Cohen wants MSU in College World Series

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, July 1, 2009

SUMMIT – John Cohen wants to put the Mississippi State Bulldogsback in the College World Series. It’s a lofty goal for Cohen’srebuilding program but MSU is recognized for its rich baseballtradition and passionate fans. It’s just a matter of time.

Speaking to the MSU Southwest Mississippi Alumni Chapter meetingTuesday night, Cohen reflected on his team’s progress after oneseason. Obviously, the Bulldogs fell short of Cohen’s highstandards.

For the record, he Bulldogs finished 25-29 overall and 9-20 inthe Southeastern Conference. They lost 15-4 to CWS champion LSU inthe season finale at Starkville.

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Cohen, a 1990 MSU grad, played for the legendary Ron Polk. As ahead coach, Cohen realized a high level of success at Kentucky,steering the Wildcats to the SEC Eastern title in 2006 and an NCAARegional berth in 2008.

“I am thrilled to be back,” said Cohen. “Mississippi State is avery special place to me.”

From all accounts, Cohen is performing a major makeover in MSUbaseball since he replaced Polk who retired last spring. Recruitingis the key to a program’s success and Cohen is searching far andwide for talent.

His assistant coaches, Lane Burroughs and Butch Thompson, areliving out of suitcases as they hunt outstanding baseball players.”This is our busiest time of the year,” said Cohen. “Over the past35 days, Lane Burroughs has been home just four days.”

Before Cohen addressed the large crowd gathered in the Horace C.Holmes Student Union Building on the Southwest MississippiCommunity College campus, he shared his thoughts on competing inthe powerful SEC.

“It’s like the arms race,” said Cohen, making a militarycomparison. “As soon as you hear of some school getting a greatplayer, you have to go out and get more artillery to becompetitive.”

One of MSU’s prize signees is Brookhaven Academy catcher KolbyByrd, The DAILY LEADER’s Most Valuable Player on the 2009All-Lincoln County Baseball Team. Currently, Byrd is playing summerleague ball with the Jackson 96ers who are competing in a Memphistournament.

“Kolby has some good tools,” said Cohen. Byrd’s pop time, onthrows to second base, has impressed Major League Baseball scouts.A left-handed batter, he has displayed amazing power.

A starting catcher position is vacant on MSU’s current roster.Byrd should be in the mix as a true freshman. An intense fallpractice session will provide an opportunity for the newcomers toproject their skills for Cohen and his staff.

Asked about the possibility of incoming freshmen landing astarting job, Cohen didn’t hesitate to answer. “It depends on howquickly you can make that jump,” from high school to collegebaseball.

Cohen said every player on an SEC baseball roster isexceptionally talented. Due to limited scholarships, there are nofree rides to stardom.

“We signed 19 kids and 12 of them are pitchers,” said Cohen. “Wesigned three junior college players.”

Giving an overall opinion on high school baseball in theMagnolia State, Cohen said, “Mississippi talent is very good,especially when you consider the (small) population.”

Prize players are heavily recruited by outside forces like LSUand Alabama. Major League Baseball often grabs the most talentedplayers during the annual draft.

“We signed four kids from the state of Texas,” said Cohen.”Georgia has a large population and big high school programs toproduce good players.”

Cohen said seven prep stars have already made commitments tosign with the Bulldogs for 2010. Burroughs has been in Memphiswatching Byrd and the 96ers compete.

Looking to the future, Cohen said MSU’s new uniforms would favorthe old style made famous by the 1985 CWS team that was led by WillClark and Rafael Palmeiro, future Major League stars.

Cohen said he realized he was in the wrong place when Kentuckyclinched the SEC East with a road win over Georgia, its firstbaseball title in the102-year history. “We got back to Lexingtonabout 10 a.m. Monday and not one person was there to greet the teamand congratulate us.

“When Kentucky began preseason basketball practice, over 24,000showed up,” in Rupp Arena.

The Diamond Dawgs are strong in the classroom, too. Theycompiled a 3.31 GPA this year.

“You can make good grades and make a good baseball player,”Cohen pointed out.

Write to sports editor Tom Goetz, c/o The DAILY LEDER, P.O. BOX551, Brookhaven, MS 39602 or e-mail