This past baseball season I got to experience SEC college baseball and what is meant by pressure in sports for a program top to bottom. The SEC conference is known for their football particularly schools like Alabama and Clemson but baseball certainly does not take second fiddle in the south. Fans refer to the $70M renovated stadium as the Carnegie Hall of college baseball and if there ever was a name that fits it’s this one.
Up to this past year like most college fans, I was used to the normal attendance consisting of friends and family numbering to a max of 120 people. Here at Starkville, they averaged well over 8,000 per home game with many exceeding 12,000 and you just can’t image what that type of energy feels like unless you experience it first-hand. It gives new meaning to the terms: adrenaline rush and home field advantage.
Here are a few of my observations from this past season.
1. The highest expectations
In today’s win at all costs world, when a financial commitment is made to any institution like the one put into Dudy Noble stadium, you know that if you don’t bring in a championship then your tenure is short lived. With the nicest of baseball fields in all of college (and even a many pro stadiums) the pressure to perform is unlike anything these players will ever experience unless they are lucky enough to make it to Omaha – which is one the annual pit stops on the journey to the ultimate goal and that is to win a national championship.
2. A culture that honors baseball and their fans
I can’t speak beyond the history that had been created before Coach Lemonis arrived but he has done an amazing job instilling or reinforcing the idea that the customer is responsible for all that the players and coaches have to be grateful for. In a state where there are no professional teams the full brunt of support from the residents is felt and neither college in the state takes them for granted. And I’m sure this is directly correlated to the number of bodies filling the seats in the stadium.
3. Student athletes who have a desire and a work ethic to fulfill their dreams playing at the highest level
For many little leaguers this is the pinnacle and culmination of what their dreams have looked like but for these veterans they all have the skill set and talent to play at the next level which makes it very intimidating for those who have been sheltered from adversity. So, here’s a lesson for all you parents, let the game they play challenge your sons and daughters and help them to embrace competition otherwise the larger game of life will eat them up.
4. Everyone here is talented and at one time was “the man” on a past team
Like the answer in #3, competition is what they are all facing when they sign on to play at MSU or any high-profile program. There is no guarantee of playing time unless you are Jake Mangun who earned his spot as a walk on freshman and locked it in for 4 straight years becoming the SEC all-time hits leader. And even with all of his success he was always coachable! So you better embrace competition, be patient, and realistic in your goals because if you are behind an all American player coming in then chances are that you will have to spend some time watching, deal with that reality while still working your tail off.
5. Top level Programs are looking for an edge in every way
Grades do matter especially if you wish to play and I was so impressed seeing how the morning staff meetings all started with player updates with the team tutor as well as physical therapy and strength staff. These coaches are the best and they have the resources to complement what they all bring to the game. So if your dream is to play at the highest level and not just be a wall flower then it is time for you to get your hands dirty, treat the game as it’s intended to be with passion and commitment to excellence, and don’t let your individual “story” be a hinderance because everyone has one that is a tear jerker. It’s when you learn to use that story as a fuel to surpass barriers that then gets you noticed and creates a roster spot on one of the greatest teams and amateur stages any young kid can ever dream of.
6. The best fans, most delicious grilled meats in the outfield, and oh those cowbells
I’ve never eaten more food at a game and that includes sitting in the stands like I did while on my visits to Dudy Noble. The history of the Woodies backing up to the outfield with their families in the back spending an evening grilling out and watching the game has left a legacy that even now repeats itself only now the seats are a bit nicer and you don’t have to worry about bringing anything other than the meat you plan on cooking. And some of these people know how to cook! I can’t wait for this season to start up and hear those cowbells! That part of the story will come down the road.
See you in Starkvegas.