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February 28, 2013

Flair becoming a fan favorite

Nick Flair began hearing it when he reached high school.

It has become much more amplified this spring when he steps into the batter's box at Dudy Noble Field.

It is the unmistakable trademark of legendary wrestler Ric Flair's 'Woo'. Mississippi State fans have embraced the cheer and can be heard 'Woo'-ing Flair throughout the stadium in each at bat.

"It's every time they hear my last name," Flair said. "Going into high school was when I first noticed it. I didn't even know who Ric Flair was when I was younger and no one had really ever given me the 'woo'. Sometimes when I'd play in high school I'd get it every now and again. But I like it. If I could get a 'woo' walk-out song I would."

The Diamond Dog redshirt freshman is not related to the former 16-time world heavyweight champion, whose real name Richard Fliehr.

But Flair does have baseball in his bloodlines.

"My grandpa played professional baseball and my dad played in college," Flair said. "All the Flair's are baseball people."

Flair had the opportunity to follow in his grandfather's footsteps after being selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 26th round of the 2011 MLB Draft. As tempting as the lure of professional baseball was, Flair knew what he wanted to do.

"It was set in stone pretty much from when I was little that I was going to play baseball in college," Flair said.

The 6-foot-2, 191-pound third baseman redshirted his first season in Starkville while recovering from two dislocated shoulders and eight stitches in his lip missing both the fall and spring last year. Those early tribulations made Flair thankful he chose to go the college route.

"Going through that rough patch I had last year, if I would have had to do that without friends, family and people backing me up on it while I was playing with 25-year old guys at 18 it would have been quite a shock," Flair said. "I really don't know how I would have gotten through it. Being here really changed me a lot and made me more mature."

Flair returned to the diamond last summer playing for the San Luis Obispo Blues in the California Collegiate League. He hit .295 with five doubles, a triple, three home runs and 24 RBIs in 35 games played.

"Just being thrown back into the game reminded me of when I was little," Flair said. "I was just having fun and this whole summer was an awesome experience. I think I'm going back there this summer."

So far this spring, Flair has played in six games going 3-for-6 at the plate with a double and four runs batted in. The Belle Chasse, La., native became an instant fan favorite in the 16-1 season opening win over Portland.

Flair entered the game in the sixth inning as a pinch hitter for Wes Rea and smacked a two-run double on the first pitch he saw during his college career.

"We were up by a good bit so I knew they were probably going to throw me a fastball," Flair said. "I couldn't be looking for any curveballs or anything and they threw it somewhere that I wanted it. I was looking for something on the inner half. I really don't even remember all of it. I was more excited than anything. I was more nervous when (John Cohen) called my name to go in."

Flair was a two-time first team, All-State selection and a four-year starter at Belle Chasse High School. As a senior, he led the Cardinals to a district championship with 60 hits, 18 doubles, three triples, 12 home runs, 62 RBIs and 13 stolen bases.

Despite those lofty numbers, MSU was Flair's only four-year scholarship offer.

Flair feels fortunate to be in his current situation and is living out his dream of playing in the Southeastern Conference this season.

"I got lucky enough to get an offer from here," Flair said. "It had always been a dream to play in the SEC. It's the best competition in the world. It's almost like playing in the minors straight out of high school. I don't think that I'd want to be anywhere else now that I'm here."


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