So there I was, sitting in Walk-On’s in Baton Rouge, surrounded by purple and gold, and oddly enough two Instagram stars. The only Maroon there was myself, my three good friends, and a small handful of other Dawgs who were brave enough to cross enemy lines and cheer on our team.
A woman in purple walks up to our table, quietly tells us, “let’s get this win tonight guys, Hail State”. A Bulldog double agent no doubt, looking out for us folks dressed in Maroon and White.
We finish our food and drinks, and decide that it’s time to walk straight into the tiger’s den that is Alex Box Stadium. As we walk towards the second best stadium in college baseball, we hear a small chant of “tiger bait”, I wave towards the chanters because I fully believe in “killing them with kindness”, and the chanting stops.
We reach The Box, the weather looks ominous but we don’t care. No rain will drive us away from pulling on the Dawgs. A quick look around and my hypothesis is right, this is a very nice place to play college baseball.
What happens next is of course, the baseball game itself. A rocky start, Tiger fans were jubilant, we were quiet.
A comeback inning for the Dawgs. The four of us (the only Maroon in our section) were jubilant, the Tiger fans weren’t.
A comeback inning from the Tigers that would ultimately lead to them punching their ticket to Omaha. At that point we were just enjoying one’s company and assuring ourselves that it could be worse.
A rain delay. I had no rain jacket because I don’t mind the rain, it’s cool, refreshing and it’s a great way to stay in shape (Family Guy quote, nailed it).
After all of that we sat in Alex Box Stadium and relived some of the greater moments in Mississippi State Athletics history. Like when we knocked off three straight top ten teams in the 2014 football season, and became the first ever team to be ranked number one in the College Football Playoffs Poll. We thought about that 2013 baseball team that played for a National Championship in the College World Series in Omaha. We thought about this past season in women’s basketball where we beat not one, but two 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, and oh yeah, one of those teams just happened to be UConn, a team that had won 111 straight games before falling to 5’5 Morgan William and the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
We then thought about this 2017 baseball team, and how they surpassed our expectations this season. A first year head coach with no head coaching experience to fall back on. A incredibly depleted bull pen (thanks again Wes Johnson). So many Bulldog pitchers that were out and in need of Tommy John surgery. We relied heavily on field players like Jake Mangum and Cole Gordon to help us out on the mound. All of that would be reason enough to not expect much from this team this season. This team however had other plans.
The Diamond Dawgs never gave up, they recorded 23 come from behind wins this season. That is INSANE. They were competing for another SEC regular season championship up until the final few weeks of the season. They won a NCAA Regional in Hattiesburg where experts were giving them a 6% chance to win. They won FOUR GAMES IN A ROW to win it all and advance to the Super Regional round in Baton Rouge. What Coach Andy Cannizaro did with this team this season far surpasses all expectations I had, and for that I am incredibly proud.
This team with all its injuries and lack of pitching depth made it as far as two games away from going to the College World Series. If that doesn’t help you see how good of a coach Andy Cannizaro is and will be going forward, I strongly advise you get your eyes checked and hope you’re not driving without glasses. Seriously, you could hurt someone.
The final result in Baton Rouge last night was disappointing sure, but the fact that this Bulldog team was even there to begin with is a huge accomplishment. They were able to do a lot with few arms to help them get there. They never quit, they never stopped fighting. Veteran leaders like Brent Rooker, Cody Brown, and Josh Lovelady were pivotal to this teams successes this season. They along with Coach Cannizaro deserve a lot of praise for what they were able to do.
Even though the bottom fell out, both with the weather and the game, my night at Alex Box Stadium was enjoyable. I was there with good friends, cheering on the team and school that I love, celebrating a remarkable season for the Diamond Dawgs.
As I walked back to my car, soaking wet, tired and in need of caffeine for the car ride home that saw its end at 3:30 in the morning, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “We’ll be back”.