By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
OMAHA, Neb. – Scott Stricklin, Mississippi State’s athletics director, received an email from a concerned man in Georgia this week. The issue: The amount of chest hair being shown by Mississippi State’s players during Monday’s win over Indiana in the College World Series.
During the broadcast, ESPN2’s cameras kept close watch on the MSU dugout, where the likes of Trevor Fitts, Kendall Graveman and Evan Mitchell had undone at least two buttons on their jerseys.
And they weren’t wearing undershirts. Because as Fitts has noted on Twitter, several players are part of so-called #teamnoundershirt.
“I usually just have one unbuttoned, the top, and then we just needed some extra mojo,” Fitts said. “Kendall came up to me and was like, ‘Hey, unbutton the next one.’”
Fans who don’t care for that look, well, it’s not going anywhere.
It worked Monday, as MSU rallied in the eighth inning for a 5-4 win, and now it’s on the brink of playing for the CWS title. The Bulldogs play Oregon State at 2 p.m. today and will have two chances to advance to next week’s best-of-three championship series.
A big part of this run has been the self-named Bench Mobb, which is responsible for the unbuttoned shirts and other assorted goofiness. The ringleader is sophomore pitcher Ross Mitchell, who’s just as effective in this role as he is on the mound, where he sports a 13-0 record and 1.31 ERA.
“I would rather be a good teammate than I’d rather be a great player,” Mitchell said. “I hope people remember me as a teammate more than my record.”
His teammates certainly love him, and they follow his lead. During games, several of them wear white caps that read “Bench Mob” – they were made by Mitchell’s dad, who owns a sewing and embroidery business.
“I told him, I said, ‘You could make a lot of money trying to sell these hats.’ Everybody’s been asking me for them,” Mitchell said. “There’s actually two B’s in ‘Mobb,’ but he didn’t tell me he was making them, so I would’ve warned him beforehand.”
Keeping it loose
During Monday’s game, cameras caught both Mitchells (no relation) and Jacob Lindgren freestyle rapping during MSU’s at-bats. Lindgren said they call that the “Free Three,” in which they make up rhymes on the spot about whoever is at the plate.
Mitchell, Lindgren and several other Bench Mobb members recently made a rap video, which as of Thursday had nearly 11,000 views.
“We made the song kind of as a joke, and when Ross put it up on Twitter, a lot of people were asking for a video,” Lindgren said. “So we figured it might bring some luck to the team in this World Series.”
There are plenty of wacky rituals instigated by the Bench Mobb intended to bring good fortune. Like the no undershirt thing, which actually began during the Bulldogs’ run to the 2012 SEC Tournament title.
A team manager at the time, Tupelo’s G.T. McCullough, was going sans undershirt, so several of the players followed suit. That fashion statement was revived late this season.
Fitts, who has been an ardent supporter of #teamnoundershirt on Twitter, said it took off in Game 3 of the Ole Miss series. After dropping the first two games, MSU rallied from six runs down on that Sunday for a 7-6 win.
It’s those sort of things that keep this team loose, and that attitude, players believe, is a big reason a CWS title is within reach.
“It’s relaxing,” said starting outfielder Demarcus Henderson. “You never look over there and see our bench all tied up and tensed up about any moment that goes bad or good. They’re always having fun, and coach (John) Cohen, he loves it to death.
“If they don’t do it, he’s probably mad, and we’ll hear about it the next day.”
Cohen has certainly let his players express themselves, and they’ve been able to do so without losing focus on their roles or the games themselves. Ross Mitchell epitomizes that, and not just because he can be goofy one moment, then shutting down batters the next.
There’s something deeper at work with Mitchell, according to pitching coach Butch Thompson. And without it, the Bench Mobb might not be what it is.
“He’s eccentric, he’s unique, but at the same time there’s a lot of layers to him, and there’s an unbelievable energy force about him of doing things right,” Thompson said. “When you clear back through all the stuff that makes you laugh, there’s a real person.
“There’s something that sticks out of him that’s electric that’s different, because you don’t see this very often in a 20-year coaching career. He’s special.”