The Moment

OMAHA, Neb. – John Gatlin's family is a familiar group at Ole Miss baseball games. But they aren't here this week.



John's brother, Ben, is getting married Saturday. John's maternal grandmother, Marion Tenkhoff, died two days ago.

When Gatlin went into the game in the ninth inning on Tuesday to help his Ole Miss Rebel teammates try to get their first win in the College World Series, they were his family. They are the ones who are here. The others were watching back home.

Gatlin's thoughts were on the moment, on trying to produce the game-winning RBI single, which he did. But before and since, those thoughts have also been on all that is happening this week in his hometown of Tupelo.

Gatlin popped the ball over a five-man infield of Texas Tech Red Raiders who were trying to prevent Aaron Greenwood from scoring from third base.

That's right, pitcher Aaron Greenwood was pinch-running in this particular situation.

There was one out. The count, when "the moment" happened, was 1-2.

But it indeed happened and Ole Miss eliminated Texas Tech 2-1. And because of John Gatlin, Ole Miss lives to play another game.

The captain of last year's Rebel team would be the first to tell you it is a whole lot more about everybody than just him.

"I've been through so much with this group of guys. Everybody on this team contributes in their own way, whether it's playing every day or not," said Gatlin, a senior this season and a junior college transfer from Itawamba Community College in Fulton.

Gatlin had a hard time holding back his emotions in the postgame press conference. After that, in another media gathering in the hallway outside the media room of TD Ameritrade Park, Gatlin once again held it together. But it was obviously difficult.

This also isn't just about Gatlin's moment Tuesday and his family's life moments this week and weekend.

"Good things happen to good people. Then to watch him get a base hit to win it."

This is about a young man who stuck with it when others might not have. But Gatlin wanted to and did.

So he could be a part of moments like Tuesday.

"I had three pretty rough surgeries last year," said Gatlin. "I couldn't give any more credit to my trainers and doctors for getting me back on the field."

And there have been plenty of doctors and trainers and rehabbing months the past couple of years.

"I dove for a ball and tore my left labrum and had labrum surgery," Gatlin said. "I broke my foot in the rehab process for that and had foot surgery. I had a big screw put in it. About five months after that when I was healthy and playing again, the screw broke and they had to take it out and put another one in. So it's been pretty rough."

A long time ago now, back on the last night in February, Gatlin had another walkoff RBI hit to win a game for the Rebels, a 4-3 victory over Central Florida in a 13-inning affair.

"We practice that every day," Gatlin said. "Infield in. Less than two outs. Hit it anywhere. Whatever you can do to get it done. Lot of different options to win a game right there. Just move the baseball and hit it somewhere in the outfield. All I could think about was just putting the barrel on the ball."

Gatlin said there were probably a lot of family and friends huddled around TVs in Tupelo that moment he drove in the winning run.

"I'm sure they were," he said, emotions again grabbing him to the point of tears. "I'm looking forward to seeing my family and friends back home after all this."

He said assistant coach Cliff Godwin, upon hearing of the death of his grandmother, asked him if he needed to go home.

"I said, ‘Are you kidding me? She'd kill me if I came home right now,'" said Gatlin, thinking of how supportive his grandmother had been and trying to compose himself at that moment.

Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco, who saw Holt Perdzock come through again in a pinch-hit role in the eighth inning and then Gatlin win it in the ninth, said he's so impressed with the players on this team.

"One of the great things about this profession is to coach young men, like John, who are terrific representatives of the university," he said. "Because good things happen to good people. Then to watch him get a base hit to win it."

Those moments, whether they be on a cold night in northern Mississippi in late winter or an early summer 90 degree day in the midwestern U.S.

That's what Gatlin said reminds him why he stuck with it through everything.

"At times I've wondered, ‘Why did I get hurt? Why am I back here?' But as this season has unfolded," he said, emotions still running rampant, "I've found out those reasons."

Come Thursday night, there might just be another moment of solidification that he is indeed right where he needs to be with his Ole Miss baseball family at the College World Series.

"That was awesome for him," said teammate Will Allen. "With all he's gone through with the injuries, I was pumped for him. And for as hard as he works every day. I think he had 29 at-bats on the season, and for him to know we're all behind him and to get the job done. I think you saw he was tearing up. That's every kid's dream to hit a walkoff in Omaha. He did it. He's a huge part of this team."

Gatlin admits it. He loves this team.

"That's why this team is so special," Gatlin said. "We all contribute in so many different ways. Everyone of us, we're prepared for it and are expected to get the job done. It's that toughness we've been preaching all year."

Nobody on this team, certainly based on what he's been through then and now, is tougher than John Gatlin.


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