Commentary

After taking in the three-game series between Ole Miss and Mississippi State, I now understand the meaning of "that's baseball." I don't care for the phrase because it oftens comes across as a convenient excuse, but at least I now understand it when it comes to this quirky game.

"That's baseball."

Two words used to inadequately describe the unexplainable. Two words that draw the ire of more fans than just about any phrase in sports.

When you can't make heads or tails out of what you just saw on the diamond, there's only one thing some say - "that's baseball."

I've never really understood the term. Nobody says "that's football," and it's played with an oblong ball that takes all kinds of weird bounces. Nobody says "that's basketball," and I've seen stranger than strange on the hardwood too.

But by most who play or coach that quirky sport, "that's baseball" is understood as a catch-all to the mysteries of the game.

This past weekend in Starkville - with the Rebs visiting rival and desperate Mississippi State - put it all in perspective for me. I now understand what "that's baseball" means. I have no facts to back this up, but to me baseball is the most unpredictable sport ever invented. No sport consistently confounds prognosticators like baseball.

You want some proof? Florida was supposed to be real good. Kentucky real bad. Just the opposite took place. Crazy stuff.

This past weekend series was nutty as Aunt Martha's Christmas fruit cake as well.

Thursday - A game the Rebels controlled and dictated for 6 1/2 innings suddenly turns into a barn burner. Momentum clearly shifted to the Bullies when they tied the score 5-5 in the bottom of the ninth via two fielding miscues by the Rebs, who hadn't committed an error in the equivalent of nearly five full games. The Rebels regained their composure long enough to pull out the victory and quickly redeem themselves in the 10th inning. The "rightful" team - the team that had played the best throughout the game - won, but not without a surprising late struggle. "That's baseball."

Friday - The Rebels left their game at the hotel and Mississippi State, facing a do-or-die situation in regard to elimination from SEC Tournament eligibility, dominated in an affair as one-sided as you will ever see. The records prove the Rebs are the better team, but on this day they looked so inferior that it was startling. "That's baseball."

Saturday - Ole Miss obviously didn't like the punch in the mouth they got Friday and suddenly the "real" Rebels showed up again. But even with a 13-5 lead headed into the seventh inning, you somehow knew the game wasn't over, that MSU would not fold up their tent, that some weird things would take place. I never lost my confidence the Rebs were going to win the contest with that kind of cushion, but you never know for sure in baseball, a game that I unwittingly attribute to my baldness and high blood pressure. The Rebs put the dagger in the Bulldogs' chest early, and tried to twist it several times during the game, but MSU - to their credit - kept breathing. They would not go away. "That's baseball."

From a Rebel perspective, or at least my Rebel persepctive, it could not have gone down any better way. MSU needed to win two and LSU had to lose two to Florida after Thursday's results for the Bulldogs to make the trip to defend their tourney title. The Rebs' Saturday effort knocked the Bulldogs out of the tourney, an event MSU won last year at the expense of the Rebels in the finals. Sweet revenge. "That's baseball."

It's been "serious" to this point, but now it gets "real serious."

The SEC Tournament starts tomorrow in Hoover, AL. The Rebs, seeded 5th, face Arkansas, the number 4 seed, at 8 p.m. central time in their opener.

A good showing, whatever that means, will go a long way in getting a host position for the regionals. Many have asked "how many wins in Hoover will it take to get a regional?" Like you, we can only guess. Who knows what's in the minds of the NCAA selection committee? I think we should host, but so do Kentucky's fans, Bama's fans, Georgia's fans, and UPig fans.

However it turns out, we applaud the Rebel baseball team for their 17-13 conference mark and feel they have stated their case to host their third regional in a row, but others in the SEC have put up a good argument to host as well.

But back to the "that's baseball" theme, I have to wonder which Rebel team will emerge in Hoover.

This team has accomplished a lot, all things considered, to this point, but it has been a team that has had a couple of unexplainable lapses. It has been a team that has played some games that weren't real awe-inspiring. Is it the grind of the season and to be expected? Probably. Does "that's baseball" apply? Probably, but the Rebs can't afford a mind snap in Hoover.

I am fully convinced when the Rebels are focused and in their groove, they can beat anyone in the country. They seem to have a knack to do what is necessary in tight games - get the big hit, make the key pitch, produce the game-turning fielding play. I expect them to be tuned in at Hoover and make a strong run at the title.

Regardless of how it goes down, though, someone will say, and I will finally understand, "that's baseball."

But don't look for me to use that phrase. Even with some understanding of the phrase, I still ain't fond of it.

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