Manny can say that because he very clearly remembers the 2000 regional when MSU defeated a great Notre Dame team with a dramatic ninth-inning solo home run by Ty Martin before 8,117 fans, most of whom were Bulldog fans. "The regional my freshman year really stands out as one of my favorite times here," said Manny of the win that put MSU into the Super Regional against Clemson at Clemson, South Carolina. "I told all the guys who haven't been able to experience something like that that I hoped we could host just so that they could see it and play in it because it is like nowhere else."
While Manny has been through a regional at home and feels he can handle the excitement, he also knows the younger guys will be looking to him for advice. "With the younger guys, I just tell them it is an awesome time and take advantage of it," said Manny. "All they need to do is enjoy it."
Junior right-handed relief ace Jonathan Papelbon, one of those younger guys, plans on doing just that. "It is going to be a fun weekend here," said Paps. "I'm expecting a lot."
Paps, as Papelbon is known by MSU fans, while expecting to have a lot of fun this weekend, also knows he and the rest of the players can't let what they know will be a tremendous regional atmosphere consume their every thought. "It really hasn't been talked up too much in the locker room," said Paps, preparing for Wednesday's afternoon practice. "We are just trying to take it one day at a time. We are just trying to stay focused and not get caught up in the hoopla."
Another one of those younger guys is junior first baseman Matthew Brinson, a lifelong Bulldog fan who has watched his share of regionals as a fan. "Growing up here, I know the entire town of Starkville shuts down and comes over here, which is great," said Brinson, who took time away from his pre-practice batting practice to be interviewed. "I am excited and ready to go. I'm tired of practicing and ready to play."
He'll need to be ready to play because none of the teams that are in the regional are pushovers. "We don't take them for granted," said Manny, of North Carolina, Missouri and Middle Tennessee State, the three teams currently in Starkville waiting for their chance to play in the Starkville Regional championship game. "We know that each and every team here is going to be a solid team. You have to be a solid team if you are in the tournament. We are going to have to play our best ball to win each game."
Paps agrees. "We've heard that North Carolina, Missouri and Middle Tennessee State are all very good teams. It'll be a battle no matter what. We can't take anyone lightly."
Paps also had one last thing to say and it was about giving back to the people who make all this excitement happen, the MSU fans. "That's what we always want to do, give something back to the fans, because they have stuck with us all year long. By us hosting a regional, we are giving back to the fans."
Now, all that is left is to wait until Friday night and begin a road that all players on all college baseball players dream about when their season first starts. "Like they said on tv, this is the 'Road to Omaha'," said Brinson, referring to the home of the College World Series. "This is when it really counts. It starts with the regionals."
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.