Looking over the 2021 roster of the Mississippi State Bulldogs’ National Championship team, only one name remains who is also found on the list of baseball players going through Fall Ball 2023 drills—Stone Simmons, a freshman pitcher during the ring year who recently returned to competition following rehab for arm surgery.
The rest of that trophy team has departed, via draft, graduation, or other channels. And, while the two years of struggles that have followed will never diminish the memories, and never remove the outfield banners or trophy that greets visitors just inside the Home Plate gate; it’s been both a challenge and a mission for the players who’ve since put on the maroon and white, donned the “M over S” hats, to restore the tradition for one of the all-time winningest programs in the top-tier Southeastern Conference, having achieved a baseball championship at some level and time during each of the last nine decades.
As preparations continue toward the Spring 2024 season, the Bulldogs will look to some known returning power, and high draft-projected, names such as Hunter Hines and Dakota Jordan for dramatic sky-scraping home runs. And, they’ll trust that pitchers returning from season-ending injury, such as Simmons, Brooks Auger, Bradley Loftin, and Pico Kohn, regain prior form.
But, a couple of players, pitcher Nate Dohm and infielder David Mershon, could turn out to be key to whether the Bulldogs return to the level of success and postseason prominence the program and its record-breaking fanbase have not just enjoyed but come to expect.
As Dohm, who could be part of the weekend rotation, and Mershon, who’ll likely be part of anchoring the up-the-middle defense, go, so too will probably go the Bulldogs.
Dohm and Mershon have been Bulldogs a year now, but let’s permit them to introduce themselves to you. As you’ll see, family is an important part of their life and persona, and they’ve fit right into that concept at Mississippi State.
Now, let’s get up to date on what each player has been doing, since the 2023 MSU season ended in May, during the summer, and what their fall goals are ahead of the 2024 schedule.
A significant change in the Mississippi State team during the offseason was the hiring of Justin Parker as the new Pitching Coach. We asked Nate his impressions and for a possible example of a new insight he’s gained from that tutelage.
David also talked about what he feels he’s improved in his game, be it hitting, defense, or baserunning, since first arriving on campus as a freshman.
No disrespect in what is an ultra-competitive sport, but having produced the last three National Champions at the Men’s College World Series in Omaha, from three different programs no less, the SEC is generally viewed as the premiere conference in the College Baseball world at the moment. So, with Dohm coming into the league from another D1 college and Mershon from high school, we asked their impressions of the league—what turned out as they expected, and if there was something that surprised them?
Sticking with the SEC, which, according to Commissioner Greg Sankey, has its longest distance between schools from South Carolina to Texas A&M, that relative geographic compactness came up over the summer as colleges from coast to coast played a high stakes game of musical chairs shifting from one conference to the other.
We asked Dohm and Mershon if travel ever affects their game, if they’ve ever had the road trip from hell, etc. What really matters to Dohm was pretty insightful. And, brace yourself—if you think college athletes, who spend hours every single day trying to hone their game and grades, have much free time left to follow the melodrama of (even their own) conference realignment, think again, and smile along with Mershon’s candid response.
As fall drills continue, a couple exhibition games also approach, so we asked Mershon and Dohm their favorite or most challenging part of the drills and competition. Is there more fun in the upcoming competition against La Tech or UAB, a chance to pitch or hit against someone not wearing a maroon or black jersey?
And, looking a bit further into the future, we asked Nate and David if they have goals for the 2024 season? Both are draft eligible, Nate getting his own mentions in some early-round projections, how do they balance and manage individual aspirations with team success?
And finally, we left the closing comments up to the two young men, who have distinctly different roles on the team but have played together a season-plus now and clearly see the dependence on each other as teammates as key to the priority of the team’s success overall.
Acknowledgements--Special thanks to @dohm_nate and @mershyyyyyy (give them a follow if you don't already) for taking time to speak with us, Travis Rae of Mississippi State Baseball, and to Mississippi State Athletics, Baseball Reference, Steve Dohm, and Brian Mershon for images used in the video.