Rea's heart is on the diamond -
Published Saturday, June 22, 2013 at 10:23 pm / Updated at 11:07 pm
Rea's heart is on the diamond

Wes Rea turned his back on a promising football career to come to Mississippi State and try to win a national championship in baseball.

Now, with the Bulldogs two wins away from college baseball's top prize, it's an aim that must not be named.

“I don't even want to say those two words,'' Rea said with an almost nervous laugh. “We have two more ballgames to win. That's kind of the attitude this team has had all year long.

“It's not about putting a title on anything. It's about going out and winning this next ballgame, and we've been getting it done lately. The 'NC' words aren't even going to be said.''

Rea knows there's no hiding from the fact that two wins in the College World Series championship final over UCLA would give Mississippi State its first national title in any sport.

Then again, it's been a long time since Rea has been able to hide from anything. He stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 272 pounds. Even in his baseball uniform, it's difficult to forget that Rea was once a prized offensive line recruit sought by national powers such as Alabama and Louisiana State.

Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen still asks Rea about joining his team one of these seasons.

“I still talk to him a lot,” Rea said. “There's always a chance I could play if I wanted to, but I really wanted to focus on baseball.”

Bulldogs baseball coach John Cohen is glad Rea did. His massive first baseman has been a big reason the team reached Omaha for the first time since 2007. Rea has played an even bigger role in putting Mississippi State into the best-of-three championship series against the Bruins.

He doubled in the two runs that gave the Bulldogs a 5-4 win over Oregon State in the opening round. His two hits figured heavily into sixth- and eighth-inning rallies that produced a 5-4 win over Indiana.

Rea got another two hits, and was robbed of a third, in Friday's 4-1 win over Oregon State that finished off the Bulldogs' sweep of their CWS bracket. He's hitting .382 with three doubles, a homer and eight RBIs in Mississippi State's eight NCAA tournament games. All three of the doubles have come in Omaha, where Rea is hitting .462.

Overall, he is hitting .300 with seven homers and 40 RBIs with at least two games left in his sophomore season.

“He's been tremendous for us all year,'' Cohen said.

Cohen signed Rea to be a pitcher, but an arm injury in his senior season of high school altered those plans.

“He's a guy that could run out there and get you 88-92 (mph),'' Cohen said. “He had a great breaking ball.''

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He also has athleticism that belies his size.

“To be 6-5 and do what he does at first base is remarkable for me,'' teammate Hunter Renfroe said. “He can get down the line. He's a great athlete'

Rea also has a good mind for the game, Cohen said.

“I think because of his size, people just assume he's this big physical guy who has a brute-type personality,'' Cohen said. “He is a baseball savant. He gets it. He understands all situations, and he's like having another coach on the field.''

Growing up in Gulfport, Miss., Rea found himself sorting through football and baseball offers in high school. He was a highly regarded offensive lineman who took official visits to Alabama, LSU, Mississippi and Mississippi State. He played in the prestigious Mississippi-Alabama all-star games and participated in several national recruiting combines.

But when Cohen came calling, Rea couldn't resist the urge to concentrate on baseball.

“I just wanted to play baseball,” he said. “That's where my heart is.”

Other athletes have had success playing both sports, but Rea said the size required to play the line at the major-college level keeps him from thinking about trying both.

“I was an offensive-end, defensive-end-type guy,” he said. “They were going to want me to weigh 320 pounds, and it was going to be impossible to do playing baseball, too.”

Mississippi State's run through the NCAA tournament has reaffirmed to Rea that he made the right choice.

“If you were to say I could win a national championship in football or baseball, I'd pick baseball every time,” he said. “In the recruiting process, coach Cohen almost promised my class that we'd have a chance to win one.

“He said we've got the right guys coming in, and that we're going to do it. Everybody believed him, and we're making that dream come true.''

If the Bulldogs can beat the Bruins in the championship series that begins Monday, Rea would have the perfect reply to anyone who ever gave him grief for not playing football.

“I'd show them the ring,” he said, “and say, 'That's why.'''

Contact the writer: Steven Pivovar    |   402-679-2298    |  

Steven Pivovar is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and primarily covers Creighton athletics and the College World Series.

Read more related stories
Friday, June 14
Opening Celebration

Saturday, June 15
Game 1: Mississippi State 5, Oregon State 4
Game 2: Indiana 2, Louisville 0

Sunday, June 16
Game 3: N.C. State 8, North Carolina 1
Game 4: UCLA 2, Louisiana State 1

Monday, June 17
Game 5: Oregon State 11, Louisville 4
Game 6: Mississippi State 5, Indiana 4

Tuesday, June 18
Game 7: North Carolina 4, LSU 2
Game 8: UCLA 2, N.C. State 1

Wednesday, June 19
Game 9: Oregon State 1, Indiana 0

Thursday, June 20
Game 10: North Carolina 7, N.C. State 0

Friday, June 21
Game 11: Mississippi State 4, Oregon State 1
Game 12: UCLA 4, North Carolina 1

Championship Series

Monday, June 24
Finals Game 1: UCLA 3, Mississippi State 1

Tuesday, June 25
Finals Game 2: UCLA 8, Mississippi State 0
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