Some of this of course was from circling the fence to share a farewell with fans for the pending demolition of the outfield areas. This surely took some sting from sweeping in the home-field finale. Yet there was another positive point, to Rooker.
The regular season is over, and the post-season begins now.
“We know we put ourselves in position to obviously make the SEC Tournament, be able to make a run there,” Rooker said. “And then get into a regional, and that’s where the post-season starts. That’s where our goals start.”
Make that, their next set of goals. The 2017 Bulldogs certainly dreamed of defending that 2016 SEC Championship. Pragmatists outside the locker room saw simply competing all league season and qualifying for post-season as a fine goal. First-time head coach Andy Cannizaro stressed this theme down the schedule stretch, too, even as Mississippi State did meet the baseline goal.
Now it is on to Hoover, and into tournament time. Where Rooker said the goals change.
“It’s winning these next couple of weeks playing our best baseball in the coming weeks. So we think we’re in a position to do that.”
Mississippi State’s specific position is the final first-day game, against the Georgia Bulldogs at or after 8:00 Tuesday. The West Bulldogs are the #5 seed; the East version #12. But then Georgia can call on recent success over State, having taken two-of-three in Athens in the next-to-last league weekend.
That was also a frustrating series for Rooker. He was key to a game-one win with a three-run homer, but the ‘reward’ was being walked five times afterwards. When he did chase something close to the zone Rooker missed.
Louisiana State pitching was not as intimidated, walking Rooker just twice in three days. In 13 other at-bats though the Bulldog first baseman hit safely seven times, raising his season average to .415. That is a full 30 points ahead of his closest contenders for the SEC batting title as both Kentucky’s Evan White and Auburn’s Jonah Todd are at .385.
Rooker also continues to chase the offensive triple crown, despite not getting any big-fly chances the last five SEC outings. He holds place with 20 home runs and 73 RBI, leading those categories by three and nine respectively. SEC and NCAA tournament statistics all count for everyone so Rooker’s bid for the first SEC triple crown since 1984 (Rafael Palmeiro) continues.
But, there is one record already in the MSU book by Rooker, He drove in two doubles over the final weekend, giving him 28 in 56 games. That surpasses the 27 two-baggers swatted by Bulldog legend Pete Young way back in 1989.
“It’s really a cool feeling,” Rooker said of being a record-setter. “Being a middle-of-the-order guy doubles are one thing I want to be good at. It’s cool to achieve that milestone.”
There is another off-field milestone Rooker can make Monday. He is among five finalists for the Boo Ferriss Trophy, given to the top college ballplayer in Mississippi. Since the award honoring the Mississippi State great began in 2004, five Dogs have won it. That includes Rooker’s younger teammate Jake Mangum who took it as a 2016 freshman.
“I’m excited about it,” said Rooker. “There are four other guys who are really, really good players going to be there. So it’s going to be a cool experience for me.”
Rooker and Cannizaro will make a quick morning trip to Jackson tomorrow for the ceremony. If his coach has any say in the selection, well…
“I not only think he’s the state’s best player,” Cannizaro said. “I think he’s the best offensive player in America this year. And I think his offensive numbers show that.”
“He’s hitting over .400 with 20 home runs and 28 doubles, I think that’s a Mississippi Stat record. And 70-someing RBI and 18 stolen bases. If you put up those numbers in this league you deserve to win every single award you’re up for. So he’s got my vote and he needs to win the award.”
It’s a given Rooker will be first-team All-SEC as well. He certainly should be leading for another league honor, the SEC Player of the Year…which has never been won by a Diamond Dog since introduced in 1993. Chris Stratton did take Pitcher of the Year in 2012. Then there’s the Golden Spikes for which Rooker is a leading contender.
Yet…individual honors are fine and all. Rooker would rather keep playing ball with this Bulldog bunch. It probably can’t be at home barring a really remarkable run in Hoover and then knocking off the first-round Regional host, and so on.
This is why much of Rooker’s home finale frustrations were more for the fans than himself, really. “We wish the last weekend to this awesome stadium could have gone a little differently,” he said. “But that doesn’t take away from what this weekend meant to our fans and our University and our program.
“And all the history and legacy and tradition this place holds, its going to continue on in the future.”
Just like, Rooker will add, these Bulldogs intend to continue 2017 on into their own tournament future.
“Just rebound. Just keep working hard and taking it one day at a time, doing whatever we can to get better as a team. We’re going to put this behind us quick as we can and move on to the post-season.”