By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
The Tallahassee Regional won’t just be an important NCAA postseason event. When Mississippi State, Florida State, Samford and UAB come together, it’ll be a reunion.
That will be especially so for MSU head coach John Cohen and pitching coach Butch Thompson. And the main connections will be wearing UAB uniforms.
The Blazers are coached by Brian Shoop, who was an MSU assistant back when Cohen played for the Bulldogs. Thompson both played and coached under Shoop at Birmingham-Southern.
“Many times in my career I have picked up the phone and called Brian Shoop to get his level of expertise on any number of different things,” Cohen said. “I think he is one of the brightest, unheralded, underrated coaches in the country today.”
The relationship with Shoop is even deeper for Thompson, who coached under him on two occasions: from 1994-96, and then from 1998-2001 as Shoop’s top assistant. Birmingham-Southern won the NAIA national championship in 2001 with Thompson coaching the pitchers.
“He’s the most respected man I’ve ever been with in baseball,” Thompson said. “He created opportunities for me to go to Georgia, he’s created every step of the way for me.”
We learned something last week about Thompson: He wears No. 30. That’s news, because normally he wears a maroon pullover during games, but it got awfully hot in Hoover, Ala.
The number is worn in honor of Shoop, who wore it when coaching at MSU.
“He’s like a dad to me,” Thompson said. “When he had his twin children, I was the one who was called at 3:00 in the morning to go to the house and babysit their other kids. He’s like a dad, instead of like a co-worker. He’s a special man.”
There’s another, more well-known, MSU-UAB link: Ron Polk. The man who essentially made MSU baseball what it is as a program is a volunteer assistant under Shoop.
The Bulldogs and Blazers have met before during the regular season, but if they meet this weekend, obviously the stakes are a bit higher. A couple of MSU seniors were brought in by Polk: outfielder Brent Brownlee and pitcher Caleb Reed.
“We have the ultimate respect for coach Polk,” said Cohen, who played under him from 1988-90. “There’s not a whole lot he hasn’t experienced during his coaching career, so I’m sure that knowledge and that background will really help them guide through this process.”
You want more connections? There are more.
• UAB pitcher Michael Busby used to play for State and was Brownlee’s roommate.
• Samford pitcher Lex Rutledge was MSU pitcher Chris Stratton’s teammate at Tupelo High School.
• UAB pitching coach Josh Hopper used to attend Thompson’s pitching camps at Georgia, and Thompson later endorsed Hopper for the job he has now.
Maybe they’ll all get together for a barbecue tonight. Eh, maybe not, but it’ll still be special.
“When the games start, we’ll cut each others’ throat up and then hug after the game or something,” Thompson said. “When the game starts, it all changes, but it’s just crazy, the setup for this week.”
Brad Locke (brad.locke@ journalinc.com) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at DJournal.com.