Mississippi State baseball provided some of the most exciting moments in Bulldog athletic history in 2013 when the team made a run to the championship series of the College World Series in Omaha. The team gained a following among those that are not diehard Bulldog fans because of the demeanor they showed as a team, Along with many others, Luis Pollorena quickly became a fan favorite on the squad.
His story made for an easy one for Bulldog fans to enjoy. As a child, Pollorena defeated leukemia. When he became a Bulldog he found ways to defeat opponents with his bat and on the mound. Already coming to Starkville with a great story, his attitude made it even easier for fans to cheer him.
While the love from the fans flowed toward the players on that team, Pollorena said the players on the squad enjoyed the support of the fan base.
"I feel like you hear everyone say we have the best fans in the country, but at the end of the day, we don't just say it, we show it," said Pollorena. "It was a great experience to step being able to step on that field and seeing that whole field in maroon and white."
That field referenced by Pollorena was TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, and while the success of the team and the players on the team drew attention from fans and players alike, the unorthodox nature of decisions made by John Cohen and his staff drew attention as well. One tactic, in particular, that seemed odd at the time had to do with the way Cohen and Butch Thompson handled their pitching staff on the road to Omaha and continued to do so during the College World Series. While the tactics used may not have been traditional, Pollorena said they worked for the team.
"It worked out for us because we bought into it," said Pollorena. "We bought into what we were doing. The hitters bought into it, and the pitchers did. We all knew that whenever you stepped on the mound, you would do your job for one inning, and you might go back there or you might not. We put all of our trust and faith in Coach Cohen, him and Coach Thompson, that they were going to do what was best for the team at the time."
During the 2015 season, some fans felt that Cohen and his staff perhaps tinkered too much with too many items, and while it had worked in the past, it was causing problems now. Some went as far as wanting to see Cohen leave Starkville. Pollorena said he sees such criticisms as a bit unfair.
"I know it gets frustrating because everyone wants to win, but the inner circle, they're going out there and trying to win. They aren't trying to lose games," said Pollorena. "Coach Cohen is putting the best nine guys out there. I love the people from Starkville and I love the school, but I feel like you should let the players play and the coaches coach."
One example of doing so from Pollorena's career came in the 2012 SEC tournament against LSU. Pollorena entered the game as a pinch runner, but when he came to the plate with the Bulldogs needing a run, Cohen left him in for the at bat.
"I pinch ran for (Brent Brownlee) earlier in the game, and when it came down to it, I was on deck, and I was able to get an at bat," said Pollorena. "It all played out well. At the same time, I felt like I had been out there and whispering in Coach Cohen's ear 'Hey, I want to hit. I want to hit.'"
While the Bulldog squad in 2013 looked to be one of the tightest knit groups in the game, just a few days after returning from Omaha, Pollorena jumped into professional baseball, and while the game did not change too much, the competition among teammates was a difference that Pollorena said many fans do not notice.
"That is one part that many people don't see," said Pollorena. "At the end of the day, there are many guys out there fighting for the same spot, so most of the time, you get a handful of friends, and the rest, you know them, but they are acquaintances that you don't really talk to because you are fighting for a job, you are fighting a paycheck, you are fighting to bring money back home and be able to move on and get up to the next level."
Today, Pollorena plays for the Laredo Lemurs, a team in the independent American Association. Pollorena says playing in his hometown has proven to be a great experience.
"It's been very exciting. I played three years in the Rangers organization, and I fell into that business side," said Pollorena. "I give the Rangers nothing but thank yous for the opportunity they gave me to be able to continue my career. I'm back home right now playing independent baseball in my hometown."
Pollorena said the experience of playing back home compares to his time in Starkville.
"Sometimes it feels like I'm in Starkville having that family and friend support that I had for the three years I was there," said Pollorena. "Nothing but love is what you feel, and that is what I felt at Mississippi State. I can't thank Coach Cohen, Coach Thompson and Coach (Nick) Mingione enough for giving me that opportunity to become part of the Maroon and White family. To be back home and playing in your home town, some people say that it doesn't get much better, but I played at Mississippi State, so I have been there before."
Listen to the full interview to hear what Pollorena had to say about the run to the College World Series, the thoughts on seeing so many Mississippi State fans in Omaha and the next steps in his baseball career.