Coker is a senior catcher for Southern Miss who will contribute a weekly journal
to CollegeBaseballInsider.com in 2006. A native of Vicksburg, Miss., Coker
started 52 games last year for the Golden Eagles, batting .318 with five homers
and 38 RBI. Off the field,
Coker enjoys fishing and shooting pool.
March 14, 2006
Midweek Showdown with the
My hair has been growing and looking kind of shabby
lately, but I can’t cut it because Scott Massey brought it to my attention that
I’ve been getting hits (he’s recorded a hit in his past five games) ever since
I’ve let my hair grow.
He told me that I have to wait until I don’t get a hit in a game. So if I
don’t get a hit tomorrow night, then I’ll come home and shave my head that
night. It’s a baseball superstitious thing, so until I go “o-for,” I’m going to
run this hitting streak out so, we could definitely see bangs by the end of the
season if I continue to hit!
As far as how things are with us as a team, the test begins tomorrow with
Alabama as this is a day that we look forward to every year. We would be fooling
ourselves if we said that we haven’t had a test yet this season, because we’ve
lost four games. However, this is going to be an especially tough test with
‘Bama. We beat them last year for the first time in Coach Palmer’s career, and
the first time that Southern Miss has beat them in a long time (since winning
6-2 in 1987 in Hattiesburg).
But that win was here last year, and this year, we’re going to Sewell-Thomas
Field. Patrick Ezell is going to be starting for us, and we have a rested Daniel
Best. I think that Coach Palmer will do whatever it takes to win this game
because we only play Alabama once a year, so ‘winner takes all’ for the year.
This has become a rivalry that Coach Wells (Alabama) gets his players ready to
play us as much as Coach Palmer gets us ready to play them.
I have a buddy who was drafted in the first round into the major leagues out
of Alabama - Taylor Tankersley. He was a pitcher for them, but he never pitched
against us. I’ve had one at-bat at Alabama, two or three years ago, and that was
the only chance we had to play against each other. I talked to him the other
day, and all he said was, “You gotta play the Tide this week. Good luck.”
We know that they’re a good team. They’ve already played Memphis (Memphis
defeated Alabama 2-0 on Feb. 21) this year, and played a tough Nebraska team
this weekend (Nebraska swept all three games in Lincoln, Neb.). Unfortunately,
we get to play them right after getting swept, so they’re going to be looking to
We are coming off of our sweep of Buffalo and are on a little bit of a roll.
I think we’re ironing out some of the problems that we have been having
offensively, defensively and in our pitching. However, the positives that I see
now are that our pitchers are throwing strikes and making the other team put the
ball in play, which in turn results in more opportunities for outs. Our outfield
defense is the best I’ve ever seen since I’ve been here. We have guys cutting
off balls in situations where I thought would be sure doubles, when our
opponents hit a ball that they think will give them a double and by the time
they get to first base they see that ball flying into the infield and they think
twice about leaving first base.
Our infield is getting patched up. We have solid defensive infielders, but we
need to fix a few things confidence-wise with our infielders. I told Brian
Dozier the other day that he’s probably the best defensive shortstop that I’ve
ever seen, he just has to get his swagger back because he has a certain swagger
when he’s at his best out there. He’s young and probably thinks a lot, but when
you let baseball become a thinking game and you think too much about something,
it can own you very fast. If I think about my first at-bat where I struck out
while I’m at my second at-bat, I’m already beat for that at-bat and for the rest
of the game. The best thing about baseball is that you can have a short-term
memory. Long-term memory during a baseball game is fatal, and you can die a slow
death in a baseball game if you do that.
With the way we’ve been playing lately, we feel good going up to Alabama.
Whoever they pitch, whether it’s a ‘righty’ or ‘lefty’, we have the players to
match up against them. Coach Palmer wants to win this game bad. Don’t get me
wrong; he wants to win every game just as much, but this is a game against an
SEC team, which is known for producing good baseball teams. Alabama has been to
the World Series, so when you play against programs like them and other teams
that we’ve played like Wichita State and Tulane who have been there as well, you
get up for that type of game. At the same time, I think that we’ve established a
program where other teams view us in the same light and really look forward to
playing us as well. But overall, it would be a good win for us and this area,
but I also think that Alabama looks at it in the same way. They certainly aren’t
looking past us, and I think that it’s a big game on both sides.
Since I’ve been here, we’ve played them almost every year. In my redshirt
year in 2001, we were beating them the whole game, yet they found a way to win.
I didn’t see how they won that game because there was no way that we should have
lost. The next year, they managed to pull out another win almost the same way.
Maybe those wins came from their confidence, or maybe that came from the fact
that they’ve been there in similar situations, so they knew how to come out on
top. When we beat them last year, it was as if they said, ‘Southern Miss just
hit us in the mouth, and then they hit us when we were down.’ Whereas in the
past, we may have had teams that would go over there and get complacent with
having a 5-2 lead and let them come back and win 6-5.
I think things are different now. Coach Palmer has done a great job
establishing a program that is set around his standards, and his standards are
nothing less than perfection. He wants to win every game in an entire season.
We’re 13-4 now, if we could finish 52-4, that would be the only way he could
have it. He doesn’t want to take any more losses, regardless if they’re a
walk-off homer in the 15th inning against Rice. He doesn’t want
losses; he wants to win every single game, and that’s the way I am. I think
that’s why I play so well for the guy, because we both don’t care what it looks
like or how we get it done, as long as we win. By no means will we ever be
complacent with going to Alabama, playing them close and coming home with a
loss. We wouldn’t be complacent with going to Rice, playing them close and
coming home after losing one out of three, two out of three or three out of
three games. We want to win. The four losses we’ve taken this year have been
hard to swallow because in all of them we played badly, but we had a chance to
win in every one of them. So this is what the seniors and captains of this team
have preached this week - to play each game as if it is your last. If you give
that effort, and put yourself in position to win the game like we have done,
we’re going to win a few of those.
Alabama is a great place to play at. Like I said before, I’ve had only one
at-bat at Alabama, and it was one of the most nerve-wrecking at-bats in my life
because my best friend from my childhood (Tankersley) was standing in the other
dugout and I wanted to do well in front of him.
I ended up drawing a walk, which may have been the first walk of my career,
and I sprinted down the first base line. My buddy remembered that, and said that
he would have done the same exact thing. There’s a lot of life in that park, as
it’s one of the greatest atmospheres to play baseball in. We’ve played at a lot
of great parks in LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Tulane, and Alabama is
right up there with the best in terms of the magnitude of this game.
It’s going to be fun, but not to look too far ahead, but we do have Troy
coming here for the weekend (3/17-3/19), and they are coming off a sweep of
Memphis where they put a lot of runs on the board. They probably scored as many
runs as we did over the weekend against Buffalo, and I thought we had a great
offensive weekend. This is going to be a tough stretch coming up with South
Alabama (3/21) right behind them, so by the time you hear from me next week,
we’re going to know a lot more about this team. Hopefully, we’ll be looking at
four more wins for this team at this time next week.
Getting the Offense in Gear (3/8/06)
Leaning on the Freshmen (3/1/06)
The Fun has Begun (2/21/06)
(photo courtesy of Southern Miss Media Relations Office)