STARKVILLE — Ron Polk’s arrival at Mississippi State in 1976 was anything but glamorous.
For a school that boasts 11 College World Series Appearances and 15 NCAA Regional Championships, Polk’s hiring was an afterthought. So much so, the story announcing his appointment in The Clarion-Ledger was relegated to the 11th page of that day’s paper.
“I thought my contract was really good,” Polk said. “Fifteen thousand dollars, that’s what I made the first year as head coach at Mississippi State.”
In the decades since his hiring, Polk’s become a living legend of sorts. He’s spent 56 years in coaching, just recently ending a 12-year spell as a volunteer assistant at the University of Alabama-Birmingham to become a special assistant to MSU Athletic Director John Cohen — one of his former players.
Speaking with the Starkville Rotary Club on Monday afternoon, Polk regaled the crowd with tales of his years upon years in college baseball and what it means to be back in Starkville following an unsanctimonious departure from the school in 2008.
Hired by MSU in an administrative capacity in January, Polk has spent the past few months amid the COVID-19 pandemic attending MSU athletic events when possible, smoking anywhere from seven to eight cigars per day and coaching summer collegiate baseball in the Honor the Game Wood Bat League in Meridian.
He’s also begun offering tours of the museum of Bulldog memorabilia he’s built into his home in the Browning Creek neighborhood of Starkville. As of Monday, he estimates he’s given 28 hour-and-a-half long tours thus far.
“At one time I knew the creed for every civic club in the state of Mississippi,” he boasted in reference to his long speaking career that ran parallel to his time on the diamond. “But this is the first one I’ve been at where you’ve had to be spaced out.”
Making the rounds among MSU’s varying fall sports, Polk headed out to Old Waverly Golf Club last week to attend The Ally — a home tournament hosted by the Bulldogs’ women’s golf program. Once there, he was greeted by MSU sophomore golfer Abbey Daniel, whose father, Chuck, was recruited by Polk as a baseball player during the late 1980s.
Trading barbs with the younger Daniel, Polk quipped that had he not convinced Chuck to attend MSU, he and his wife may never have met and Abbey may never have been born.
“She got up and gave me a hug,” Polk reminisced.
While Polk’s official duties under MSU’s banner vary, it’s on the baseball field where his love still persists. At Dudy Noble Field, the Ron Polk Ring of Honor wraps its way around the grandstand. This spring, the second and third classes will be inducted after the 2020 celebrations were brought to a halt amid the pandemic.
Polk also readily bragged on the talent around the Southeastern Conference and why, after his nearly six decades of coaching, it remains among the nation’s best collections of collegiate baseball talent.
“This is by far the best athletic conference in the country,” he said. “After watching all our teams practice and watching the coaches coach, we’re blessed with outstanding coaches and athletes and continue to support them as citizens of this great city of Starkville.”
“I kind of compare coaching in the SEC a lot like coaching ice hockey in hell — there are many ways things could go wrong in a hurry,” he continued through a laugh. “So I tell them all this we’ve got to be positive — I’ve always been a positive person — I want you to be as positive as the guy in Alabama last year, he was 85 years of age, and he married a 25-year-old woman and moved right next door to the elementary school and bought a five-bedroom house. That’s how positive I want these people to be.”
Ben Portnoy reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @bportnoy15.
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