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July 11, 2013

Conversation with new baseball strength coach

Ole Miss recent hired Ben Fleming to head up the strength and conditioning programs for the baseball and rifle teams. Fleming spent four years at Central Florida and two years at Kansas State before accepting the position with the Rebels.

I spoke to Fleming on Wednesday. Here's that transcript. You can also follow Fleming on Twitter: @StrengthBen

Not to step on anyone's toes, but how do you assess the current team from a strength and conditioning standpoint?

I think we have a ways to go. What we have at Ole Miss is the best baseball players and raw athletes in the country, and I think, not harping on anyone before, but there's another notch and another level they haven't been taken to. Seeing some of the older guys that are getting ready to be fourth year guys, they look way behind the curve as far as I'm concerned. Big League bodies because they've always had that, but inside it's soft, it's not powerful and not very strong. Work capacity has a ways to go to get where I want them to be.

I know a lot of things are individualized, but are there certain things that you are doing for everybody?

We're mixing position players and pitchers together right now, everybody, so the only things we change are minor modifications with the pitchers. They might not overhead press the same way a position player does it. Pitchers are doing more cuff work, posterior work that other guys are doing but not as much. In the summer and fall I like to put position players and pitchers together as much as possible, so if we're squatting, we're squatting. If we're benching, then pitchers have a modified version with limited range of motion. We're pushing it together. We have a ways to go. It's great I got here in the summer just to get to know 20 guys. I have to get to know another 20 when they get here. Once the fall comes, these guys are talking to the players at home and telling them to expect a little different change of pace. Make sure you're ready.

What are the players not in Oxford this summer doing in regards to your program?

As soon as I got here I sent them the same plan as our summer guys are doing here. I know with summer ball they can't do four days a week like we are, but they are going off the same program, though they might not get in but two workouts a week. But they have the plan, conditioning, speed training, everything.

I haven't known many, if any, baseball-focused strength coaches. How did that become a role for you?

I've kind of found a niche. When I started at Central Florida I was able to get into baseball with Coach Godwin and go to back-to-back regionals, and that was big, and then at Kansas State I had the opportunity to work baseball only. KSU was able to give me the ability to just focus on baseball. There's so many things I can do outside of the weight room: pre-practice warmup, pre-practice shoulder work, we do yoga with the guys here now, cuff work with pitchers coming off bullpens come right to me after to do cuff work. Now at Ole Miss I have even more tools and resources, and it's a bigger appeal. Being able to put everything I know into a program that already has a great resources, so we can only take it further. There's a level we've plateaued at of just going to regionals. Fans know that. Coaching staff feels that pressure. Maybe players, and I'm not jumping to conclusions, but maybe players feel we're always going to be in regional play, but there's an aspect of strength and conditioning in the fall and through the season that make you hungrier for more than just expecting a regional is OK. I look forward to challenging them in those ways.

So you really just want to challenge them and it's a year-long process.

Doing something different is important. With some of these older guys they have Big League bodies and look like Tarzan but strength like Jane. What the summer does is gets these freshmen acclimated and ready to hit it in the fall. The older guys get some rest but also work on their bodies and hit weak areas. It's my job to have them in top caliber when they get ready to compete in fall ball. In the fall we get them prepared for the grind of the season and then in the season I don't stop pushing. I want our velocities to stay the same or go up, that our pop is there or gets better as the season goes. That's how you stay healthy and get over nicks and bumps and bruises and shin splints.

Ole Miss has had a problem with shin splints. Is that correctable?

It's just a lot of strain, but just being a more conditioned athlete you don't see those type of things. When the body is not trained and goes to playing 45 or 50 baseball games it's going to start breaking down, so what we do is jumping, side-to-side movement and lifting make the body healthy so you can withstand the injuries during the year.

How did you getting here come about?

Coach Godwin reached out to me and explained that Coach Levy was relocating for family reasons. Asked if I was interested. Of course I was interested because I respect Coach Godwin and everything he's done for me. I had a great situation at KSU where we went to a super regional this year. It's hard to leave that because we were young, but I knew that Ole Miss baseball was something I had to do. Going to the SEC is going to challenge me more as a person and a coach and that's what I like. I don't want to be complacent in this industry. I came down and talked to Coach Bianco and knew I needed to be here. The facilities are phenomenal. I knew it was the correct fit.

I've heard a lot about you taking some of the players shopping. What was the goal of that and how receptive were they to it?

We went to Wal-Mart. For the freshmen who have to live in the dorms it's hard because if you're only getting dining hall and you get Subway or Chick-Fil-A at 6:30 at night the only thing they have left is the little microwave or fridge when you go back to the dorm, and you can't eat McDonald's. I told those guys to make 10 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and stick them in the fridge, so for the week you have something to eat. For the guys that are skinnier put cookies and frozen pizzas in your room. I'm giving them options they don't think about. They need substantial items. They need a lot of food because we're going to be working so they have to eat. You just don't want empty eating, though any calorie is a good calorie. For the older guys living on their own they need to realize how much better they'll feel and how the training will reflect the diet that went into their bodies. We talked about cooking on Sunday night and getting through Friday afternoon then you're set for the week because the weekend won't require eating at home. I talked to them about meal prep and put stuff in Tupperware with a schedule and a system for the week. They will have something they can grab that's good food instead of spending money on bad food. We had 14 guys go to the grocery with me, and we'll do it again in the fall. Being just a baseball and rifle coach I have the time to do those little things as opposed to just being confined to the weight room.

What's the latest update on the training table and how will that impact the team?

Having the new training table and nutritionist will help, but that's only going to be one person. I can focus on those type of things for my guys. The timetable for the training table I think is by the end of the fall will be finished. I think it's scheduled for full operations in the spring. The nutritionist should be here before that. It will be a big help. We hope that next year a meal a day is included in all scholarships, so baseball eats their lunch or dinner in the training table, or they all eat their dinner there before they go to study hall. It's going to be a huge help, especially for guys off campus. It's what is going to take nutrition and sports performance and everything to the next level.


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