The chilly air took a time out for the Mississippi State University Baseball team to make their spring debut for the 2019 media day. Sunshine poured over the bright and shiny new Dudy Noble Stadium, illuminating the new arena and a motivated college baseball family.
The team appears to be in a positive mindset, working endlessly to prepare for a season they will be proud of. Gunner Halter, a junior infielder from Overland Park, Kansas, is excited for the season to finally begin, and said the goal is to go back to Omaha and win.
“We just need to take it one step at a time, game by game, practice by practice,” Halter said. “It will all fall into place.”
The infielder is confident this year’s team has the potential to get the results they are hoping for. The confidence and positivity displayed radiated from base to base. In addition, the hard work, ambition and drive were more evident than anything.
Jordan Westburg, a sophomore from New Braunfels, Texas, glowed with optimism about the upcoming season, explaining the team has grown together and is driven to perform at a top level. The level needed to complete the overall goal of being the best of the best comes from work within a team.
“Just trying to build on what we’ve put together last year, especially with the culture, I know that’s a word that’s thrown around a whole lot here,” Westburg said. “We built something special here from basically nothing, and to come back, and try to replicate that and one up that is what I’m most excited for.”
Westburg believes the team’s goal to return to Omaha is achievable, and there is an abundance of talent on the roster this season. He elaborated on the challenges that will arise and how the team can overcome them.
“Challenges are going to happen every single day, so I think just the day-to-day grind is a challenge in itself,” Westburg said. “If we can master that and learn how to embrace that, I think it will make what we do stumble upon this season a little bit easier.”
Most can see how Jake Mangum, a senior outfielder from Pearl, consistently leads and encourages the team. He explained this team has talent and the potential to go to Omaha and return with a win.
Despite the team’s appearance in the College World Series last season, Mangum said looking forward and focusing on this season is most important.
“Instead of looking back and thinking what last year’s team did, think about what we didn’t do. We were 3-1 short of (a) national championship,” Mangum said. “As awesome as it was, there’s still more.”
This offseason has been a little different, as the team has actually been able to practice on its own field. Elijah MacNamee, a junior outfielder form Cypress, Texas, said this change has made it feel completely different this season.
“You can definitely tell how advanced a team could be, I can tell you that,” MacNamee said. “I didn’t know that until last year when the season started when we got destroyed by Southern Miss. Now that we are on a field, you can tell how much better we are than last year at this time.”
With the losses of Luke Alexander and Hunter Stovall, MSU is missing two key infielders who helped turn 53 and 42 of the 63 total double plays last year. However, Mangum said losing these players will not hurt them this year.
“You see them (teammates) work every day—and where they were at in August compared to now is light years ahead,” Mangum said. “They’re starting to click, and it’s really fun to see new guys come in and do that.”
Mangum said the veteran players are teaching the younger players.
“You see the older guys put their arm around them and tell them what to expect," Mangum said. "It’s just weird that you see that three years ago, except I was in those guys’ shoes. Time here is very valuable, and everyone’s going to be ready, I can promise you that.”
Mangum said throughout the ‘roller coaster’ MSU baseball has experienced in the last four years, winning has been a constant factor in the program.
Mangum is optimistic about his last season playing college ball, and reflected on the reasons he chose to play for MSU and why he is proud to be a Bulldog.
“This is the pinnacle of college baseball, it’s Mississippi State,” Mangum said.
The home opener for Mississippi State University is at 4 p.m. Feb. 15 as the Bulldogs will face Youngstown State University.