, second base or the outfield.

"He got off to a great start offensively in Delaware, but his throwing was limited," Bianco said. "After the MRI, it was in his best interest to get back to Ole Miss and rehab it. Surgery wasn't required, but we didn't want to take any chances on him not being ready this fall.

"This past year was tough for him. As a freshman, for him to have a good year despite being thrust into such an important position because of injury and to go through it with an injured arm and hang in there. I am proud of him."

Jake Morgan abandoned his summer plans with soreness in his elbow after a week in the Coastal Plain League. The sophomore hasn't suffered any setbacks to his rehab and is currently working through a throwing program. A better prognosis will be known over the next month.

The plan calls for his throwing program to intensify so to test the elbow and completely rule out surgery.

"Everyone is in agreement that the rehab is the best course of action right now," Bianco said. "Either he is going to be better or he is not. He'll be able to pitch in the fall, or surgery still may be needed."

Also, Matt Smith's rehabilitation has been successful and the first baseman could even return to the outfield if needed. Bianco thinks it isn't even fair to consider him injured any longer. However, his pitching career is most likely over.

Evan Button is doing well after missing more than 50 games this past season with a stress fracture in his back. The senior shortstop is 100 percent and is expected to once again be the leader at his position heading into practice.

"We'll watch him and monitor him, but there won't be any restraints. He is good to go, but caution is always there. He has done better than I expected over the summer," Bianco said.

Kyle Henson has been without pain all summer and will also be full strength at the beginning of fall. The senior catcher is still looking for his first action as a Rebel after suffering a suspension and a season-ending injury last season.

"He played all summer and feels great," Bianco said. "It is a big year for him after a very frustrating season last year. You get suspended for half the season and then injure the arm. I am sure he is excited."

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