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Former Ole Miss star Tim Elko talks life in the minor leagues

May 26—Almost a year ago to the day, Tim Elko and his Ole Miss teammates were eliminated by Vanderbilt in the opening round of the 2022 SEC tournament. For the next week, they sat around unsure of if they would make it into the NCAA Tournament at all. The night before they found out they were a No. 3 seed in the Coral Gables Regional as one of the final teams in the field, Elko didn't get much sleep.

A month later, the Rebels were in Omaha, on their way to winning the first College World Series crown in program history.

A lot has happened in Elko's life since then. The Chicago White Sox drafted him in the 10th round of the 2022 MLB Draft last July, and he is currently in Single-A with the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers of the Carolina League, located about 30 miles outside Charlotte, North Carolina.

Ole Miss fans who watched their beloved team captain launch a school-record 24 home runs last season aren't surprised the Florida native once again finds himself mashing — in 39 games with the Cannon Ballers this year, Elko is hitting .295 with nine home runs and 35 RBIs. He was named the Carolina League Player of the Month in April.

To be honest, he isn't shocked at the success, either.

"I believe in myself and believe this is what I could do. So, I wouldn't say it has come as a surprise to me," Elko said. "I've got confidence and belief that, I could do this."

Elko talks differences between college, pros

Life in the professional ranks is certainly different than it is in college. There's no school to worry about; it's all baseball, all the time. Instead of several days off between a series like in college, Elko now has one day a week where he isn't playing — a day he admittedly doesn't do anything baseball related. He lives in a townhouse with several teammates.

One of the best lessons Elko has learned in the pros, he said, is to take care of his body and mind for the grind. Because, as opposed to in college when you might have three days between games to get over a bad outing, he might have 12 to 15 hours now.

There's also the fact that everybody in professional baseball is really, really good.

"Multiple guys that throw over 100 miles an hour within a week span, you didn't really see that in college," Elko said. "There's a couple of guys that threw hard and throw mid- to high-90s. (Tennessee's) Ben Joyce obviously threw over 100 miles per hour. But you get to pro ball, there's a decent amount of guys who can do that now. So that was a little bit of a, 'Alright, well, sounds good.'"

As for Elko's immediate goals in the White Sox's system? Well, it sounds rather similar to what his mindset was at Ole Miss — Keep working hard and let the chips fall where they may. Control what's controllable.

"Whatever they want to do with the system, whatever plan that they have for me, the way that I'm going to be able to fulfill their plan, is just play the best that I can," Elko said. "So, I'm trying not to think too much about that and just go out and do the best I can every single day."

Elko will 'always love Ole Miss'

Ole Miss' struggles in 2023 were well-chronicled; the Rebels finished under .500 for the first time in head coach Mike Bianco's two decades at the helm. Elko talked to former teammates and watched games during the season when he was able to, he said. He doesn't find himself stressing about the Rebels' wins and losses the way he did when he donned an Ole Miss jersey, of course, but it still matters. He will "always love Ole Miss."

"I definitely cared and felt for the guys when things weren't going well," Elko said. " ... We went through, obviously, a pretty tough stretch last year. I know how it felt as a player. It sucks."

Last summer admittedly seems like a lifetime ago for Elko. But what a time it was.

"To be honest, I think I still look back and I'm like, man, what we did was pretty crazy. At the time it just seemed like we were just kind of winning baseball games. We were just hoping to make the tournament or whatever," Elko told the Daily Journal. "But, it's pretty incredible that over halfway through the season were 7-14 (in SEC play) and we ended up being national champions. "

" ... I'm glad that that's the story we wrote, because it's a pretty crazy one, and (I'm) glad I could be a part of it."

SEC Network's documentary on the Rebels' run to the College World Series crown, "Last In, Last Out," came out Monday. That also happened to be Elko's day off, so he made sure to tune in. His patented "Don't let the Rebs get hot" phrase was prominently featured in the show — a saying, Elko said, he always believed but was initially said somewhat in jest.

Elko isn't getting royalties for his famed slogan/prediction, he said with a laugh. But ESPN's documentary was yet another reminder of just how incredible the summer of 2022 was.

"I grew up watching college baseball and the College World Series. And every single year I was at Ole Miss, our goal is 'We're going to make it to Omaha, we're going to win a national championship.' And we could never quite get there," Elko said. " ... (But) nobody made it a bigger deal than what it was, even though it was pretty sweet, of course. But looking back on it, pretty crazy that we were able to do what we did."

michael.katz@djournal.com