Former Mississippi State University baseball coach Ron Polk shakes hands with Eli Moran during the First Pitch Dinner for the Philadelphia High School baseball and softball teams.
Former Mississippi State University baseball coach Ron Polk shakes hands with Eli Moran during the First Pitch Dinner for the Philadelphia High School baseball and softball teams.
Former Mississippi State University baseball coach Ron Polk urged local students Saturday night to not get distracted if they want to succeed on the field and in life.

Polk, the winningest coach in any sport in the history of the Southeastern Conference, is in his fifth season as University of Alabama at Birmingham's volunteer assistant coach. Polk came to UAB in 2009 after announcing his retirement from the Mississippi State program in 2008.

He was the guest speaker at the First Pitch Dinner for the Philadelphia High School baseball and softball teams at the Philadelphia Country Club.

Over 200 people attended the event, packing the country club banquet room.

Polk spent the evening going from one series of stories to another.

"In 48 years of coaching I've made a living by playing a game," he said, admitting with a laugh that part of his record includes getting thrown out of games.

He recalled a game in Arkansas where an umpire kept having issues over where the strike zone was throughout the game.

After an argument, the umpire threw him out of the game and told him to leave.

"I asked him where I should go," Polk said. "The ump said to go where he couldn't see me. So I stood on home plate."

At another game in Tennessee, after getting thrown out, Polk walked up to the umpire and presented him with a cell phone.

"I told him we found this phone and thought it might be his," he said. "When he asked why we thought it was his, I told him it was because there were eight missed calls on it."

Half an hour into his speech, the conversation turned more serious.

Polk said that kids today have more distractions than when he was a youth.

He recounted one press conference where he noticed most of the players on their cell phones.

"I went up to one of them and asked who he was texting," Polk said. "He replied, The guy two seats down from him.

"I'm afraid that kids today don't communicate," he said, noting that those kinds of distractions can seriously impact their lives.

Distractions, Polk said, affect everything you do and they come in many shapes and sizes, including sex and drugs.

Distractions can be anything that takes your attention away from your goals, he said.

Polk also lamented the fact that some kids don't care about their futures.

Pointing out to the over 200 people in the crowd, he told the students that the next three to four years would determine how their lives would turn out and what they would become.

"But the problem is they're distracted," he said.

Polk urged the students to not fall for distractions.

To illustrate this point he talked about kids growing up in the Dominican Republic.

The kids over there, he said, have so few distractions. Because of the conditions of where they live, most spend their time doing one thing, playing baseball. That's why so many leagues recruit kids from there, he said.

"Their conditions are bad but they still practice every day for a chance at a better life," he said. "They have no distractions."

Polk ended by delivering a series of stories to illustrate five secrets to success: have faith, stay motivated, be noticed, make a difference and don't crash or burn out, he said.

Before leaving the stage Polk asked that each and every baseball and softball player in attendance to take a moment and speak to him on their way out in case they had any questions and to make sure they "paid attention."

And the kids obliged him as every boy and girl in the room stopped and spent a moment talking to Polk, who gave them his undivided attention.

The students asked Polk what it was like as a professional coach and he asked them if they were dedicated to the game.

When each told him "yes," a smile always came to his face.

Polk also signed copies of his textbook, "The Baseball Playbook," which is considered the nation's leading college textbook for baseball.

The money raised from the dinner will be split between the baseball and softball teams and be spent on any needs they might have.

Booster Club member Kim Mars was pleased with the event, which will be held annually.

"We were blown away by how well the first annual Philadelphia baseball/softball First Pitch Dinner went," she said. "We are so fortunate to live in a place where businesses and the entire community support both of our school systems. So many people helped make this possible by either their donations of money, time or cooking."

She said the students enjoyed his talk.

"Our night was really topped off by legendary coach Ron Polk who presented a great message to our student athletes. It was a great way to kick off our season. Coach [Cody] Freeman and Coach [Austin] McNair have their work cut off for them to top this next year!"