March 18, 2009
There will be several connections at 6:30 tonight when the Mississippi State baseball team plays host to Alabama-Birmingham at Dudy-Noble Field.
The most notable will be Ron Polk''s homecoming.
Polk, who coached at Mississippi State for 29 seasons, will return to Dudy Noble Field as a UAB volunteer coach.
Polk said tonight won''t be about him and will be about the game.
"I just don''t want to take away from our kids coming over there," Polk said. "This has happened to me before."
Polk left MSU in 1997 to become coach at Georgia in 2000. He had to coach against his former team at the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
Upon his return to MSU in 2002, Polk coached against his former Georgia team during the season.
Polk was very fond of his years (2000-02) at Georgia, and he has similar feelings going against Mississippi State tonight.
"Those were my guys, my players, and my recruits, so the same thing is here with the kids at Mississippi State," Polk said. "They are like my sons and my boys."
Even though Polk resigned at MSU and then last summer took the position at UAB, he plans to live in a house under construction in Starkville when he officially retires. He still checks his mail at the MSU baseball office frequently.
Polk didn''t initially accept the hiring of John Cohen to take his place. He felt that opportunity should have gone to his assistant Tommy Raffo.
After saying some negative things publicly about the way the process was handled, Polk has visited with Cohen and his coaching staff.
"Coach (Polk) seems like he is just as big a part of our program even since he''s left because he is around the office once a week," Cohen said. "He comes to Starkville all the time. He''s been great. He''s still interested in the kids here like he is with the kids at UAB."
Polk even takes the time to see the players if any of them are at the complex.
His competitive nature shows even when he is joking.
"I''m always kidding them," Polk said. "When I come back, I''ll say, ''We''re going to kill you guys.'' They always laugh, but it''s just a game. Once the game starts, it''s like I''ve done before. I don''t want them to get hurt, but I want to win."
Mississippi State senior outfielder Grant Hogue received a call from Polk on Monday night.
Polk thought he found a mistake while putting together the scouting report and ribbed Hogue about it.
"He told me that by my name he saw a home run and was that a misprint?" Hogue said. "I said, ''No coach, it really happened.'' Then he asked, ''How hard was the wind blowing out?''"
Hogue said it will be unusual seeing Polk sitting in the opposing dugout wearing Blazer green.
After walking on at Mississippi State, Hogue appreciates the chance Polk gave him to be a part of the program.
"Coach Polk is the only reason I''m here," Hogue said. "I came in through the walk-on system, and not many coaches at the Division I level do that. He gave me an opportunity to play, and he''s the main reason I''m playing baseball today. I told him that numerous times, and I love him so much."
UAB coach Brian Shoop, who was an assistant for Polk at MSU from 1983-89, was glad Polk chose to stay close to the game with his program.
Shoop believes Polk has helped his program, but understands he still loves the Bulldogs.
It doesn''t bother Shoop that Polk still visits MSU.
"As a Mississippi State guy to some degree myself, we all want him back there," Shoop said. "He''s a Bulldog. He should be and will always stay a Bulldog. That''s where he should be."
While Shoop was an assistant at MSU, he had a chance to coach against Cohen in 1989. Cohen calls Shoop, "a good friend and an excellent baseball coach."
Shoop also tutored MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson at Birmingham-Southern (1991-92), and Thompson was also his assistant there (1994-96, 1998-2001).
Those acquaintances will be renewed, but Shoop said the Blazers (10-6) and the Bulldogs (12-6) still will have to play a game.
"You really don''t get a chance to get excited about a game in between two weekend series," Shoop said. "We have many friends left in Starkville because we spent seven years there. From a game standpoint, it''s just another game. If it was a big game, you''d throw your better pitching, but we''re going to throw about eight guys."