October 10, 2012 10:24:05 PM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- John Cohen has a request for every Mississippi State University fan who might see sophomore first baseman Wes Rea around campus in Starkville.
"If you see him with sweet tea, knock it out of his hand," Cohen, MSU's fifth-year head baseball coach joked on Sept. 27 during a preseason media session at Dudy Noble Field. "We've had a lot of conversations about the difference between sweet and unsweet tea for his diet."
Rea's diet, which has started since the end of the 2012 season, has seen instant results as the MSU baseball program enters in its fall season of preseason camp as the power-hitting corner infielder from Gulfport has lost over 20 pounds and is down to 272 pounds when he weighed in days before the first fall scrimmage.
"It was actually easier than I thought it was to lose the weight and now I feel lighter on my feet and have much more energy now that I've got more fit," Rea said.
The hard work has apparently paid off as Rea was named the hitter of the week by his teammates after the first three intra-squad scrimmages of the fall. Rea's power numbers included two doubles and a a crushing home run over the left field wall in first scrimmage. The unofficial honor allows Rea to park his black pickup truck closest to the entrance at Dudy Noble Field.
The home run Rea hit in the scrimmage didn't showcase a drastic change to the playing field of Polk-DeMent Stadium now that MSU has moved in the left field wall by approximately 10 feet. Rea, who has taken batting practice numerous times since the slight renovation, says fans are putting too much emphasis on where the fence is located.
"What people who don't come out here every day don't realize is it's not about where the fence is if they're only moving in a couple feet," Rea said. "The key to why this ballpark is so pitcher friendly is the way the wind just doesn't carry here at all. That hasn't changed."
Cohen said in his media session that the one thing he wants Rea and junior third baseman Daryl Norris, who are expected to occupy the middle of the MSU order this spring, to concentrate on this fall is hitting the breaking ball.
"A lot of our guys are getting in the cage with the breaking ball machine and getting those reps in," Rea said. "We know that's who pitchers are going to attack us right now and we have to be ready for that."
Rea hit just .249 with a team-leading five home runs and 41 RBIs in his first college season in 63 starts at first base as the 6-foot-5 prospect was forced to play through a debilitating shoulder injury that even required him to take a cortisone shot to make it through the season.
A couple weeks before the season was completed with a 3-2 loss to Samford University in the NCAA Regional at Florida State University, MSU team doctors discovered through an MRI scan that Rea had a muscle cyst in his shoulder that just needed rest and therefore the pain would be removed all the way down his right arm.
At times last season Rea even struggling to properly grip the bat and was seen constantly flexing his right arm and hand while in the batters box.
"There were times last season I swear I couldn't feel the bat in my right hand at all," Rea said. "I know that's so hard to get people to understand but it's true. It's really hard to find any consistency with your approach when you have random numbness just going down your right arm."
The cyst issue was attacking the same shoulder that forced Rea to be redshirted in 2011 and eventually have surgery to correct damage created to the rotator cuff before he signed with MSU out of Harrison Central High School.
Rea, who was over 290 pounds throughout the 2012 season due in part to his inability to work out in between games at a high level, has developed a better plan for what he puts into his body now that he's been on a college campus for two years.
Rea, who turned down scholarship offers from 11 Southeastern Conference football programs including MSU head football coach Dan Mullen to play baseball in Starkville, chose to skip playing summer collegiate baseball and instead worked with MSU strength coach Brian Neal and trainer Jason Wire in the months prior to the fall semester.
"We did a lot of cardio in the hope that I can start the fall where I actually want to be instead of trying to play my way into shape before the spring season starts like I always have," Rea said. "My freshman year I actually got down to 260 (pounds) and just didn't feel as strong."
Rea, who is expected to be the starting first baseman in 2013, joked that he's "never going to be the smallest guy on the team" but was timed at 4.8 seconds from the batter's box to first base in the first week of scrimmages this fall.
"I think what Wes has done this summer to get himself ready to be at a certain level has been a testament to his maturity and commitment to his craft," Cohen said.