By Sid Salter
I’m a Mississippi State guy. Always have been, always will be.
For more than 30 years now, I’ve made no secret of my allegiance to my alma mater and have never missed an opportunity to tell the story of what a difference Mississippi State University has made in my life and that of my late parents and my sisters. I love the place and I love the people.
In 2011, I wrote a biography of legendary MSU radio broadcaster Jack Cristil, who broadcast MSU sports for 58 years and never saw State compete for a national title. The 1996 NCAA Final Four basketball tournament saw MSU drop their opening game to Syracuse and not make it to the championship game.
Finally, a Mississippi team is playing for a national championship. And this championship won’t be left to the sportswriters or the wire services to decide. If MSU can beat UCLA twice in Omaha, the national championship trophy will be displayed in Starkville – and a celebration will rock the town ESPN’s Lee Corso likes to call “StarkVegas.”
NCAA championships have been hard to come by in Mississippi, regardless of one’s loyalties.
Sports rivalries in Mississippi are special. When one looks at the ranks of professional sports, it’s easy to see how truly dominant one combined University of Nebraska-style school could be in Mississippi. But in such a scenario, what would folks talk about before Sunday school? How would we torment our brother-in-laws, our co-workers or our friends?
I do not indulge in the fantasy that everyone in Mississippi is rooting for the Bulldogs to win the national championship this week in Omaha. Will Bardwell – one of my favorite Ole Miss fans who is both a talented attorney and a Twitter ninja – offered this bit of bone-jarring honesty in less than 140 characters on Saturday: “I don’t care whether it makes me a bad fan, a bad Mississippian, or a bad person. I don’t root for State. Period.”
Far from angering me, I laughed out loud when I read Will’s tweet. Like Haley Barbour once said of politics, there’s the verity of always being for what you’re for. Will is an Ole Miss fan. He doesn’t waver from that position. It takes that kind of steadfast support for one’s school to maintain a decent rivalry.
What I can say is that for Mississippi State folks, baseball is a great tradition and one that matters to us all year long, year after year, decade after decade. Our goal is always to win the SEC, always to make it to NCAA regional play, and always to advance to the College World Series.
We love Dudy Noble Field and the Left Field Lounge. We love how the place smells, how it sounds, and how being there makes us feel. We love the energy of the record crowds that gather there.
The 2013 sojourn to Omaha by Coach John Cohen and our MSU Bulldogs has raised an already storied baseball history to new and unprecedented heights. We are closer to a major sport NCAA national championship than MSU has ever been – closer even than the storied 1985 MSU squad led by future major-league All-Stars Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro, Jeff Brantley and Bobby Thigpen. We’re closer to an undisputed NCAA Division 1 major sport national championship as any Mississippi university has been since 1960.
For Mississippi State folks – win, lose, or draw the rest of the way in Omaha – this has already been a dream baseball season. Now, the Bulldogs get to challenge UCLA for the national championship, and I’d be surprised if most Mississippians aren’t rooting for them to win the whole thing.
Now, it’s about more than baseball. It’s about history and Mississippians finishing first. More than anything, it’s about a MSU baseball team that has earned a program-best 3.38 grade point average this year while winning 51 games to get to the CWS championship series.
How much it would mean to MSU folks if we could, as Jack Cristil liked to say, “wrap it in Maroon and White.”
SID SALTER is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at (601) 507-8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org.