Diamond trumps gridiron
MSU's Rea defends decision to play collegiate baseball
OMAHA, Neb. -- Wes Rea never stops hearing from people who are amazed he passed on the opportunity to play college football to indulge in his baseball passion at Mississippi State.
''When we do win this national championship, I've got a one-line answer for all the guys who say, 'Why didn't you play football?' Rea said after practice Thursday. "I can show them the ring and say, 'That's why.'''
Rea was one of the nation's top offensive line prospects coming out of Gulfport, Miss., in 2010. A national title in football certainly would have been possible for him considering how much interest he attracted from Southeastern Conference programs.
Rea took official football recruiting visits to Alabama and LSU, and Auburn also wooed him until he let it be known he would play baseball in college.
''That's where my heart was,'' he said. ''Looking back on it, if I were to say I could win a national championship in football or baseball, I'd pick baseball every time. So that's what we're working for right now.''
The Bulldogs' 6-foot-5, 272-pound first baseman hit a key home run in the super regionals against Virginia and drove in the go-ahead runs in a College World Series-opening win against Oregon State. He's batting .444 in Omaha, with two doubles, and .296 average for the season. He also scooped a bouncing throw from closer Jonathan Holder for the last out against Indiana on Monday.
Mississippi State will play Oregon State on Friday needing one win to advance to next week's best-of-three finals. If the Bulldogs lose, they'll play Oregon State again Saturday.
Coach John Cohen said people who know Rea best know that he's a ''baseball guy.''
''I think people, because of his size, just assume he's this big physical guy who has a brute-type personality. He is a baseball savant. He gets it.''
Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen is one of Rea's biggest fans, even though he playfully continues to encourage Rea to put down his baseball glove and put on football pads.
''Coach Mullen teases him relentlessly about being a sissy,'' Cohen said. ''It's all good-natured fun.''
Right fielder Hunter Renfroe, Rea's roommate for three years, said Rea still follows football closely in the fall. When they watch games on television, Renfroe said, Rea dissects plays and talks about what he would do differently if he were on the field.
''He was a great football player, no doubt about that,'' Renfroe said. ''He could have been a great one for [Mississippi State]. He's a great baseball player now and that's all he needs to worry about.''