January 11, 2018 10:20:14 AM
Brett Hudson - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- It was the end of September and Elijah MacNamee was in class when he checked his phone; it was a text from Andy Cannizaro. Mississippi State's baseball coach wanted to see his starting outfielder in his office, and MacNamee had no idea what this was about.
MacNamee crossed campus, sat down and saw a big smile take over Cannizaro's face. That's when MacNamee thought, "This has to be good."
That's how Cannizaro pitched MacNamee on moving to first base. Nothing that's happened in the months that followed has derailed the move.
When MSU begins preseason practice on Jan. 26, it will have MacNamee, he of 48 starts last year with none of them in the infield, occupying first base with every intention of leaving him there for the season. If the move doesn't work, Cannizaro has made it clear MacNamee will still have a spot in the outfield, but all parties involved want to make this work.
"I don't mind it at all," MacNamee told The Dispatch in the fall. "I'm getting really comfortable now."
There was no guarantee that comfort would ever come: MacNamee said he hasn't played a game in the infield since his catching days, which stopped as he went into high school. He did practice there briefly last fall, then under the direction of John Cohen, but otherwise has been a dedicated outfielder for a good seven years now.
The move was made for the betterment of the team. Cannizaro knows MacNamee's bat belongs in the lineup, but he also believes he has more outfield depth than anywhere else; thus, if MacNamee can stick at first, it's a way for him to sneak another quality bat in the daily lineup.
If the season started today, MacNamee would be playing first base. MacNamee said Cannizaro approached him once in the fall and told him if he were in town to evaluate talent with no prior knowledge, he would not have known MacNamee was not a natural first baseman. MacNamee is confident the instincts are in place.
For that, he has the fall to thank.
"I think the biggest thing that he realized in the fall is you're a heck of a lot closer to the barrel at first base than you are in the outfield," Cannizaro told The Dispatch. "It's about staying on the balls of your feet, it's about anticipating the ball off the bat and being ready for the ball to be hit at you every time."
It's possible embracing the move is easier given what MacNamee saw of the player that did it last year.
Before Brent Rooker exploded onto the scene as the first Southeastern Conference Triple Crown winner in decades and a first-round draft pick as MSU's first baseman, he started in right field seven times in the first five weeks. He made the move midseason and it worked beyond any realistic expectation.
MacNamee saw it up close and personal.
"He hated ground balls. Hated them. He would always talk about, 'I never want a ball hit to me.' A week later he's making plays left and right," MacNamee said. "Ever since then, I was like, 'whatever it takes.'"
That attitude shined on that September day in Cannizaro's office when they first talked about moving MacNamee to first base. Cannizaro put MacNamee at ease by assuring him the conversation would be, "all good stuff," before gauging his interest in the move.
MacNamee told him, "All I want to do is hit. Put me wherever you need to."
Cannizaro replied, "That's exactly what I'm looking for."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson