Inside My Head

(insert witty tagline here so people will think I’m cool)

Posts Tagged ‘college baseball’

Dear Coach Polk: You Know We Love You, But…

Posted by Kevin on June 9, 2008

What in bloody hell are you thinking?!  I’ll get back to that.

Exactly 18 years to the day after closing out his Mississippi State baseball career in Omaha, John Cohen returned home to replace the retired Ron Polk as the Bulldogs’ head baseball coach.

Ron Polk announced his retirement in March of this season and strongly advocated for incoming athletic director Greg Byrne to hire longtime assistant Tommy Raffo to take over the program.  Raffo played with Cohen in the 90’s and has been an assistant in Starkville for the last 14 years.  He no doubt knows the program, the families, the administration, the fan base, the camps, etc…  The question about Raffo has never been his knowledge of the program.  It’s always been a matter of should he be tapped as the man to take over one of the nation’s elite baseball programs.

Byrne has said all along that he would consider Raffo for the job, but he also made it clear his charge was to find the best candidate for the job and that meant searching not only at home but nationally.  In the end, Byrne talked to some six different candidates, four of whom have head coaching experience at programs that regularly compete in the post-season.  I don’t know if Raffo would have done a good job as the head man or not, but I would rather hire someone who has already been successful as a head coach.  Getting someone from the State family would just be gravy.

I think Byrne absolutely got it right with Cohen.

  • He played in three regionals and a College World Series at State
  • He was a first-team All-SEC player his senior year
  • He ranks in the top 10 in several career records at State
  • He was an assistant at Missouri from 1992-97.  After just three years as a straight-out-of-college assistant coach at Missouri, Cohen was promoted as the Tigers hitting coach and recruiting coordinator.  In ’96, the Tigers won the Big Eight championship and played in an NCAA regional for the first time in 16 years.  That year the Tigers broke nine offensive records and 17 overall in Cohen’s six years on the staff.
  • He was the head coach at baseball factory Northwestern State in Louisiana for four seasons.  In that span, Cohen lead the Demons to two Southland Conference titles and was named conference coach of the year twice.  Under Cohen’s watch, the Demons set 18 team and individual offensive records and 10 pitching records.
  • As proof that he does not overlook the importance of academics, Cohen’s Northwestern State teams averaged 18 student-athletes per semester with GPA’s of 3.0 or better.
  • In his two years at Florida as the Gators’ hitting instructor, Cohen’s offenses terrorized opposing pitching staffs.  In 2002, his offense lea the nation in hits and was second nationally in batting average, runs scored, and home runs.  That year, Florida led the SEC in nine offensive categories and set or tied 41 (20 team, 21 individual) school offensive records.
  • In 2003, Cohen’s offense produced numbers similar to the 2002 squad.
  • He’s coached four league batting champions.
  • In his five seasons as the head coach at Kentucky, Cohen transformed a conference doormat into a contender for post-season play.  His Kentucky teams posted two 44-win seasons, played in two regionals, and won a conference championship.  In the 100+ years of Kentucky baseball before Cohen’s arrival, the Wildcats had never won a conference championship and had only been to regionals three times.
  • Cohen was named the 2006 SEC Coach of the Year and National Coach of the Year by the College Baseball Foundation and
  • His 2006 Wildcats scored a school-record 500 runs.  His 2007 squad had a .320 batting average.
  • In reviving Kentucky baseball, Cohen produced the SEC’s first ever worst-to-first turnaround in 2006.
  • Cohen’s 2008 squad produced school records in fielding percentage (.974), putouts (1687), at bats (2157), runs scored (510), doubles (152), RBI (461), sacrifce bunts (75), sacrifice flies (38), and innings pitched (563).
  • The list just keeps going…

If you want to contrast that with Raffo’s resume:

  • Raffo played in the regionals all four years at State and played in a College World Series.
  • He was a first-team All-American and All-SEC player.
  • As State’s hitting instructor, the Bulldogs have hit .300 or better 10 of the last 12 years, including a school record .335 in 1999.
  • He ranks in the top-10 of most school offensive records.
  • State has played in regionals 11 of the 14 years Raffo has been on the coaching staff, and has played in three College World Series.
  • In 2006, Raffo’s coaching help Thomas Berkery and MSU career hits leader Jeffrey Rea finish 1-2 in batting average in the SEC.  In 2007, Brandon Turner was second in the conference.

That is the extent of Raffo’s coaching resume.    Oh yeah…. Raffo has all that program experience at State, too, something that isn’t likely to be listed in your bio.  But look at the results.  Everywhere Cohen has been, tremendous success has followed.  Who would you have hired if you were Greg Byrne?

I tuned into the press conference introducing Cohen and was impressed with what the man had to say.  By the way, you can view the archived video or read the transcript here.  He paid homage to the late Paul “Bear” Bryant and took his hat off indoors, something that will no doubt be passed down to his players.  It’s a simple gesture, I know, but the little things add up.

In describing his style of baseball and what to expect from his teams, Cohen let it be known that his teams would play an aggressive, attacking style of baseball that will constantly pressure the defense to either make the plays or make mistakes.  His players will play hard every single play.  There will be no down-to-the-minute scripted practices.  If it takes a whole practice to get something worked out, then so be it.  If it only takes a few minutes, that’s great.  The team will work until the goals are achieved.  He followed that up by saying that if he has players that are not interested in that kind of work or focus, they won’t like having him for a coach.

When asked about his expectations, he made the statement that anything short of Omaha is a disappointment.  He then took it a step further and said that just making it to Omaha is not enough.  State has been to many regionals and has been to Omaha a number of times.  There’s only one thing left to do: win it all.  That is his expectation.  Mighty strong statement there.

But Cohen’s wife Nelle may have said it best of all.  When she was telling her sister that John was going to take the job at Mississippi State her sister asked her why.  Nelle’s response was an analogy to music.  She said you know how every musician wants to play Carnegie Hall?  Well, Mississippi State is the Carnegie Hall of college baseball.

Now to Coach Polk….

It’s admirable to back a longtime assistant and advocate for him to get the job, but what Polk has done in the wake of Cohen being hired is nothing but crybaby bullshit.

Unfortunately, our new athletic director slapped me in face and punched me in the stomach. He also slapped Tommy Raffo in the face and punched him in the stomach after 15 years of loyalty to Mississippi State. He did the same to our players, their parents and signees. I think I have more knowledge about the game than young Mr. Byrne.

I want my name taken off the stadium and in the concourse until Greg Byrne is fired. And if they don’t do it, I will. And as soon as I get back to Starkville, I’m going to make sure the MSU Foundation is taken out of my will. And that’s a lot of money. I’m going to ask former players who give to quit. If you’re asking if I’m mad, then yes. I’m mad.

I was up front with John Cohen, Pat Casey, Steve Smith all along. If Joe Torre got the job, I wouldn’t support him. I know more about Mississippi State baseball than anyone. Greg Byrne doesn’t know anything. Well, he’s about to find out what my name means.

I love John, he’s a former player, but he knew how I felt. And when he walks into his new office, there will only be a desk and chair. No papers on the players or anything. I don’t like what’s done, but I guess he really wanted this job very bad. Good luck.

Is this a good job? I don’t know. Kentucky has the lottery and we don’t. But I’ll tell you one thing, Greg Byrne may be the athletic director, but I’m the athletic director for baseball. I’ve been there for 31 years, and no one is more loyal than me.

Do you think Vince Dooley is glad he listened to me. Look what Dave Perno has done with Georgia and he’s close to getting them back to the world series. But with this hire, Greg Byrne has thrown 15 years away of Tommy’s coaching life and the four years he has played here. Is he the best candidate, I don’t know. I say give him four years. If he doesn’t get the job done, then fire him. But no, Greg Byrne wanted to make a splash. But he’s not a Mississippi State guy, and doesn’t understand what MSU baseball is all about. His honeymoon is over. He blew it.

Wow.  Just… wow.

Coach Polk, you may know more about baseball than Byrne, but you’re being a child about this.  Where should we begin?
The amount of baseball knowledge you have does not equate to the amount of authority you have in hiring someone to replace yourself.  That’s not your job.  That is the athletic director’s job.  You were the head baseball coach, not the athletic director.

Demanding to have your name taken off of the building is probably the stupidest thing you’ve said.  First, your name was put there to honor the years of service and success you had at Mississippi State.  It was not your decision to put your name on the stadium, nor will it be your decision to take it off.  If your demand is granted and your name removed, can you imagine what you would have to do to get it put back up again?  Think about that, coach.

So, Greg Byrne is about to find out what your name means, huh?  I assure you Byrne knows more about you than you’ll ever know, but that does not mean you get to dictate to your boss who he hires to replace you.  He took your recommendation and interviewed Raffo along with the other candidates.  Raffo wasn’t the man for the job.

You were the athletic director for baseball?  Really?  Apparently nobody knew that because it wasn’t your job title.  And if nobody has been more loyal to you, why did you take your ball and go home whining the first time you retired only to go to another school?  That wasn’t loyalty, coach.

You talked to John Cohen a number of times and knew he wanted the job.  You told him you loved him but…. but… you wouldn’t support anyone other than Tommy Raffo.  For someone who wants to preach about loyalty, do you not see the irony here, coach?  You’re throwing loyalty under the bus when you disrespect Cohen by saying that.  One of your former players at that.

You could have gone out on top, coach.  Think about it.  You’re freakin’ Ron Polk.  You’re a living legend and a God around Starkville.  Your name is on the baseball stadium.  You’re one of the winningest coaches in NCAA baseball history.  You could be strolling around campus laughing it up in retirement and would probably have the best seats in the stadium for life.  Kids and adult-kids would still want an autograph and a picture with you.

But you’re in danger of throwing all of that away with your childish temper tantrums and threats.  Do what’s right.  Apologize for acting like a complete jackass.  Support and embrace John Cohen as one of your former players coming home to take MSU baseball to the next level.  And support Tommy Raffo as he searches for his next stop in his coaching career.

It’s not too late.


Posted in Mississippi State, Sports | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

AI7: Amanda Sent Home & Quick Notes on MSU

Posted by Kevin on March 20, 2008

Yesterday, I predicted Kristy, Ramiele, and Chikezie to be in last night’s bottom three with Kristy going home.  I couldn’t have been more wrong, and neither could the voters.  What the hell are you people thinking?  It’s not that I had a problem with Amanda leaving.  She didn’t have a shot to win the competition, but her one good gimmick is still better than anything Kristy Lee Cook or Ramiele have to offer.  I was surprised to see Carly in the bottom three.  I’m not much of a fan, but just her straight vocal ability should have kept her higher than Kristy/Ramiele.

Next week, the idols will sing songs from the year they were born.

Mississippi State:

As bad as State looked against Ole Miss in last week’s SEC baseball opener, sophomore Ricky Bowen pitched an absolute gem against the Rebels to prevent a series sweep.  In his SEC debut as a starting pitcher, Bowen threw a dominating complete-game, two-hit shutout over the #5 Rebels earning him honors including the SEC’s Pitcher of the Week, one of College Baseball’s newspaper’s Louisville Slugger National Players of the Week, College Baseball Foundation’s weekly “National All-Star Lineup”, and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association’s Pro-Line Athletic National Pitcher of the Week.

In this week’s mid-week game, redshirt freshman Jason Nappi set a new SEC record by driving in 11 runs in State’s slugfest 24-10 win over UAB.  The Blazers put up six runs in the first inning off struggling Chad Crosswhite and raced out to an 8-2 lead before the Bulldogs sent 16 batters to the plate in an 11-run fifth inning, followed by  seven more runs in the sixth.

Nappi became the first Bulldog to hit three home runs in one game since Brad Johnson accomplished the feat against Southern Mississippi in 2004.  Nappi was 3-for-5 on the evening, hitting a three-run homer and a grand slam in the same inning.  The two-homer inning tied an NCAA record and his seven runs were the second-most ever in college baseball.  In his final at-bat in the ninth, Nappi narrowly missed securing his fourth home run in the game when his bid was caught at the wall on the warning track.

Posted in American Idol, Mississippi State | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Catching Up: Cliffs Notes Version

Posted by Kevin on March 13, 2008

MSU Basketball:

Since my last blog, Mississippi State’s basketball team wrapped up the regular season going 2-1 in their final three games. They beat Florida on the road and had Vanderbilt on the ropes, but could not contain Shan Foster as he went off for 42 points including nine straight from behind the 3-point line.

Senior Charles Rhodes gave the fans in Starkville a performance to remember in his last game in Humphrey Coliseum. Rhodes went from a punk kid freshman so full of himself and upset about playing time that he considered transferring to one of Bulldog nation’s most beloved players in quite some time. With Rhodes there was never any doubt what was on his mind; just ask him. When he was on his A-game he’d let you know it. When he, or the whole team, stunk it up he’d let you know it. I loved that about Rhodes. But the icing on the cake for me was the moment Stansbury subbed him out of the final regular season game against LSU with seconds to spare. Even watching on TV you could just feel the emotion of the moment. I believe every single fan in that coliseum were on their feet cheering for this young man who gave us blood, sweat, and tears for four years. When the time came to leave the game, Rhodes went to center court and bent down and kissed the MSU logo before tearfully embracing his coaches and players. Awesome.

Rhodes and Jamont Gordon were named to the All SEC First Team by the league’s coaches. Gordon joined Vanderbilt’s Shan Foster as the only two players to be unanimously voted to the first team. Also, Jarvis Varnado was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. Get this… Varnad’s 114 regular season blocked shots not only set a new school record, but his solo blocked shots were more than NINE of the SEC’s TEAMS this season. That’s just sick. Entering the postseason, Varnado is 14 blocks shy of breaking Shaquille O’Neal‘s current all-time SEC single season blocks record.

MSU Baseball:

The baseball team continues to struggle, but there are signs of life in the Diamond Dogs. Injuries to key players have forced lineup and pitching staff changes. The pitching staff has also not been the strong point that coach Ron Polk had expected it to be. State’s pitchers continue to find themselves behind in pitch counts to far too many batters. In last Saturday’s game against Baylor MSU pitchers walked an amazing 17 batters.

I know it’s early in the season, considering we’ve only played 14 games in a 56-or-so game season, but these statistics are rather alarming. State’s team ERA is 6.96, last in the conference. Ten of the conference’s other teams have a team ERA under 4. State’s pitching staff is also last in the league in opposing team’s batting average. We’ve allowed the most sacrifice bunts and sacrifice flyouts. While those two stats may not be alarming to some, what they mean is we’re allowing more base runners than the rest of the league. State is last in hits allowed, runs allowed, earned runs allowed, walks allowed, doubles allowed, and stolen bases against. Through 11 games, State’s defense turned only four double plays. Most of the reasoning for that is because opposing teams are moving base runners and not being put in force play situations. Stats aren’t everything but they do show trends. These are not good pitching trends.

State opens SEC play against arch-rival #5 Ole Miss this weekend. Next weekend State plays at highly ranked South Carolina. Not a friendly two week schedule but that’s life in the SEC.


David Hernandez was eliminated this week. I expected to see Kristy Lee Cook sent home after her barnyard rendition of the Beatles Eight Days a Week. She was so awful I was hoping they’d cut the music and just send her straight home Wednesday night. I’m not sad to see Hernandez leave, though. He wasn’t going to win the competition anyway and I’ll be glad I don’t have to watch him primp for the camera another week. Good riddance, stripper boy.

I give Beatles week to Chikezie. I wasn’t familiar with the song he did, but he showed he’s got more in his bag of tricks than just Luther Vandross impersonations. A close second for me this week is Brooke White. I wasn’t big on her throughout the audition process but once the judges settled on their top 24 she “brought it”. In my mind, Brooke is now far and away the girl to beat and is probably in the top 3 of the entire contest. Mr. Popularity, David Archuleta, survived this week solely on his popularity and hopefully learned a valuable lesson. Don’t forget your lyrics!! He stunk it up bad, forgot lyrics and just looked out of sync the whole time. David Cook rocked out Eleanor Rigby. I really like that guy and agree with Simon that if the competition stays a talent contest rather than a popularity contest, he just might have a shot at winning it. I’m also still really big on Jason Castro. I dunno what it is. He’s about as spacey as you can get, ridiculously uncomfortable in front of a camera, and a horrible interview, but the kid has got serious talent. There’s just something about him that I dig.

Early predictions before next week even gets here: Amanda, Kristy, or Ramiele go home next week.

Posted in American Idol, Mississippi State | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

MSU Softball Team Ranked

Posted by Kevin on February 26, 2008

I’m a fan of collegiate fast pitch softball, but I must admit I don’t see/read much of the sport until regional play starts. Having said that, Mississippi State’s softball squad gives Bulldog Nation something to be proud of and root for. The Lady Bulldogs are ranked 18th nationally and are 13-2 on the season. Last week State reached its highest ever ranking at #15 before having their school second-best 11-game win streak broken. Way to go, ladies!

Freshman Forrest Moore made his first collegiate start for the MSU baseball team this afternoon and pitched pretty well in a 9-2 Bulldog win over UAB this afternoon. Moore gave up two runs on five hits in five innings of work against the Blazers. He gave up three walks and struck out five batters. A good midweek start by my count. Freshman reliever Michael Busby and closer Aaron Weatherford did not allow a single hit in their combined four innings of relief pitching.

Redshirt freshman Jason Nappi provided the fireworks for the Bulldog offense with a fifth inning grand slam to put MSU ahead to stay. Nappi and sophomore Russ Sneed have hit safely in all four ballgames thus far.

Posted in Mississippi State | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Huge Basketball Win; Disappointing Baseball Losses

Posted by Kevin on February 26, 2008

Mississippi State rebounded this weekend after last week’s loss at Ole Miss by beating South Carolina 61-56 in overtime. In the closing moments of a back-and-forth second half, neither team could cash in on free throws that could have potentially ended the game in regulation. Down 49-47 with 17.6 seconds remaining, MSU’s Jamont Gordon drove the floor and launched a 3-pointer that – of all things – got stuck between the rim and the backboard off of Charles Rhodes‘ tip. The Gamecocks gained possession and the Bulldogs fouled Evaldus Baniulis with 6.1 seconds remaining. Baniulis, who had not attempted a free throw all season long, missed his first attempt but made his second to put Carolina ahead 50-47.

On the inbounds pass, Gordon streaked down the floor and looked to take what was to be the final shot of regulation, but instead passed to a wide open Ben Hansbrough. Hansbrough took the open three as time expired. How the shot did not fall is a mystery to me. The ball was in the basket nearly below the rim before it ricocheted out. Gamecocks win, right? But wait… there was a foul on the play. Baniulis, who failed to seal the game with his free throws, fouled Hansbrough. After much discussion, 1.1 seconds were put back on the clock and Hansbrough was sent to the line three free throws and State trailing 50-47.

As cool as the other side of the pillow, Hansbrough stepped to the line and calmly sank all three free throws. Carolina narrowly missed a desperation shot at the buzzer as the game went into overtime. In the OT period, State gutted out a much needed win to push their SEC West lead back to two games after Arkansas lost to Kentucky earlier in the day.

After a dominating win by the Bulldogs in Friday night’s opener, State looked poised to sweep the season-opening series against the North Florida Ospreys; however, UNF had other plans. UNF had an answer for everything State did offensively in the early goings on Saturday and exploded for 11 runs in the 6th and 7th innings to take Saturday’s game 17-9.

On Sunday, State never even got started, dropping a 5 spot to the Ospreys in the bottom of the first inning. State never recovered, losing 11-6.

A disappointing opening series by all counts. Of course, it’s just one series. It’s hard to measure what this means for the season, but I didn’t one glaring pitching trend that seemed to carry over from last season. State pitchers were pitching from behind in the count far too often all weekend long. When you give a batter a 2-0, 3-1, or 3-0 count you’re just asking for trouble.

MSU hosts the UAB Blazers this Tuesday in a mid-week game to kick off a 14-game home stand. Coach Ron Polk will send freshman Forrest Moore to the mound. This weekend, the Bulldogs will host first-time opponent Air Force.

Posted in Mississippi State | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Well That Sucked

Posted by Kevin on February 21, 2008

Mississippi State strolled into Oxford last night with a two game lead in the SEC West and faced an Ole Miss squad that had been stumbling all over itself for the better part of three weeks. SEC road games are rarely easy; rivalry games like this one on the road are even tougher. The 74-63 beatdown the Rebels put on the Bulldogs last night proved that point loud and clear.

With six games remaining in the regular season – four of them being road games – State cannot afford to lose if they are to remain atop the Western division. Arkansas won last night to pull within one game.

It gets interesting for both Arkansas and MSU down this final stretch. Arkansas has tough games remaining at Kentucky and at Ole Miss and hosts Vanderbilt. State travels to South Carolina, Florida and Vanderbilt.

Head coach Ron Polk has announced his pitching starters for the opening weekend at North Florida. Justin Pigott will start Friday night’s opener. Chad Crosswhite will start Saturday. Ricky Bowen will make his first career start for State in Sunday’s series finale.

In taking a quick peek around the University of North Florida athletics website to check out their team, I noticed a web poll asking what UNF fans thought their record would be against MSU in this weekend’s series. The choice receiving the most votes as UNF going 0-for-3.

North Florida played in Division II through the 2005 season before making the jump to Division I in 2006. In 2005, the Ospreys fought their way all the way to the DII national title game before falling 12-9 to Florida Southern. In 2007 they were ineligible for the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament due to an NCAA reclassification rule. These guys aren’t afraid to play the big boys either. They’ve had success against Florida and Miami already, and will play the likes of North Carolina, Florida, Miami, and Florida State in 2008.

Posted in Mississippi State | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

It’s Baseball Time Again!

Posted by Kevin on February 19, 2008

No, not MLB.  I could care less about the pros, their steroids, and their multi-million dollar contacts not being enough to support their illegitimate kids and baby-mammas.

I’m talking about baseball that matters.  Baseball that has passion.

College baseball.   Baseball at Mississippi State is something special.  If you are a college baseball fan, do yourself a favor and plan a trip to Starkville for an SEC baseball weekend and spend some time in Left Field Lounge.  There are plenty of imitators around the country, but nobody does it like MSU.

Last year’s team overachieved a little bit, got hot at the right time, and rode their hot streak into Omaha where they went ice cold in going 0-2.  What will the Bulldogs do this  year?  Hard to say.  Coach Ron Polk hasn’t settled on his starting lineup for the season opener just three days away.  That in itself is not a big deal.  Lineups will change a little throughout the season.  But in this case, Polk doesn’t have a lot of experience returning in the field.  Gone from last season’s College World Series team are guys like Mitch Moreland, Jeffrey Rea, Joseph McCaskill, Brian LaNinfa, and Ed Easley.  Those are monster shoes to fill.

The pitching staff, however,  may finally be the strength of the Bulldogs.  All three of the team captains are pitchers (Justin Pigott, John Lalor, Chad Crosswhite).  Polk has not officially announced the weekend starters, but it figures to be Pigott, Crosswhite, and Ricky Bowen.  Pigott and Crosswhite were weekend pitchers last season, while Bowen was a key contributor out of the bullpen.  The bullpen also returns experience in guys like Greg Houston, Tyler Whitney, and Jesse CarverAaron Weatherford should be the closer.

The 2008 Diamond Dogs will rely heavily on the pitching staff to shut down opponents, as we surely will not have the offense we did last year to score enough runs to make up for pitching mistakes.  I’ll go out on a limb early and predict State does just enough to get into regional play as a traveling  3-seed and put a scare into whomever the home standing #1 seed is before bowing out.

State opens the season this weekend at North Florida.

Posted in Mississippi State | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »