By Brandon Speck
OMAHA, Neb. – John Gatlin was bigger than Elvis at that moment on Tuesday night, right up there with the Manning statue at Ole Miss. At Tupelo High School, he’s bigger than both.
When the former Tupelo Golden Waver golfed the game-winning single over Texas Tech’s infield at the College World Series, he was trending on Twitter.
He’s still trending in Tupelo.
“We had our team banquet last night,” said Tupelo baseball coach Gary Enis said Wednesday. “He was the talk of it. We were just real excited for him.”
Gatlin fondly recalls his prep days. One of the first congratulatory texts he got came from Enis.
“I’ve always thought it was very important not to forget where you came from and I think about that every time I step on the field,” Gatlin said Wednesday from the Ole Miss off-day practice at Creighton, “remembering back when I was in high school and how fun it used to be playing then and how fun junior college baseball was.”
Gatlin hit .314 his senior season on a loaded Tupelo team that also featured Chris Stratton and Lex Rutledge. He was the Golden Wave Award recipient, an award honoring attitude and team mentality.
Embracing his role
From Itawamba CC to his final year with the Rebels, those traits still stand, evidenced by how he has embraced a pinch-hitting role this season.
Enis said he’s been able to watch Gatlin’s game grow after high school, despite three surgeries at Ole Miss.
ICC coach Rick Collier had him in the eight hole, but Gatlin forced his way to the leadoff spot.
“He kept on and kept on, just an unreal work ethic, the extra swings, weights, the extra running,” Collier said. “He’s the definition of determination and hard work.”
Enis says he still sees him running the hill at the THS field, often with the current team during workouts.
Seeing him hit the game-winner wasn’t surprising.
“When he played here, he helped us win games, too,” Enis said. “That was such a big hit for him last night with what he’s been through and losing his grandmother. I’m just proud of him. He still stops by and runs the hill he’s always ran.”