I wanted to write something about MSU’s run to the Finals of the 2013 College World Series. It was improbable. It was emotional. It was wonderful.
I spent a lot of time thinking about my Dad. How he loved these Bulldogs! And how, towards the end of his life, he would have to turn off Jim Ellis’ radio broadcast because it was just too hard for him to listen as State would either grind out another victory, or suffer a tough loss.
In the end, this was something that made me very proud to be an alumnus of the People’s University. Words, however, fail me at the moment. Fortunately for the Bulldog Nation, Bob Carskadon at #HailState Beat (The official blog of MSU Athletics) tells this story the way it should be told:
As we grow older, the more people we meet and with each new person we talk to, we learn that everyone has a story.
Children and adults, astronauts and teachers, white, black, tall or short, individuals lead their own lives, however little of it we see. Each has a past with a corresponding present and future. Among all the masses, inside of every building and any place we turn, there are people.
At Mississippi State, affectionately called the People’s University, they know it as well as any. John Cohen, head coach of MSU’s baseball team, said as much less than one month ago. Moments after winning the Starkville Regional – the first one on MSU’s campus in 10 years – and advancing to a Super Regional, Cohen didn’t talk about his team or hitting or pitching. “It’s the people who make Mississippi State special,” he said. He praised the fans, the members of the athletic department and the citizens of Starkville over his team’s successes. A couple weeks later, his Bulldogs arrived in Omaha, and again, it was the people who made Mississippi State special. This time, it was the people on his team.
Sure, State was playing great baseball. They were hitting better than they had all year and the pitching staff had found a groove. But the people of Omaha, the media covering the College World Series, baseball fans across the country and MSU faithful everywhere fell in love with people, not players. ‘The Bench Mobb’ (second B is silent), made up of goofballs from the pitching staff, dancing, clapping, encouraging and even rapping in the dugout, were the stars of the two-week event.
Wes Rea became television’s favorite first baseman, the SEC football prospect who turned down the gridiron because he wanted to go to Omaha and play in the World Series. Trevor Fitts singlehandedly saved Power Point with the presentation he gave Cohen asking his permission for the team to have facial hair, while also leading the charge for Team No Undershirt.
Not a soul has come in contact with Luis Pollorena and not been touched by his story of childhood leukemia and his dedication to giving back now with the life wasn’t expected to have. Sledgehammers, mullets, rally dances, vine videos and Johnny Cash.
Not to mention the unheralded stories. Mitch Slauter, who was baptized in front of his teammates on the morning before his Senior Day at Dudy Noble Field. Sam Frost, the SEC’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year, perhaps a more impressive honor than any. This team showed us that everyone has a story, with countless more left untold.
And that’s what made this team special. You couldn’t help liking them and rooting for them, MSU fan or not. The biggest crowd in the history of TD Ameritrade Park showed up not just because it was MSU’s first appearance in a National Championship, but because it was a team so easy to cheer for.
In a lucky twist, one of the most likeable teams turned out to be one of the best teams in MSU history. From a matter of talent, others may take the top spot, but these Diamond Dawgs have just completed the best season in the history of Mississippi State sports. In 120-plus years, they were the first to make it this far. But through their success, they may not be the last.
After hosting a Regional for the first time in a decade, sweeping a Super Regional and starting 3-0 in Omaha, losing in the National Championship was a terrible, terrible feeling for these Bulldogs.
Standing in the dugout, faces stained with tears and sweat, embraces between players, coaches and the like, the first feeling is defeat. Watching another team dogpile on the mound, gloves and hats thrown in the air while fireworks explode overhead and confetti falls across the stadium is, in that moment, the lowest of low. But, while a victory celebration took place on the field, cheers rose up in the stands.
Even late in the game, with the Bulldogs down more than a handful of runs and the outcome all but certain, MSU fans were louder than they had been all night.
They were cheers of support, not of victory. The unspoken words behind the noise said, “Thank you. We’re proud of you.” Reaching the College World Series and playing for a National Championship meant an incredible amount to Cohen’s baseball program. It would take more money than MSU has to buy that kind of exposure, and nothing can replace the experience.
But this run, this experience, is far bigger than baseball. In doing something no one in Maroon and White had done before, it became a Mississippi State benchmark. Academics and athletics, football and softball, men’s and women’s.
These Bulldogs proved it can be done. No one had to tell themselves they believed. They did believe.
Just as the state of Mississippi can claim generosity, hospitality and countless professional successes over any other shortcomings, so can Mississippi State now claim time at the top in spite of any days at the bottom.
When you’re a kid, you always believe your team is the best in the country, that they can win it all.
With age, realism and awareness set in. You know what limitations your team has. But now, for the first time, Bulldog fans have made it within reach of doing what they imagined as children. The baseball team knows it can win it all, and now everyone else has seen.
Quarterbacks and defensive linemen watched their diamond counterparts and said, “Mississippi State really can win a National Championship.” Tennis players, basketball coaches and those from every sport saw the realization of dreams. Now they don’t just have to say, they know, “It can be done.”
Following a season-ending loss, and career-ending for some, the sting of defeat bit hard in MSU’s dugout. Red-eyed Hunter Renfroe embraced Trey Porter, faces buried in each other’s shoulders, knowing they had played their last time together. Their careers in Maroon and White jerseys had come to an end.
The last person back to the dugout, Jonathan Holder found his pitching coach Butch Thompson. No words were said. They didn’t need to be, and neither would’ve been able to take them in, anyway. A steady hug said everything they wanted to share. The athletic director, the president of the university, half of MSU’s entire department staff and a horde of media watched from the far side of the dugout as tears flowed.
The end had come, so quick and so hard. It was goodbye for many, and the start of a long offseason for others. But just as it signified the end of a season, it symbolized the beginning of something else.
In a short moment between the final explosion of fireworks and the beginning of celebratory music, the smallest of Mississippi State fans stood next to his dad, looking over the dugout at the team he had always believed in his young heart could win it all, and with the optimism borne through youth, offered the best encouragement he could.
“We’ll get ‘em next year, guys.”
Thanks, Bob. Well done, sir.
Filed under: Bloggers, Christianity, Mississippi, sports | Tagged: #hailstate, Bob Carskadon, College World Series, CWS, John Cohen, Mississippi State Bulldogs, msu, Omaha, Southeastern Conference, TD Ameritrade Park Omaha, UCLA Bruins | 8 Comments »