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After 34 Years, One Last Win At Dudy Noble Field For Reed



College Baseball Central complements its coverage of Southeastern Conference baseball by returning our feature series on Mississippi State's Ron Polk Ring of Honor. Now in its sixth class since 2019, CBC writers Doug Kyle and Bo Carter team up again to provide insight into the 2024 class of honorees, infielder Charles "Buddy" Myer, broadcaster Jim Ellis, and pitcher Bobby Reed. Today, we profile a pitcher who caught more rockets on the mound than he caught L's, Bob "Bobby" Reed.


By Doug Kyle


One of the more memorable, and widely viewed, moments of Mississippi State Baseball's 1990 NCAA Regional Championship that propelled the Bulldogs to the Men's College World Series is the grand slam hit by third baseman Burke Masters in the top of the 9th inning that led to an 11-8 win over Florida State.


No doubt it gave the team confidence and momentum, but following an 11-9 loss the next day to the Seminoles that led to a winner-take-all Regional Final, the pitching performance by Bobby Reed (as he was known in those days) may have been the most clutch of the Omaha-clinching 4-3 State triumph. In the jubilation that followed Reed’s complete game final appearance on the mound at Dudy Noble Field (just two days after also pitching the bottom of the 9th to close out the 11-8 win), it was even revealed he had completed his three-year home ballpark career with an impressive 24-0 mark.


In April 2024, Bob Reed (as he’s now called) returns to Dudy Noble Field for a final and lasting win, with his induction into the newest class of the Ron Polk Ring of Honor. Notified of his selection in a video call, Reed acknowledges it’s something he’s genuinely wanted for a few years, and sometimes even kidded with Coach Polk that he wanted it to happen while the two could still enjoy it together.


“But, I honestly was totally surprised, and it just went over my head, I never even thought about it. I'm very honored and humbled to be chosen in that group of (players). I just didn’t think when asked that’s what the call was going to be about. My wife (who’s also an MSU alumnus) did, but she said later she didn't want to mention that in case it was something else. I was just told they were interviewing me for one of the regular episodes of the ‘Dear Ol' State’ podcasts," Reed says.


He adds: "But, when I began to see Coach Polk, Coach Lemonis, and (other athletic department officials) come in the picture, that's when things began to come clear. They totally got me there, it was a special, special announcement. We're leaving a legacy. After we're all gone, those plaques (in the right field plaza area that hosts the Ring) will still be there."


So, how did Bob Reed wind up at Mississippi State? It may have had something to do with both his parents attending Mississippi State, father Ray playing football, and growing up in a Bulldog family. He recalls a recruiting visit from Corky Palmer, then an Assistant Baseball Coach at Southern Miss.


“Coach Palmer comes into our home, and it's not a lions den, it's a Bulldogs den, there’s maroon and white everywhere. He was very professional and honest with me, told me that he’d love to have me on his team but understood if I signed with State.” Reed's brother later played at Meridian Community College, where Palmer became Head Coach a short time later, and Palmer recalled the visit in a conversation with Bob's brother. "There were other schools, but I grew up a Bulldog, it's where I always wanted to go."


A trip to Dudy Noble Field’s famed Left Field Lounge also didn’t hurt. “When I made my official visit, I was there with Tommy Raffo and Jon Shave. After I and my parents visited with the coaches first, we were each hosted by two Diamond Girls, who took us out there, three high school seniors, to meet fans and partake of the food and the atmosphere. I was from a small high school in Long Beach, MS. Seeing the crowds and the rendering of the stadium that was about to be built pretty much sealed the deal with me."


Reed didn't know it at the time and learned only about 10 years ago that was also the time Coach Polk told his father (about Reed, Raffo, and Shave), " ‘Those young men right there are going to take us to the College World Series.’ And, sure enough, we did.”


As part of the 1987 team, Reed arrived at MSU in the fall of 1986, when construction was still going on of the second grandstand at Dudy Noble, a structure that is often credited with kicking off an era of ballpark upgrades in the SEC and was itself replaced after the 2017 season with the current impressive model. “We would be out at practice and there was work going on all around us. We're chasing foul balls among scaffolding, they were building a stadium, while we're trying to build a team, I suppose.”


It was during those practices that Reed became acquainted with the demands of Division 1 baseball. "In high school, I was a big kid who could throw hard, but at State, I got my first specialized instruction on pitching. I worked a lot with Coach (Pat) McMahon on my delivery, fielding my position, learning new pitches, and 1986-87 was more of a foundational year for me."



Reed’s 1987 season was also cut short due to an illness. He recalls pitching two innings during a midweek game against William Carey College in Hattiesburg, MS. “I was already not feeling well but afterward, it was horrible, I got even sicker on the bus ride home. When we returned to campus and I was checked out at the infirmary, I was diagnosed with pneumonia, spent a week there, and was out the rest of the year.” Reed wound up getting a medical redshirt and didn’t get to travel with the team to road games, including the SEC Tournament in Athens, GA, when State nailed down the new sixth seed the final weekend of the regular season and swept through the tournament field to claim another conference title.


Reed was beginning to see the fruits of his labor from the redshirt year show up and was quite ready to go when the 1988 season began, a season that became filled with excitement and achievement. The NCAA on-campus attendance record was broken for the first of multiple times against LSU at Dudy Noble Field, a throng of 14,378 smashing the old mark by nearly 4,000 attendees. (A new mark followed a year later, and has been joined over time to now comprise 23 of the 25 largest on-campus crowds ever in college baseball at Mississippi State, including the current record of 16,423 attained April 15, 2023.)



That groundbreaking 1988 Saturday doubleheader split with the Tigers (with eventual Major League pitcher Ben McDonald on the mound in one of the games) was followed by Reed starting a Sunday night telecast on ESPN, back in the days when the network was still fairly new at broadcasting college baseball. A second future big leaguer, Tiger pitcher Russ Springer, fell victim to a John Cohen homer in a 1-0 State win which Reed considers the high point of his season.


Unfortunately, he considers the low point of the season the very next day, when he awoke with his arm killing him. Ill health had revisited Reed, and he was sent shortly to Birmingham, AL, where the famed Doctor James Andrews presented the bad news that he had a torn UCL which would require surgery. That "kick in the gut" ended Reed’s season for a second time, and he could only watch as the Western Division winners MSU lost the last two games of the SEC Tournament to champion Florida and were ousted in the NCAA Tournament by perennial stalwart Cal State Fullerton, both times at home.




Reed was still recovering somewhat from the injury of 1988 as the 1989 season began slowly for him. He'd only been given medical clearance to throw back in the fall, and he remembers starting late in the new season. He also remembers the lineup being stacked. "From 1 to 9, we had some great hitters, a lot of confidence in ourselves," Reed says of the team many considered prior to 2021 the most loaded State team top to bottoom ever, even including the 1985 team of Clark, Palmeiro, and company.


State plowed through the year, sweeping Georgia, Auburn, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, taking two in Baton Rouge off LSU, and winning the SEC outright with the last weekend of the regular season still remaining. Another home regional followed, but even Reed’s 6-0 shutout over North Carolina couldn’t offset dropping a 2-1 earlier decision to them and a 7-1 Regional Final that saw the Tar Heels advance to Omaha when the Bulldog pitching staff was depleted.


As the 1990 season began, Reed recalls that his arm felt great, possibly the best of his career. His statistics reflected that as well. He led the team in innings pitched, with 140 1/3, had a 15-4 record in 22 starts, a 3.01 ERA, and two shutouts. While lefthanded offspeed specialist Jon Harden was the usual go-to arm in the bullpen, Reed relieved in three other games, all saves. And as bitter as the taste of 1989 still was, Reed remembers a positive side as it proved a hugh motivator to get back at it and make Omaha.


"We lost some key players, but not only did we have a lot of good players back, we had a lot of good players ready to step in to those vacated positions. We had Jim Robinson, Jon Shave, David and Scotty Mitchell, among others, who stepped up, and it was just a really close team."


So, about that 1990 NCAA Regional against Florida State? Although he was Mr. Steady and Dependable, there was a pivotal moment in Reed’s home field finale performance that stands out to many like a slow motion punch in a Rocky movie. With Reed on the mound and a runner on first base, he threw a pitch to Seminole Eduardo Perez (son of famed Cincinnati Red Tony Perez and now an ESPN baseball broadcaster) that Perez absolutely smoked as hard as one could hit a ball, a rip you’d love to see gauged now with all the current exit velocity technology.


And the ball? It wound up in Reed’s glove as a line drive out. “I was just trying to protect my teeth,” Reed remembers with a laugh. While Perez had to be frozen in disbelief and wondering what else he could do, Reed notes that as soon as he realized he’d caught the ball, he gathered himself and calmly doubled off the runner to boot. Perez broadcasts both Major League baseball and the College World Series as part of the ESPN team, and he’s actually mentioned that play at times during commentary of a game.


It was only one play, and 2 outs of 27, but as the late Mississippi State broadcaster Jack Cristil often said in describing the flow of a ball game, Ole Mo seemed to have moved over to the Bulldogs’ side right about then.




Once in Omaha, Reed had to deal not only with the pressure of competing for a national title, but oh yeah, there was the little matter of his future, too. "We're at the College World Series, and back then, they had the draft during the Series." he remembers. "This is before cell phones, so back in my hotel room, the red message light is blinking on my phone. I retrieve my message, and it's the Texas Rangers calling to tell me they had drafted me in the third round. I call them back and they tell me we'll start talking about a contract once the Series is over. My dad and I negotiated the deal, no agent, and then they just basically tell me I have three days to report to Gastonia, NC. I packed my car, but I didn't even know where Gastonia was at that time."


Bob Reed enjoys talking about his career at Mississippi State and the many teammates with whom he still stays in contact. Sometimes, that teammate relationship extended beyond college, too. “When I got to Gastonia, guess who’s my catcher? Barry Winford, who was my catcher at State and was a 1989 draftee of the Rangers. I wound up living with him and his wife Christy, sleeping on the couch with their dog during the time I was in Gastonia.”


Fortunately for Reed, his stay in Gastonia was short, as he set a new South Athletic League record by giving up no earned runs over 38 consecutive innings in eight games (he'd had streaks of 25 1/3 and 20 consecutive scoreless innings at MSU), sporting a 0.00 ERA with 26 strikeouts but somehow taking a loss against three wins. Despite his new usage as a reliever rather than predominantly a past starter, Reed's success moved him up to the Tulsa Drillers, a remarkable promotion of Low A to AA, at which point Reed said, "I figured out those guys can hit, and that's where I spent the bulk of my minor league career."



Pitching for the Drillers, a Texas League affiliate of the Rangers, also brought Reed back to Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson, MS, where he’d played when State squared off with metro-area teams. And, during his minor league career, Reed married fellow MSU alumnus Beth, a union that will be celebrating 32 years in February.


As most of his former players do, Ron Polk gets credited by Bob Reed with instilling in him many traits that were valuable during both his playing career and later in life. “Coach Polk insisted on punctuality, you were either early or late. He posted schedules that were precise and impressively organized. And, I’ve used that in my life, taught that to my children as well. Coach Polk is very detail oriented. As a builder, that really hits home with me, it's the details that matter. You have to watch all the details and put them all together. And his perseverence, year after year he coached, and he still sends out cards for all the special occasions to thousands of players. And, don't forget, he literally wrote the book on coaching baseball," said Reed, a reference to Polk's Baseball Playbook that has been a steady seller since its initial publishing in 1982.



After working in his engineering degree field in the Memphis area, Reed now lives in Chattanooga, TN, where he and his wife Beth own and manage a home-building company. They have three children, two sons (Joey and Matthew), a daughter (Ashley), and are expecting their second grandchild in February.


Reed's youngest son, Matthew, just graduated from UAB, brought there by former MSU assistant and then Head Coach Brian Shoop, where he played baseball and actually pitched for the Blazers during their visit to Dudy Noble Field in the 2022 season. Reed says that next to induction into the Ron Polk Ring of Honor, his next proudest baseball moment was seeing his son perform on the same mound where he never lost a decision. “I was invited up to the radio booth with Coach Polk and Jim Ellis, and I was on the air with them when he was on the mound pitching.”


What a proud moment, and we’ll give you a moment if you need to reach for a tissue.


Someone once wrote that individuals excel, teams win, and as many Polk players have done, Reed has shared his joy and success of the selection with his past teammates. “I’ve texted many of them about what an honor this is for all of us.” Reed also called his fellow Ring of Honor inductee, longtime broadcaster Jim Ellis, to congratulate him and make a personal request.


"I told Jim, who called so many of my games, 'Jim, can you just do one more introduction, call my name out one more time?' " It was a lighthearted moment for both Reed and Ellis, who explained the high unlikelihood he'll be both an emcee and an honoree at the ceremony.


Reed considers it "such a neat thing" most of his children and their families will also be able to be in attendance for the Ring of Honor induction scheduled for April 6, 2024.


"The thing I'm most appreciative of is with Coach Polk and the staff. I initially wasn't highly recruited, out of a small high school baseball team. I guess I was a big kid who threw hard, got the attention of Coach Polk at a camp, and they took a chance on me, for which I've always been grateful. It's very humbling to be included among so many players who had great professional careers. I didn't have much of a professional career, but I was blessed with really good teammates, and I've already told many of them it's an honor to be representing them, all of us."


An honor indeed, and for Bob Reed the Mississippi State Bulldog, he may not get one more introduction by Jim Ellis, but push his lifetime record to 25-0 at Dudy Noble Field as he gets that one more win.

 


Photo sources are credited when known. Acknowledgements and special thanks: Bob Reed, Mississippi State Athletics, Travis Rae, and Upper Deck cards. Note: the photo of Dudy Noble Field (showing skyboxes added 1998-2000) is not from the record-setting 1988 game and is intended to merely illustrate typical overflow crowds.

*****



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