MSU pitching coach faces former team

March 20, 2009

Danny P Smith -


It''s Butch Thompson''s turn. 


The Mississippi State pitching coach was an observer Wednesday when Alabama-Birmingham coach Brian Shoop and volunteer coach Ron Polk returned to Dudy Noble Field. 


Shoop was an assistant coach at Mississippi State and Polk was MSU''s coach for 29 seasons. 


This weekend will be a homecoming for Thompson when MSU plays at Georgia. 


Thompson was the pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at Georgia from 2002-05 and established valued relationships in his tenure there. 


"In baseball, you have a small nucleus of friends," Thompson said. "My wife (Susan) and girls (Anna, Olivia, and Madelyn Gail) are going over where they can spend time with coaches'' families. We''ve got a lot of work and a job to do, but it''s always going to be great to see people. I think we''ve all been in this long enough to know we have friends and go compete at the same time. 


"At the end of the day, wins and losses fade away, but it''s about the friendships you make along the way, and I''m thankful and blessed to have that." 


The battle of the Southeastern Conference Bulldogs begins at 6 p.m. today (Comcast) and continues at 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday (Comcast). 


Georgia''s 2003 recruiting class was ranked 10th nationally. The Bulldogs went on to win the SEC championship and advance to the College World Series the next year. 


Georgia coach David Perno calls Thompson a close friend and always looks forward to seeing him. 


"Butch is a great guy, and I enjoyed working with him the four years he was here," Perno said. "It''s always great to see him, but you never like playing against him. I think the world of him, and I''m happy things are going well for him." 


Thompson is in his first season at Mississippi State and he is still trying to determine the pitchers who will help the most. 


The Bulldogs'' ability to master the strike zone concerns Thompson the most. 


"We''re not throwing strike one enough," Thompson said. "It is a concern, but I think they are trying and fighting. I believe that with all my heart, but it''s a construction zone and we have to continue to work every day." 


Thompson expects to send left-hander Tyler Whitney (2-0, 1.12 ERA) to the mound in the first game and left-hander Nick Routt (2-0, 1.90 ERA) in game two. The third starter is to be determined. 


Mississippi State coach John Cohen has confidence in Thompson''s management of the pitching staff. 


"He has an unbelievable reputation of keeping arms healthy," Cohen said. "He really increases their velocity and pitch ability." 


Georgia (16-2, 1-2 SEC) played Fresno State in the national championship series last season. Offensively, Rich Poythress leads the team with a .431 batting average, eight home runs, and 33 RBIs. 


Cohen calls Perno''s club "a notch above everyone else in the SEC" because of its pitching staff and strong outfield. 


"If you draw a 100-mile radius around Athens, Ga., you are talking about some of the best amateur baseball in the country," Cohen said. "They are very talented, and have been forever. They were 14-0 before they got into conference play last week, so they are very good, especially when they are at home." 


Mississippi State (13-6, 2-1) took two of three games from South Carolina in the first conference weekend, while Alabama took two of three from Georgia in Tuscaloosa, Ala.