John Cohen's Autograph

I remember the first time I met John Cohen. I was an excited teenager walking the first base side of Pete Taylor Park getting my 1989 Diamond Dawgs baseball card set personally autographed by each player before the Bullies laid the wood to Southern Miss and Fred Cooley.

Jody Hurst hit a towering home run that night and Tracy Echols had a 3 for 4 night, if I am not mistaken. The thing that I remember most about that evening though was collecting those autographs.

I had Pete Young, Burke Masters and even the Mitchell brothers all knocked out, but I was having some trouble getting some of the players who were not in the starting lineup that night.

John Cohen walked up to me and I asked him for his autograph. He politely obliged as he listened to me vent a little frustration about my problems getting the complete set signed.

Cohen asked me if he could take my cards for a second. He disappeared for what seemed like an hour, but it was probably closer to five minutes. When he emerged he handed me my cards back complete with all of the autographs from the players in the dugout.

My mission was complete. Cohen and I talked for a few moments and I told him how disappointed I was to see State drop from the top spot in the collegiate baseball polls. With Tommy Raffo offering an amen, John told me something I have always remembered.

"The only one of those polls that counts is the last one!"

Flash forward to 1998.

During my time in Natchitoches, Louisiana, I befriended an assistant athletic director, Kurt Gulbrand, from Northwestern State University.

Kurt and I would have lunch on occasion, but we also spent our fair share of time hacking up divots on the University golf course.

One day Gulbrand came by my office to tell me that I was going to be pretty interested in who the Demons were about to announce as their head baseball coach.

Bulldog great John Cohen was headed to North Louisiana's City of Lights. The land of Steel Magnolias and meat pies would be the site of Cohen's first head coaching job.

Kurt said we would all go to lunch once John got settled. I was eager to see what John had been up to since his playing days came to an end. A few weeks later we got together.

As I pulled into the parking lot of the local eatery of Gulbrand's choosing, I caught a glimpse of a Ford explorer with a "Go Mizzou" bumper sticker .

It seemed a little odd to see Cohen sporting the colors of another team, but loyalty becomes a dynamic thing when the ability to feed your family is attached to it.

I am not sure Gulbrand got more than a sentence or two in during the meal. Two Bulldogs running into each other in north Louisiana is probably pretty comparable to finding someone else who speaks English in Bangladesh. When you get together, you take advantage of the chance to chat about a common interest.

We talked long after the meal was completed about MSU baseball and what might have been for the 1989 team. One of the things Cohen pointed out was that in those days it was an extremely big deal to beat Mississippi State in baseball.

He recounted a story about losing a midweek game to Mississippi College during his days in Starkville. John was on second base just before the final out was recorded. He remembered that the second baseman was standing there with his hands shaking on the verge of throwing up as the game went final.

A few weeks later John and Kurt stopped by the office to ask me to help the baseball team raise some money. Cohen had this idea called "Purple Mail" where the Northwestern State baseball players would hang a bag full of advertisements on the door knobs of the houses in town.

I asked John just how many houses he planned on soliciting and he replied, "All of them."

I signed up and not too many days later I saw baseball players combing the streets of Natchitoches hanging the bags on door knobs. When John said "all" he meant all. In every direction I drove that day I saw the bags.....every where.

The thing that impressed me the most about the experience was that in a time when things are rarely as good as advertised, John made sure he and his players lived up to their commitments. They delivered exactly what was promised.

As a thank you, John sent me his autograph on an official University issue Northwestern State Demons' baseball cap. That makes two John Cohen autographs, both of which I still own.

Cohen is coming home to Mississippi State now. He will give Greg Byrne his autograph, but Greg will have to pay him for it and pay him handsomely. I got both of my autographs for free.

Back in 1989, Cohen could have easily walked off and left a frustrated teenager to fend for himself when it came to getting Brad Hildreth to sign a baseball card.

He could have taken my advertising dollars in Natchitoches and done next to nothing and I would probably have never known.

John went over and beyond what others did. He did what was expected of him and more.

Cohen's press conference was highlighted with talk of titles and contending on a national level. Those phrases are music to the Diamond Dawg Nation's ears.

They say a team takes on the personality of it's coach.

I expect to hear that Coach Cohen has his players out and about in the community promoting the program and raising funds. That is what he has always done.

I expect to see them make their grades and play at a high level, because that's what John did.

I also expect autographs for fans to be in large supply because Coach Cohen has never been shy about giving his.

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