Redshirt year reaps rewards for Rooker

Brent Rooker is vying for a triple crown in the New England League this summer. (Mississippi State).

Brent Rooker is vying for a triple crown in the New England League this summer. (Mississippi State).

Brent Rooker watched and learned his first year at Mississippi State.

The young slugger scouted pitchers from the dugout and listened as his teammates discussed their hitting strategies during his redshirt season in 2014.

When Rooker finally got his chance to be in the lineup this past season, he felt prepared for the opportunity.

“The redshirt year was huge for me, just getting to be in the dugout watching pitchers and seeing what SEC baseball is all about,” Rooker said. “The SEC is a different level obviously from the rest of the Division I level. For me, I was able to listen to the guys talk hitting in the dugout and what they’re thinking in the box and just being around the atmosphere was big for me in making the adjustment and helped me succeed.”

Rooker appeared in 34 games for the Bulldogs during his redshirt freshman campaign and drew 20 starts. The 6-foot-3, 210-pounder made 18 starts as the designated hitter and two in left field. He hit .257 with three doubles, two home runs and 12 RBIs.

But even as equipped as Rooker believed he was for this season, it did not stop him from being anxious being in the starting lineup on opening day.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous,” Rooker said. “It was the Friday night opener against Cincinnati and I was hitting clean-up. I had some jitters and some butterflies going into the box for the first time but it was an awesome experience. It’s something I had dreamed about for a long time. I worked really hard to get that opportunity. But the more at bats you get, the more comfortable you get and the less nervous you get.”

Rooker belted both of his homers on Feb. 21 as part of a doubleheader against Alabama A&M and Marshall.

Reflecting back on his initial year on the field, Rooker marveled at the pitching he faced each weekend in conference play.

“It’s the speed overall of the game and the pitchers,” Rooker said. “Every pitcher here has a breaking ball they can throw for a strike. Every SEC bullpen has a guy who can throw 92 deep. Everybody can throw all their pitches for strikes. In high school you’ll see a guy that’s 90 with a decent breaking ball but it’s nothing like the depth the college level has.”

As a senior at Evangelical Christian (Tenn.) School, Rooker batted .430 with nine long balls, 32 RBIs and 23 stolen bases. He was a finalist for the 2013 Tennessee Player of the Year in baseball and also a Mr. Football finalist amassing over 3,300 yards of offense and 33 touchdowns and leading the Eagles to a state championship in both sports.

Rooker garnered scholarship offers from Samford and home state schools Tennnessee and Memphis but chose MSU due to is fan base.

“The difference between here and everybody else is the atmosphere,” Rooker said. “I know it’s cliché and everyone says that but it’s the fans. There’s only one program in the country that can say that about its fans, attendance and stadium in general and that’s here. That’s what made the decision for me.”

For the second straight summer, Rooker is playing for the Plymouth Pilgrims and was selected to the New England Collegiate Baseball League All-Star Game. Rooker currently leads the league with a .375 batting average, 27 runs batted in and is second in home runs with eight.

I have covered Mississippi State in some capacity since 2004 and joined the Daily Journal staff in 2013. I enjoy short walks on the beach, performing concerts in my car and watching professional wrestling.

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