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Legends On Deck

Cowbells and Rally Bananas Invade Omaha

If you are not familiar with Mississippi State baseball, there is a lot to learn.  The Bulldog baseball program has a rich history, storied players and teams and one of most dedicated fan bases anywhere in the country.  

The state of Mississippi is home to two minor league franchises, the Mississippi Braves (Atlanta Double-A) who play in Pearl (a suburb of Jackson) and the Biloxi Schuckers (Milwaukee Double-A).  Yet in the Magnolia State, College Baseball is king. Both Ole Miss and Mississippi State are consistently ranked near the very top of attendance in all of college baseball.  In 2017, the Bulldogs drew on average over 8,000 fans per game, only to be outdone by their state rival Rebels and SEC West rivals LSU.  MSU holds the NCAA baseball single game attendance record, hosting 15,586 fans for a 2014 game against Ole Miss.  The fans have piled into Dudy Noble Stadium for decades, to watch their team capture 11 SEC Championships, many setting up their tailgates in the storied Left Field Lounge.  The expansion of Dudy Noble prior to the 2018 season has enclosed the Lounge and grew seating capacity to 13,000.  

The Mississippi State program gained national prominence in the 1980s, when Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro took college baseball by storm under the leadership of Manager Ron Polk.  ESPN’s 30 for 30 “Thunder and Lightning” captures some of the history of Bulldog baseball, particularly through the Clark and Palmeiro years; it is well worth a watch.  Mississippi State arrives in Omaha this year for the tenth time, still without a NCAA title.  They were runners up to UCLA in 2013. But, this year’s Bulldog team seems to have the momentum on their side.

While the fans in Starkville are known for ringing their cowbells, this year’s team is rallying behind the banana.  Yes, the Rally Banana took off weeks ago when Infielder Jordan Westburg grabbed a banana for a snack and then began using another banana as a radar gun during their June 3rd game against Oklahoma.  The team began to rally and the potassium craze struck Starkville.  Stores all over town have been sold out of bananas, tee-shirts and caps have been printed, Dole and Chiquita even have a CWS rooting interest in the team.  

While fans go bananas, the Bulldogs just keep winning. Right Fielder Elijah MacNamee hit walk off homers in both the June 2nd game against Florida State in the Tallahassee Regional (to avoid elimination) and in the Nashville Super Regional against Vanderbilt on June 9th, catapulting his squad to Omaha.  More magic was in store for the Bulldogs, when Luke Alexander knocked in the winning run on a walk-off hit against Washington on June 16th.  In their second game in Omaha, Jordan Westburg’s bat powered them to a 12-2 victory over North Carolina.  The Banana Man tied a College World Series record with 7 RBIs, which included a Grand Slam in 2nd Inning and a three run double in the 8th.  

While seven MSU players were drafted in the 2018 MLB Draft, only LHP Konnor Pilkington was taken in the first three rounds (81st Overall by the White Sox).  The next highest pick was RHP JP France in the 14th Round by Houston (432nd Overall). The Bulldogs finished the regular season 39-27 overall, 15-15 in SEC play; placing them behind LSU, Auburn, Ole Miss and Arkansas in the SEC West.  This is perhaps the most remarkable thing about this team and the College Baseball Tournament in general. While MSU is certainly not an underdog program, the way Coastal Carolina was in 2016, they are certainly an underdog team in 2018.  Like in College Hoops, tournament play offers mid-majors as well as sleeper teams (like MSU) a chance to catch fire and make it into the final rounds of play.

As the Bulldogs sit only one game away from the College World Series Championship Game, their loyal fan base has been flocking to Omaha.  The spirit of the Left Field Lounge and the sound of the cowbell has invaded America’s heartland, with plenty of bananas in tow.  One fan even bragged about his ex-wife’s boyfriend selling his prosthetic leg on Craigslist to afford him a trip to the CWS – yes, that’s right!  Given Dan Mullin’s departure for Florida, Mississippi State football has a number of questions surrounding their future.  Not to mention, they play in the SEC West!  The momentum behind this baseball team, however, might be the best opportunity bring a first ever national championship to Starkville, Mississippi.

**Picture credit to Brendan Sullivan / Omaha World-Herald

Brian Koss

Brian Koss

Brian has been a contributing writer to Legends on Deck since April 2017. He’s a diehard Detroit Tigers fan, who grew up playing and following baseball in the suburbs of Detroit. He covers the Tigers and their farm system for LOD and also likes writing about the general state of baseball. Brian and his family reside in the suburbs of Orlando, where he enjoys coaching Little League and passing on his love of the game to the next generation.
Brian Koss

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