POPLARVILLE – After 52 years as a college baseball coach – 35 as a head coach – Ron Polk has seen and done plenty, resulting in a wealth of entertaining stories.
And the former Mississippi State head man trotted out a few of his favorites, along with an enlightening message for young players Wednesday night at the second annual First Pitch Dinner at Pearl River Community College.
A crowd estimated at more than 250, including Wildcat baseball players, family members and guests, attended the banquet at PRCC’s Bender Cafeteria designed to introduce the 2018 baseball team to the public.
“It’s a tremendous day to be a Wildcat,” said PRCC president Adam Breerwood in welcoming the audience. “We believe our baseball program is a microcosm of what we want to do here at PRCC
“We believe there are going to be special times on the Pearl River baseball field in the future.”
Second-year head coach Michael Avalon praised members of his inaugural team, both those returning this season and several who returned to campus just for this event, after the Wildcats’ 29-20 season that saw them reach the semifinal round of the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament.
“Honestly, I didn’t know what I had when I got here,” said Avalon. “But these kids bought into what we were teaching them, and battled through some adversity to succeed beyond anyone’s expectations.”
Polk, 72, still coaches, serving as a volunteer assistant for one of his former Bulldog players, Brian Shoop, at UAB. PRCC was one of 27 speaking stops in 33 days for the former MSU coach.
“I just enjoy being around the boys,” said Polk. “These parents have to be so proud that their kids are healthy and playing baseball at a great program for great coaches.
“I like to tell people I have more wins in the SEC than any other coach in any sport in history. Of course, I also have to tell them I have more losses than any other coach as well. And I think I led the SEC in getting thrown out of games (by umpires) every year.”
Polk’s record as a head coach at MSU, Georgia and Georgia Southern was 1,373-700-2, a winning percentage of .662. His teams qualified for 23 NCAA Tournament appearances and eight College World Series.
Besides his college coaching duties, he also twice served as head coach of the USA National Team, and that led him into his main theme for his speech.
“There are so many distractions for kids today, it is unreal,” Polk said. “We spent some time in the Dominican Republic, which currently has players who are dominating in Major League Baseball. Why is that? One thing I believe is that you never see kids with a cell phone in the Dominican Republic.
“Kids today are bigger, stronger and faster than ever. Just think how they’d do without so many distractions. I’m just an average guy, nothing special. So how did I get where I am? I eliminated anything that distracted me from my goals in life.”
The Wildcats open their 2018 baseball season on Feb. 16 with a pair of games, against Southeastern (Iowa) at 1 p.m. and Elaine P. Nunez (La.) at 7 p.m.