State’s Brent Rooker: Wildly successful, but not overnight

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Kelly Price

Brent Rooker’s home run trot has become a regular occurrence at Dudy Noble Field.

 

No Mississippi State baseball player in history, including legends named Clark, Palmeiro and Renfroe, has had a more impressive run at the plate than Brent Rooker recently.

For starters, Rooker leads the SEC in batting average (.448), slugging percentage (1.008), on-base percentage (.548), hits (56), RBIs (56), doubles (19), home runs (15), total bases (126) and stolen bases (14). Rooker leads the nation in RBIs, slugging percentage and total bases, while ranking second in batting average, doubles, hits and home runs.

We just thought Rooker was hot before last week when he hit six home runs and drove home 13 runs in five games. Little wonder he was named National Player of the Week for the second time this season.

The best description of what Rooker is doing probably comes from his coach, Andy Cannizaro, who says, “He’s putting up power numbers right now that are like people were doing back in the 1990s before they changed the bats to reduce the trampoline effect. He’s hitting balls with the new bats the way guys used to hit them with the old hot ones. It has been amazing to watch.”

Melanie Thortis

Rick Cleveland

Perhaps most amazing of all: Three years ago, Rooker was red-shirted. Two years ago, he hit .257 with all of two home runs as a redshirt freshman. Last year, he hit .324 with 11 home runs, which is really, really good, but nothing like this.

If he stayed around, maybe he would hit .700 next season. Fat chance. Scouts aren’t just drooling over Brent Rooker; they’re foaming at the mouth.

Brent Rooker’s home run smile

The story of Rooker’s college career is much like the story of his baseball career, period. Terry Rooker, Brent’s daddy and a former Memphis catcher, could tell you. He began coaching Brent when Brent was 6 and coached him for the next eight years. When the younger Rooker was playing travel ball as a 14-year-old, he batted 10th or 11th in the order.

“He was skinny, late developing kid,” Terry Rooker says of the son who is 6 feet, 4 inches tall and weighs a strapping 220 now. “Brent was a good player on a team of really, really good players. But he reached puberty late and just wasn’t as big and strong and couldn’t run as fast as a lot of the other guys. The one thing he had, though, is he worked hard at it. He always wanted to hit.”

Between ages 14 and 15, the change came physically and Brent Rooker caught up quickly. As a ninth-grader on his high school team, he hit a home run in his first at bat.

Lane Burroughs, now the head coach at Louisiana Tech, recruited Rooker to State out of tiny Evangelical Christian School in suburban Memphis.

“What I noticed first was his bat speed,” Burroughs said. “He could really swing it. He wasn’t facing very good pitching, but I loved his approach at the plate and you could see the bat speed.”

And then Burroughs spent time with Rooker. “That’s what sold me,” Burroughs said. “His character and his makeup were off the charts. I called John (Cohen) on the way back to Starkville and told him we’ve got to recruit this guy.”

Rooker was brought to Starkville for an official visit. Cohen was quickly sold, as well.

“Brent’s intangibles are off the charts,” Cohen said. “He would be in my top five players I’ve ever been around as far as being a great teammate and human being, his work ethic, his making people around him better.

“I’ll tell you,” Cohen continued, “his makeup is a little big Dak Prescott-ish. He has that special aura about him.”

But surely there was something definitive that happened between .257 as a redshirt freshman and this otherworldliness currently going on.

“Not really,” Brent Rooker says. “It’s been a long process really, lots of reps, lots of learning, lots of adjustments.”

Cohen: “Skip Bertman (the legendary LSU baseball coach) had a Japanese term – Kaizen – he used to describe the gradual, continuous improvement you make each day as a ballplayer, and I think that’s a perfect term for what has happened with Brent. It hasn’t been any one big thing, just a steady process of working hard, learning and staying at it.”

Brent Rooker’s intelligence is another factor. An outstanding student with a double major in business administration and management, he really studies and understands the art of hitting.

“His discipline at the plate is off the charts,” Cannizaro said. “He doesn’t try to do much. He uses all the field. He understands how people are trying to pitch him. He does things Big Leaguers do. He makes adjustments that Major Leaguers make. He recognizes pitches right out of the pitcher’s hand and he has a plan of what he’s going to do with it the way Major Leaguers do.

“And when he gets his pitch, he’s not missing.”

No, he’s not. Brent Rooker is currently in a hitting zone precious few ever enter.

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Rick Cleveland, Mississippi Today’s sports columnist, this year was named Mississippi Sportswriter of the Year — an honor he achieved for the 10th time — by the National Sports Media Foundation. Read his previous columns and his Sports Daily blog. Reach Rick at rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.

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