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OPINION: To Believe or Not To Believe?

(photo credit: The Clarion Ledger )

Mississippi State fans are understandably wanting answers on whether the slump is over, but for vocal made-up minds, not so fast

By Colton Watson and Doug Kyle

It’s no secret the last two college baseball seasons in Starkville, MS, have been difficult to swallow. Mississippi State fans have made it apparent on social media, in chat rooms and message boards, on air in the area’s call-in shows, and even from the stands at the cathedral of The Dude, they are not happy with the product, and results, appearing between its foul lines and on the scoreboard.

Although a vocal minority wanted Head Coach Chris Lemonis gone after last season, the consensus was to give him one more year and see if the hiring of new Pitching Coach Justin Parker could turn things around in 2024. Chris Lemonis is a national champion, when he coached and strategized players both he and prior coaching recruited, and he deserved every opportunity to turn things around. But another failure in 2024 (and we mean more than last year’s winning record but bare postseason) would likely be too much to overcome for the sixth-year skipper.

And here is perhaps one of the first points we want to hit home: since January, when CBC first began preseason coverage of the 2024 season, we’ve pointed out this is a pivotal year. And, here’s a little secret: in conversations then and throughout the season in post-game interviews, it’s become clear that you don’t have to divert the attention of the coaches and players away from playing, and winning, ball games. Not a single person uniformed in maroon and white with the M over S on their head does not understand what is at stake this season. They also understand the consequences, and outcome, if results don’t differ from the last two seasons. They get it!

And even though since the young season began, the Maroon and White faithful have craved clarity on the situation in the Diamond Dawg dugout, it also has to be understood that clarity may not be as fast in delivery as they’d like. Perhaps it’s more sarcasm than seriousness, but expecting dismissal of a national championship coach before a game, or even week, ends is folly.

Some speculate on what it might take for Athletic Director Zac Selmon to consider action involving the Bulldog Baseball future. Of course, the Left Field Loungers, Triple Crown Club members, and Left Field Loft tenants are all rooting for Mississippi State to succeed more than anything. But, they’d also appreciate reaching a point, as would all fans who file through the Ron Polk Ring of Honor or pass the National Championship trophy, where some semblance of past comfort levels is restored. As renowned and enjoyable as Dudy Noble cuisine is, the “baseball water” and whatever juicy morsels are cooking on the grills is always subordinate to what the Dawgs are cooking on the field.

People by the thousands have put up, and no one would deny that when it comes to bragging on their Bulldogs, they’ve had to shut up for the most part recently. It’s equally undeniable, though, that nothing has not been done. You need only look through the box scores and stat sheets to realize the acquisition of Parker is a clear turn back in the right direction. The bane of the past two seasons, bases on balls, has quite effectively been addressed. Pitchers were saying in the fall that things were different, and now even casual fans can see it.

Yes, the recovery is still a work in progress. When the pitching hole in the dike is plugged, the hitting component seems to lack and spring a leaK, baserunning fundamentals falter both offensively and defensively. Games have been tough to watch at times, teeth gnashed, hair pulled out, patience tested.

We’re about to reach the end of the first quarter of the season. Without question, the toughest part lies ahead. Take a look at our College Baseball Central Top 25 poll, if you wonder how stacked the SEC is. And yes, over time, Mississippi State fans have become accustomed to seeing their team’s name among them. It’s reasonable, and as it’s sometimes said, history is what you’ve always done, reputation is what you’ve done lately. It’s why Florida can go 0-1 and stay in the Top 10, it’s why Texas can get swept in a weekend tournament and stay in the Top 25.

It’s been a trying two years for everyone. People may ridicule Chris Lemonis and make AI caricatures of him, but we see the anguish on his post-game face after a tough loss. We see and hear, from both him and his players he zealously protects, that things are being done. Baseball is a funny game, and its season is long.

But again, they all know what the score is. It doesn’t have to be reminded to anyone that it’s either win, or as we like to say, business will take place involving Zac Selmon. It may not take place as promptly as some prefer, but why don’t we see what happens, and then see what happens?

In the meantime, if calling in to a radio show or posting on Twitter/X is your form of expression, it’s a free country, knock yourselves out. It’s our job to observe and report, factually for the most part, and we don’t lose sight of the fact why we do that is for your edification and satisfaction.

Right now, things are on a factually positive note. A six game win streak, including a satisfying come-from-behind victory over an in-state rival. And, with all due respect, when you play a team that has hosted two straight Super Regionals, they’re a rival.

But, the gauntlet lies ahead, starting March 15 when SEC play begins, in the form of the defending National Champions coming to Dudy Noble. Then, it’s a road trip to the last remaining undefeated team in the conference. We don’t need to tell you their names, and we don’t think the coaches and players need be reminded that’s just the first two of a daunting itinerary that, frankly, is going to be challenging enough to make Hoover, let alone the NCAA tournament events for which Mississippi State has famously contended, and often hosted.

As we said, it’s important to draw the distinction between history and reputation. The history we have, the reputation we’re all trying to change. And we do mean all.

If you came looking for permission to tune out this season, you're not going to find it here. State still has a lot to prove in 2024, but they've strung together enough innings on the mound and at bats at the plate to deserve your attention and support for now.

The verdict on the future of Mississippi State baseball is much like everyone's favorite starting pitcher--TBD. Contrary to the feelings within the fanbase after frustrating losses to teams we consider should be comfortable wins, Chris Lemonis has not yet coached his way out of a job. And, even he would probably acknowledge he’s not coached his way into staying yet, either. It’s like election results sometimes, still too close to call.

Mississippi State has not yet played its way out of, or into, another post season. The improvements in preventing runs from crossing the plate are undeniable. For those still seeking the answer on whether it’s time to hang around or check out…you’re probably going to have to keep waiting (but we’re leaning towards the former).


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