Kevin Coker is a senior catcher for Southern Miss who will contribute a weekly journal to 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 Crimson Tide


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 rebound.


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.


Kevin Coker


Previous Entries

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)