Hunter Renfroe has been pummeling SEC pitching this season, hitting .429 with 13 home runs, 42 RBIs and a nation’s best .865 slugging percentage. In today’s Journal I have a story on Renfroe and how he’s fulfilling the big expectations that had been placed upon him by coach John Cohen.
Renfroe leads No. 16 MSU (30-9, 8-7 SEC) into a three-game home series against Auburn (23-14, 5-10) starting tonight. I and a couple of other reporters caught up with him on Tuesday to talk about his success, his baseball background, and his future. Some of that 24-minute chat is in the video above, and I also have some excerpts for you below.
At what point did you realize you had a future in baseball?
“It was probably when I got to high school. All through the years, everybody was about the same growing up. You had your guys that matured earlier than others. High school I really started standing out my sophomore and junior year and realized, ‘I’m pretty good at baseball now.’ Scouts started to come watch me, colleges started calling me a little bit. That’s when I figured out I’m pretty good at this, I’m gonna make a living out of it. I always wanted to play professional baseball and come to Mississippi State and play. I told all the scouts in high school, ‘I wanna experience college and play there for a while, then do it.’ That’s why I think I got drafted so late, too. I openly told them I’m gonna go to college first.”
Cohen kept saying you would be great when you put it together. Is that sort of expectation a lot of pressure?
“It’s not that much pressure. We knew that eventually it would come around and that I had the talent. I knew I had the talent a long time ago, but it was kind of frustrating to me last year. I know what I can do and it just wasn’t happening for me. I was hitting balls hard last year and it wasn’t finding holes. This year shows I have the potential and last year was just so frustrating to me. It wasn’t all coming together. It was mostly about confidence at the plate and not swinging at bad pitches. A lot of it comes out in frustration. You’re seeing good pitches and you’re swinging straight through them and you’re like, what is going on? But after summer ball, kinda calmed it back and down and relaxing, seeing the numbers come back up and seeing everything come back around where it usually is, it helped a lot.”
Did your parents push you toward baseball?
“Not necessarily. They didn’t push me to it at first. You always have to be pushed to do something when you’re younger. They introduced it to me, I enjoyed it a lot. As the summer balls went on – 8, 9, 12, all around there – we’re playing 100-something games a summer. And it got really where you can kind of get burnt out. They always asked me, whenever you want to stop playing, you can stop and take a break. I think it was around my seventh- or eighth-grade year I took a summer off and just relaxed and had fun. Went to the reservoir in Jackson, skied a lot, wakeboarded, did all the stuff a regular freshman did, instead of playing baseball. And I think that’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. Get back to the love of the game instead of having to do this, having to do that, everything’s rushed. Just taking a summer off, that’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.”
You don’t get to fully enjoy college.
“You’re kind of used to not doing stuff like a normal student. Me and Wes (Rea) joke about it all the time, we’d have killed every animal in the state of Mississippi if we didn’t play baseball. We were talking about it yesterday. It’s just something you live with and something you adapt to. You’re out here three hours a day practicing baseball, and it’s a lifestyle. You’ve got to enjoy it to do it.”
So you like to hunt.
“Yeah, hunt and fish, everything like that.”
If you had a whole summer off, what would you be doing?
“I’d be up river catfishing, trot line and stuff.”
You’ve always had a strong arm, when’d you realize you had it?
“I’ve always had the arm, even since I was 7 or 8 years old. The first time I ever pitched, I was 9, we were in a world series in Missouri. We had played probably four or five games that day because of the rainouts. We were in the world championship game, I guess, against some guys that actually play for Ole Miss now – Preston Overbey. And we won the first game, we had no pitching left, and I had to pitch. That was the first time I’d ever pitched, and that’s when I really knew I had a good arm, because I was blowing it by people.”
Is attention, draft talk something you have to guard against distracting you?
“I really don’t think about it. As people ask me about the draft, I’m like, eh, I don’t want to talk about it. That’s just something that’ll come together on its own. I’ve got my mom and dad to worry about that, later on. It just puts pressure on you. I just try to not to think about it, just try to do my work on the field, and it’ll all come about when it comes around in June.”
So the draft isn’t even on your mind.
“Naw. I’m just trying to think about the team and win some games for us. Then in June you’ll start thinking about it a little more.”
What motivates you?
“I would say my future. I have a bright future in playing professional baseball. I love just playing the game. The game is the biggest motivation in its own. All the fans in stands, screaming out your name, cheering when you get a hit, all my teammates, coaches, the pats on the back, just winning that motivates me.”