When you think of the south, you should think baseball.
I know, I know. It’s a crazy thought when many people point to the influence of football in down here, but growing up in Mississippi, I can tell you, we love our baseball.
And for good reason.
It seems like every year Southern Miss, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss are competing in the regionals and to see who will represent the Magnolia State as the top program. Allegiances are split between the schools, depending on region or family preference, and fans follow the programs like many would for an MLB team.
For me, even though I supported Alabama in football because my dad is an alum, I was always an MSU baseball fan. Growing up watching legends like Ron Polk, Adam Frazier, Wes Rea, Brett Pirtle, Hunter Renfroe, Chris Stratton and so many others, Dudy Noble Field became a special place for me.
When college recruitment started, I knew there were only a few programs I wanted to be a part of. Outside of in-state programs like Ole Miss and MSU, the University of Alabama also caught my eye. Growing up, I had been on their campus every fall while attending football games with my dad, so there was a familiarity with the environment.
As I approached my sophomore season in high school, I felt like I was ready to commit to a school so I could just focus on my play on the field. I had narrowed it down to only MSU and Bama but knew the final decision would be difficult. Growing up so close to both programs, there was no easy answer.
After thinking it over and discussing it with my family, I chose the University of Alabama.
It was difficult to disappoint people in my own state, but I was confident in my decision. Although my dad was with me no matter what college I would have chosen, I was proud to be following in his footsteps and play for the Tide.
But with a decision that felt so right at the time, little by little, I started to have my doubts.
After these doubts persisted into the next season, I decommitted from Alabama and called the coaches at MSU, informing them I had reopened my recruiting process.
I prayed each and every day that God would help me choose the right place for me. It was one of the most difficult decisions of my life and I could feel the pressure weighing on me.
But as I continued to pray, I began to notice odd things happening around me. Some of it, you may dismiss as a coincidence, but for me, they were signs trying to help me with my decision.
Everything from conversations with people on the street, to things I saw in church, felt like I was being pushed in the direction of MSU.
One of these instances that I remember specifically was as I was on my way to school one morning, I opened my eyes from prayer at a stop light to see a car with an Alabama state license plate but a with an MSU logo on it.
Like I said, it may seem like a coincidence to some, but for me, it helped me eventually find my future home.
After moments like this, and getting to visit Starkville to see the program a few more times, I decided to commit to Mississippi State University.
For me, MSU offered more than just a storied history and great facilities. They offered family. Starkville is a community that supports you like a family, making it a special place. Pair this atmosphere with the best fans in college baseball, and I couldn’t wait to officially be a part of the program.
As I stepped into my freshman year of college, I learned one of the most important lessons I have learned that I still apply to this day: Focus on what you can control and nothing else.
That simple idea helped me make a successful transition to college and eventually led me to the success that I had in my first year. Instead of worrying about things off the field, I spent my time in the cage working to perfect my swing with my coaches.
Many guys come into a program and try to worry about playing time or where they fit in the batting line up. But as players, we have no influence in those decisions. I quickly learned that what I could influence was my effort and performance each day.
Anything else, I didn’t’ worry about, as they weren’t mine to think about.
This idea not only led to my success but also helped our team do something we hadn’t in 20 years: win the regular season SEC Championship.
I still remember the night, as it was one of the best feelings of my life.
Knowing A&M was defeated and therefore all we had to do was beat Arkansas, our team was motivated to give the program something special. After the win, we made a victory lap around the field and shared the experience with each person at the game. I’ll never forget it.
In that moment, and many others, I was proud that I chose to stay home and play for MSU.
Now, as my sophomore season finishes up and we look towards the postseason, I try to lead my play by the same way I did in the year before.
Instead of worrying about seeding, who we might play, or if I will hear my name called in the MLB draft, I will just try to control what is in my ability and help our team to try and win a National Championship.
If we can do that, everything else will sort itself out.
Jake Mangum | Contributor