It's the taste of hot dogs grilling under the hot Mississippi sun; it's the wall of smoke rolling across the outfield from the Left Field Lounge; it's the smell of fresh-cut grass in the early spring. As the next season of baseball steps up to the plate at the newly renovated Dudy Noble Field, not much has changed in essence in the 51 years of baseball at Dudy Noble.
This season marks 33 years of sellouts of reserved season tickets for baseball according to the Athletic Department of Mississippi State University. The rich history surrounding the Diamond Dogs is now mixing with the new in a newly finished stadium and a newly hired head coach Chris Lemonis.
It hasn’t been too long since baseball season ended in Omaha for the Bulldogs. The team went through a lot last season. It was a year where they overcame a coach resigning after the first weekend, being down to their final strike at the Tallahassee regional and experiencing an offensive explosion in their victory over North Carolina, before being eliminated from the tournament by Oregon State in the two semifinal games.
If you go to Chadwick Lake today, you can probably hear the crack of the aluminum bats, the popping of leather gloves and the music blaring as the Bulldogs practice just a month out from opening the season against Youngstown State on Feb. 15-17.
The Bulldogs were ranked at 14th in the D1 baseball preseason top 25. They have players like Jake Mangum, Tanner Allen and Rowdey Jordan–all who are All-Americans. They will also have 18 newcomers.
A common phrase heard in Starkville is, "There are three things in life that are guaranteed: death, taxes and Jake Mangum leadoff hits." Mangum, a senior outfielder from Pearl, is one of the main constants on the MSU team.
Going into this season, Mangum has the opportunity to do something special. He is just 77 hits away from the SEC career record for most hits (352). He provides an offensive anchor, being one of the three returning players who started 50 or more games last season. He is also a veteran defender who, last season, made many outstanding defensive plays.
While this season will be Mangum’s last in maroon and white, it is likely it will not be his last on the diamond. The fan-appointed mayor of Starkville, Mangum deserves to go out on top. Quite frankly, MSU deserves a College World Series Championship, but baseball is a long season.
The season seems far out as well, being prolonged for another 28 days, but one thing is for sure: once baseball season arrives, it is best if it never ends. Or at least never ends until the Bulldogs win it all, and Mangum can ride off into the sunset.
Here's to another round of walk-off heroics, pitching duels, baseballs under the southern night sky and lights. Here's to memories made, friendships formed and a pastime that defines Mississippi State.