By MATTHEW STEVENS
The same problem now exists in the Mississippi State football and baseball coaching offices.
After reviving their respective programs, Dan Mullen and John Cohen must figure out how to deal with fan expectations.
“Our expectation is to get to Omaha,” Cohen said Wednesday in a season-ending media session. “The moral victory thing isn’t what we’re in to.”
In 2011, Mississippi State returned to the Southeastern Conference Tournament and a Super Regional appearance thanks to the faith that Cohen and his team put into his belief in year three of the rebuilding process.
“You do have to sit back and recognize that you have to take steps,” Cohen said. “My vision when I came here was to win a national championship and we’re on the track. We’re moving in that right direction.”
In the final game of the season the Bulldogs had seven senior starters, including the entire infield, in the batting order and will need to replace 70 percent of the hits from the 2011 season.
“I think the seniors played a part in having everybody stay level headed this season,” Vickerson said. “When things are going great, it’s easy to get real high on yourself and think you’re doing something special.”
In order to replace the offensive leaders in the middle of the order like Vickerson, Jarrod Parks and Jaron Shepherd, Cohen and his staff will have to rely on names not commonly called this past season.
“I can’t tell you how important it is for young players to be in a Regional and around the environment of winning,” Cohen said. “What they’re taking in at that time is crucial. Young players make mistakes when they encounter things they’ve never been around or experienced.”
Two of those newcomers up the middle (C.T. Bradford and Adam Frazier) were honored on the SEC All-Freshman team and will look to start a solid core at centerfield and second base in 2012. This type of returning leadership is something Cohen didn’t have when he was handed the maroon jacket three years ago as the leader of the program.
“When we got here we were in a recruiting frenzy and we were really far behind and it’s nobody’s fault, there’s no blame there – whenever you take over a program you’re behind because everybody around you has (recruiting) commitments,” Cohen said.
After a season that saw new power-reduced bats and the lowest team home run total in 30 years, Cohen explained that he was working within the new rules and the skills of the experienced players on his roster. The MSU third-year head coach stated he’s not against and doesn’t believe he’ll be without a power element at the plate for much longer.
“With the new rules of 27 (players) that can be on aid, my opinion was to ask ‘where do we need the most help?” Cohen said. “Wes Rea is going to have power, Brayden Jones has power (and) Hunter Renfroe has huge power, as much as anybody in the Southeastern Conference.”
12 players on Mississippi State's roster will be playing in summer collegiate leagues, including four selected (Bradford, infielder Daryl Norris, left-handed pitcher Nick Routt and right-handed pitcher Chris Stratton) to play in the nationally-recognized Cape Cod wood-bat league in the upper northeast of the country.
While still waiting to hear about the decision by junior right-hander Devin Jones to turn professional or come back to MSU for his senior season, Cohen knows the majority of his pitching staff will return including the entire starting rotation of the Bulldogs postseason run.
“We had a great discussion yesterday and Devin enjoys being a part of our program at Mississippi State,” Cohen said. “It really depends on his personal financial situation and we’ll just wait and see how this unfolds.”
Jones was selected in the ninth round by the Baltimore Orioles and has until Aug. 15 to sign with the organization but told the Starkville Daily News Tuesday he’s “not even close to making a decision yet”.
Despite a tenth consecutive season of averaging over 6,000 fans at Dudy Noble Field, the perception is recognized among MSU officials that baseball attendance has been lacking in Starkville.
“I think we allowed people to get out of the habit of going to baseball games and that’s our fault from a promotion standpoint,” MSU athletics director Scott Stricklin said two weeks ago. “That’s not John’s fault at all because he’s everything we want in a coach to turn this around.”
Cohen believes a bounce back in attendance was proven in the Atlanta Regional that consisted of a majority of MSU fan support at Georgia Tech in the Sunday championship game against the host Yellow Jackets.
“You go to Vanderbilt and you see 2,500 fans there and it’s a packed house,” Cohen said. “In our place, 2,500 fans looks like an empty house. We needed to meet our fans halfway and we did that.”
Vickerson & Parks signed professional contracts
Mississippi State’s two most dangerous hitters in the 2011 season are officially professional baseball players.
The Starkville Daily News learned late Tuesday Nick Vickerson and Jarrod Parks signed a professional contract with the franchises that drafted them.
Vickerson signed with a rookie contract that included a slot signing bonus for a player drafted in the 20th round.
The 21-year-old will report to the Texas Rangers' Class Advanced-A ball team, the Spokane (Wash.) Indians, Wednesday.
The Indians play in the Northwest League, a short-season league operating from June to early September with teams in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Vancouver, that is made up predominantly of newly drafted players.
In the NCAA Tournament, Vickerson led MSU in the following categories: doubles (3), home runs (2), RBIs (9), total bases (17) and slugging percentage (.850).
Parks, Mississippi State’s leading hitter for the 2011 season, signed a professional contract with the Los Angeles Angels franchise with a rookie contract that included a slot signing bonus for a player drafted in the 24th round.
The 23-year-old will report to the Angels Class Advanced-A ball team, the Orem (Utah) Owlz, Friday and has been told he will be penciled in to be the starting third baseman for them. The Owlz are managed by Tom Kotchman, who is most noted for being the father of current Major League first baseman Casey Kotchman.
The Owlz play in the Pioneer League, a short-season league operating from June to early September with teams in Montana, Wyoming, Oregon and Utah, that is made up predominantly of newly drafted players.
This past season Parks led MSU in batting average (.363), hits (77), triples (3), walks (44), hit by pitches (20) and on-base percentage (.507).