The Tradition Called MSU Baseball

A family reunion is a grand tradition in the south. And when you add sports into the mix, it becomes an event. And if that sport just happens to be Mississippi State baseball then it's a happening. This past Sunday, almost 200 former Diamond Dogs converged on the campus of MSU to have a little fun playing baseball, but mostly to relish being part of the tradition called Mississippi State baseball.

Van Johnson, a former All-American pitcher for MSU, considers himself a lucky man to be a part of that select group of guys.

"Everybody from my area wanted to play at Mississippi State because of the tradition. It is one of those things you can't describe," said Van, a physical therapist who owns Elite Physical Therapy in Saltillo, MS. "Even when I came out here (Sunday) it was just one of those feelings you get. You can feel how rich in tradition this place is. It's just an amazing feeling to be a part of it."

Shane Kelly, who played outfield at State in 1999 and 2000 and is now the head baseball coach at Hillcrest Christian in Jackson, MS feels the same way.

"It's a great atmosphere to play in even doing BP (batting practice) on the field and playing in the alumni game," he noted. "I think it's just being part of the baseball tradition that State has had. And just to say that you were able to play on this field. And the fans always seem to know who you are. It shows what kind of support they give you."

While the tradition is a big part of the MSU baseball experience, individual memories are what former Diamond Dogs remember the most.

"My junior year, my first year here, I hit a grand slam against Auburn in front of 11,000 to 12,000 people," said Shane. "I barely remember the moment because it was like I was floating on air. That kind of put the game out of reach. When you have that many people standing up and going crazy, you just can't put it in words."

Brian Wiese, an outfielder on the 1996 to 1999 teams, has several things he recalls with great fondness.

"One memory is when we had the regional here and we had 11,000 fans. And going to the College World Series," said Brian, who is an Executive Casino Host at Fitzgerald's Casino. "But the best memories I have was the guys. They were my best friends."

Van has a memory that is not only special to him, but will bring a tear to just about every MSU baseball fan.

"The one moment that I can remember the most was in 1997. That was when Coach Polk retired for a couple of years," said Van. "We were at the hotel in Omaha. I think we all kind of suspected it, but we didn't know for sure. He got us all together in a room and announced it to the team. Seeing the emotion he had after that last game at the 1997 World Series, it was very emotional and is one of those things that I will never forget. He broke down and cried. Just to see how much he deeply cared for Mississippi State baseball and his players was very emotionally. You don't see that side of him."

That love for MSU baseball is shared with Polk by every player who have ever put on the maroon and white uniform and every fan who has every cheered for them.


Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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