By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Trevor Fitts grew a hopeful beard last Christmas.
When he returned to school for the spring semester, the Mississippi State sophomore pitcher was still scruffy, and he was eager to see whether he’d be allowed to keep his facial growth. His coach, John Cohen, had a long-held policy prohibiting facial hair, but Fitts had made his case for a change.
Cohen relented, which explains why Fitts, Ben Bracewell, Alex Detz, Wes Rea and several other Bulldogs have fuzzy faces heading into the College World Series. No. 14 MSU opens Saturday against No. 4 Oregon State (2 p.m., ESPN2).
Fitts loves his beard, and he often let his teammates know about it. He joked that he should put together a PowerPoint presentation for Cohen, to convince him to relax his anti-facial hair policy.
“A lot of the guys were like, yeah, do it, do it, do it,” Fitts said. “So I finally did.”
Fitts did his homework. His presentation included the average temperatures for Starkville in February and May, and how a beard could act as a natural sunscreen. He showed pictures of former MSU players who are now sporting facial hair in the big leagues, including Paul Maholm and Mitch Moreland.
He even noted that several past United States presidents grew beards.
Fitts made his pitch just before Christmas, and Cohen told him he’d think about it.
“And I started thinking about it, and I started thinking, is this for me?” Cohen said. “Is having our players clean-shaven, is that for me, or is that for our players? …
“I started thinking about the facial hair. I started thinking about allowing them to have fun, have a good time on the bench, have a good time in our locker room. I suddenly realized, that’s important, too.”
When the team reconvened, Cohen said players didn’t have to stay clean-shaven, but he laid down some guidelines. They could keep their razors stashed away when they won an SEC series, but had to shave when they lost.
What Cohen, who’s in his fifth year at MSU, realized is that the personality of this team needed to be allowed to express itself. This year’s MSU team is a tight-knit group that loves to have fun and keep things loose, and so Cohen didn’t want to do anything to suppress that.
“Part of this entire adventure is having fun, and I have failed in that area as a coach in the past, not allowing our kids to have fun,” he said. “Because again, that discipline, the way they look, you feel like it’s totally a reflection of you. But at the same time, you have to allow them to be individualistic, and I really believe you have to allow them to have fun.”
Cohen noted that the beards and the long hair – several players have clearly not visited a barber in months – do not indicate a lack of discipline. He can back up that claim by pointing to the Bulldogs’ play, their practice habits and their work in the classroom.
Between the lines, MSU is all business. Elsewhere, well, they just enjoy themselves.
“We have a lot of fun in the dugout, and then the guys that are on the field, they’re able to focus up, and then it’s business,” said Detz, a third baseman and DH. “It’s really just a game. You’re out there playing, having a good time.”
Rea, a first baseman, said a certain “trust level” between players and Cohen is the reason this has worked so well.
“It shows how loose the coaches are on us,” second baseman Brett Pirtle said. “We’re really mature. We know what we’re doing, that’s why they’re so loose on us, because they let us just go out there and play, not worry about anything.”
Fitts has big plans for his beard. He said if MSU wins the national title, he’s not going to shave it this offseason. He just loves it too much.