The Deterioration of the MSU Baseball Program and its Fanbase

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It took John Cohen several years to rebuild Mississippi State baseball, but he did. In year five (2013) he finally brought back a Regional hosting position to Starkville after a decade absence. That lead to an eventual Omaha run and a chance to play for a national championship.

It was just two short years ago when the Bench Mobb, beards and the Diamond Dawgs captured our hearts. In the time since then, however, MSU baseball has been in a free fall. Despite a few exciting off the field things like top 10 recruiting classes and announcing plans for the nation’s top facility, nothing can seem to stop the downhill slide.

All of the sudden we don’t know what to do. Where is this program headed on the field? Why is there a divide in the fanbase? We’ve sunk our feet deep into the muck, and it might take some time to get out.


ON THE FIELD

Excitement for the 2014 baseball season was at an all-time high. Perhaps too much marketing some might say – the previous team nearly won a national championship….they exceeded expectations. When they lost a couple of All-Americans and some top pitching as well, maybe they shouldn’t have been the preseason #2 team in America. But they were.

After a slow start, Coach Cohen reeled them in. He forced the team to shave their beards. He went back to the football-coaching mindset he tends to have.

To some degree it worked for the 2014 team. They finished with the program’s best SEC record since the late 90s and earned a 2 seed in the Lafayette Regional.

But the looseness and cohesiveness of the 2013 team is completely gone now. The team plays tight and they don’t have the mental resolve to relax, so Cohen bearing down on them makes it even worse.

I don’t know exactly what the problem is because I’m not in the clubhouse, but it’s mental. There is clear talent on the team, but they aren’t producing. Some of that talent isn’t even playing. Baseball is a game that is truly 90% mental – and the Bulldogs don’t have it in the cards this year.

Whatever the solution is, Cohen needs to find it this off-season. He has to strike a balance between the personalities on his team and how he handles them. He’s tipped the scales from one approach to the other and had varied results everywhere in between. Somehow, someway, he needs to figure out how to get this program back on track.


THE FANS

We’ve pushed this issue to the forefront of the MSU baseball discussion because we believe it’s a grassroots effort that needs to be recognized, and subsequently squashed. It’s the fact that so many State baseball fans are opposed to building a new stadium.

Most of this effort originates in the Left Field Lounge. I’ve made some comparisons of the folks in the lounge to Alabama football fans, and Justin discussed how the Lounge creates an Grove-eque social setting rather than a crowd of baseball fans.

We’ve had our haters for sure on this. We even had someone send this to us. How cute.

That’s okay – we’ve had many more agree with what we’ve written. Just to make sure I had everything correct, Andrew and I enjoyed the Left Field Lounge spectacle on Saturday of Super Bulldog Weekend.

Like I’ve always said – the LFL is a lot of fun. It’s a unique and special tradition. But let’s not be ridiculous and assert that it’s completely safe and should not be altered in any way.

We were standing next to a particular rig that had stairs to the second level. Those stairs only had a railing on one side – the other side was simply open to an 8-10 foot drop. Aside from the children I saw playing with their backs to the edge of the stairs, there was a woman in her 40s three sheets to the wind that had to be helped down by two people.

If you believe that set up is safe, you are simply fooling yourself. All it takes is one child to fall off the edge, or one drunk person to lose their balance and someone is in a wheelchair for life or worse, dead. And this is just one example, and omits all the rigs tacked up with 1x4s and bent nails.

I’m no “safety first” guy with tape on my glasses. I had a couple of beers myself and enjoyed the atmosphere. Good people, good times. But did I pay attention to the game at all? No. I was taking pictures of folks like this who proved my point about being like Bama fans.

It goes back to what Justin was saying – the LFL is just a place to enjoy tailgating, not baseball. I had a great time meeting new people and socializing with other people who weren’t paying attention to the game. That’s all well and fine, but if you’re one of these people don’t go bitching to the athletic department about how awful their plans to improve the baseball program are because they are going to affect your happy happy fun zone on their property.

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While I was in the LFL I had a brief but heated discussion with a man about 40 years my senior. He described how I was an idiot to think any new facility on Mississippi State’s campus attracted one single recruit.

This gentleman told me he’d been going to MSU baseball games for 55 years so he knew that leaving things exactly how they are today was the right course of action.

He claimed that despite LSU, Arkansas, Auburn, Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Alabama (that’s everyone in the SEC West) all having newer stadiums than State, ours was still the best in the SEC.

He said that corporations would take over Dudy Noble Field and there would be no one sitting in the chair-backs ever again. When I countered with the FACT that the chair-backs were only 10-15% full for the highest attended game of the year (it was the 10th largest attendance in school history; and they let anyone sit there after the 4th inning), he said I was “like Obama and the federal government” and walked off.

Now, that was a significant insult. If he had been my age I would have punched him for such a vile comment, but alas, I respect my elders.

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This man is not alone. There are many more like him. In fact, there is a facebook group (I know it’s facebook, Millennials, but this is where Left Field Loungers hang out) created with the specific attempt to bring down the efforts to build a new stadium…

Here’s what I know about this guy:

  • he is a long time MSU baseball fan
  • he has a rig in Left Field
  • he doesn’t like the idea of a new stadium
  • he hates Scott Stricklin because of it

Why don’t these folks want to have a new stadium? Because it will cost them more money to keep what they currently have. Remember – it’s not about baseball. It’s not about Mississippi State. It’s about THEM being comfortable, and doing the same thing they’ve always been able to do.

It cost $100 to join the Bulldog Club. It’s open to anyone who has $100. That money goes to fund the athletic department and the facilities the student athletes and fans enjoy.

If you don’t want to pay $100 to join the Bulldog Club, you don’t deserve a rig in the Left Field Lounge.

My electric bill this month was $143. My gas bill was $112. My cable bill was $124. I paid the exterminator $60 this month to keep mosquitoes out of my yard.

It’s 2015……$100 a year is NOTHING.

But, this guy is like many others who would much rather spend the $100 (multiplied several times over) on themselves by purchasing charcoal, meats, veggies, beer and the like to party at the Dude. Again – it’s all about themselves and their fun rather than any love for Mississippi State.

Anyway – here are a couple of examples of what they post on that particular facebook page:

Obviously that last one was written in sarcasm. But you’ve seen many of these screenshots. We’ve posted them on the site as examples of what people are upset about…so you know these folks are out there.

They are out there creating a divide in our baseball fanbase. It seems like a futile effort on the surface, but I have yet to see any announcements on a timetable for when this will be built. In their hearts, they believe they can convince other fans not give money to the project.

I was told by some folks that Scott Stricklin even went to talk to this group on their rig Friday of Super Bulldog Weekend. Still, it was to no avail as they continue to beat the drum that this is bad for MSU baseball.

Just to repeat what they believe: having the best stadium in all of college baseball would be bad for Mississippi State. That’s what they’re saying.


BASEBALL IN MISSISSIPPI

If you’ve made it this far, you’ve read 1,500 words of my rumblings on MSU baseball current events. So we might as well talk about the Governor’s Cup on Tuesday night.

What happened to baseball in Mississippi?

State went to Omaha in 2013, Ole Miss went in 2014. Now in 2015 neither can get much going.

MSU is 23-21. OM is 23-22.

Last year we were talking about Mississippi possibly being a “baseball state”. That certainly didn’t hold much water.

Hopefully Ross Mitchell can regain his old form and the Dawgs can get a win down south over the school up north.