Kyle Barbeck, the true freshman left-hander whose future appears bright as a college pitcher, was a media request for postgame Monday following the Rebels' 9-6 win against Arkansas State.
As most of the team went on tarp duty, since overnight rain was likely, Barbeck walked slowly toward us. Trying to break the ice a bit for the freshman, who we may have talked to once or twice this season, I spoke up first.
"Bet you didn't expect this?" I asked.
"No, I didn't," he said, never changing expressions.
It didn't appear to be nerves and certainly not indifference. It appeared to be focus. It appeared to be maturity. It appeared to be a sort of let's get this done and move on to the next important thing.
He answered our three or four questions and then moved over to help the team take care of the business at hand. Tonight, that business is taking care of Jackson State (17-9).
And after that whatever lineup of batters awaits him as his college career moves on.
"The coaches told me on the bus (Sunday) that I was going to start Tuesday," said the 6-foot, 195-pounder from Blue Springs, Mo. "I'm not real nervous because it's what I came here for. To start."
Barbeck, whose father played for Kansas, is serious about his work here. He knows tonight is the first of what he hopes will be many starts in a Rebel uniform.
Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said the coaches knew Barbeck's time as a starter was coming. And tonight's the night.
"He's one of the guys from the very beginning we thought by this point of the season would be carrying a big load," said Bianco after his team improved to 17-8. "As a freshman you're not sure, but he certainly pitched as well as anybody on the team in the fall and the early spring. He got off to a good start, and then he had a couple of tough outings. We just challenge the guys. It's a long season. There will always be guys who emerge. Kyle could be one of those guys for us. Certainly he's talented enough."
Barbeck's plan is simple.
"I just want to fill it up and throw strikes and let my defense work," said Barbeck, who helped pitch his high school team, Blue Springs North, to a state championship. "It came across my mind (that he might start a game this week). But I was hoping to get some innings in. It's good to start. It's going to be fun, and I'm pretty excited about it."
Barbeck said his season has been a bit of a roller coaster.
"It's kinda gone up and down," he said. "I've had a couple of bad outings against TCU and Alabama. But you have to flush the negative thoughts and look at the positive side. That's what helps you be confident."
Barbeck's pitched 12.1 innings in seven appearances with a 7.30 ERA. He's walked seven and struck out eight. He's allowed 19 hits and given up a couple of home runs.
But somehow there's a feeling his career really begins tonight – with a start, which is where Barbeck planned to be all along.
"This was a chance to get him a start," Bianco said. "We couldn't do it last week because he had thrown on that Sunday fiasco against Alabama and he threw so many pitches. This is a good chance for him to get a start and show what he can do."
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