By MATTHEW STEVENS
With one swing of the bat, Mitch Moreland became a national sensation but Mississippi State fans reminded him Saturday night of one famous pitch.
Moreland, a former MSU baseball player that was on the mound at Dudy Noble Field the last time the Bulldogs went to the College World Series, spoke to a crowd of over 700 people at the Palmeiro Center Saturday night at the First Pitch Baseball Celebration.
"Every time I've come back here in the offseason to hit," Moreland said. "I'm just so grateful to have that opportunity to come to the place I played and it's an honor to be thought of so highly at such a magical place like Polk-Dement Stadium at MSU."
Moreland, an Amory native, was honored at his high school Saturday morning with the retirement of his high school jersey before he was honored again at his alma mater.
"I got my jersey on the fence and a plaque in the school so I never thought I'd be big time in the hallways at Amory High School that's for sure," Moreland said.
Mississippi State head coach John Cohen talked about the importance to his young 2011 team that alums like Moreland, who was on the MSU campus two weeks ago as well, coming back to Starkville whenever they can.
"When I got here to Mississippi State guys like Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro and Jeff Brantley would come back and be around us," Cohen said. "It's really important because the kids go 'gosh, that guy sat in this same locker that I sat in' and it's important to relate to a guy that's had success."
Moreland, who is expected to be the starting first baseman of the Texas Rangers, was able to chronicle the entire day of his call-up from Triple-A Oklahoma City to the major leagues.
"Oklahoma City is about three hours away from Texas – I made it in about two," Moreland said. "I was flying. They called me the night before about 10:45 p.m. and he was looking at duck decoys on the internet."
Moreland's minor league manager Tony DeFrancesco called him and asked him one question.
"He said 'you got a sport coat?' and when I said 'yes sir' he said to pack it up cause I was headed to Arlington," Moreland said. "Of course I'm jumping up and down and calling everybody but packed up my stuff and jumped into the truck at 7 a.m. and I was there by 11:30 at the stadium."
In his first professional at-bat, Moreland single to right field and handed the ball to his father after the game. In October, he got a much bigger hit in the World Series as his three-run home run led to the Rangers only win in the fall classic.
"It's definitely changed because I've been to different places to speak and it's all be good and I've met a lot of great people," Moreland said. "It's really opened some doors for me to just go out and experience things because you never know how long this could last."
Moreland's best friend on the MSU 2007 team that made it to Omaha was in attendance at the Palmeiro Center as former Johnny Bench Award winner Edward Easley joined Moreland Saturday night.
Easley played 14 games this past season for the Triple-A Reno (Nev.) Aces of the Arizona Diamondbacks organization and remains close friends with Moreland throughout his travels of professional baseball.
"Ed and I are really close to the point that I was in his wedding and he'll be in mine," Moreland said. "All of that group from that year has stayed real close and that's what it's all about here at Mississippi State – making lifelong friends."
Moreland is engaged to Susannah Higgins, a former Miss Alabama contestant, and will be married on November 13.
Moreland will be leaving Monday to Surprise, Ari., to report for the Rangers Spring Training facility a few days earlier than required.
"I've been in Birmingham pretty much the whole offseason and I got to go out to dinner with the family for the final time before the season starts," Moreland said.