June 12, 2018 10:29:12 AM
Slim Smith - [email protected]
As surely as the sun rose today, there are people in our community whose lives seem irreparably broken.
There is the young man, recently released from prison, who has paid his debt to society, but cannot pay his bills for lack of a job.
There is the family, overwhelmed with debt, staring at the foreclosure notice lying on the kitchen table and having no idea what to do next.
There are addicts who have lost everything, not the least of which is their self-respect.
There are people who have been abused and mistreated and no one seems to care.
Everywhere, there are people who grieve losses and can't seem to move beyond it. Destroyed relationships. Destroyed lives. They are defeated, hopeless, without strength.
They are humiliated, rejected, written off.
They are losers.
Here for you then, is a loser's story.
In the early morning hours Monday, Mississippi State scored four runs in the 11th inning to beat Vanderbilt in Nashville and join seven other elite teams in this year's College World Series, the Valhalla of college baseball.
It will be the Bulldogs' 10th appearance in the CWS and, by far, the least likely, and therefore most satisfying, of them all.
We are often quick to draw life lessons from the sports we consume as fans. Sports is really a morality play at its most satisfying moments. And so it is with this team.
It is a story that should have resonated with the aforementioned "losers," for as recently as 10 weeks ago, the description suited the Bulldogs.
Just three games into the season, all losses to rival Southern Miss, the Bulldogs' fired coach Andy Cannizaro after a lurid scandal that left the team in a free-fall. Expectations, at least among the fans, fell to nothing. About all that could be expected was to play out the season. If the players gave up, well, really who could blame them?
By the end of March, the Bulldogs had a losing record and were in last place in the SEC, having won just two of its first nine league games.
If this were a novel, a change in fortune would have been precipitated by some dramatic moment.
It wasn't like that for the Bulldogs, though. Under the steady hand of interim coach Gary Henderson, the Bulldogs just put their head downs and kept working, straining, hoping and, little-by-little, in fits and starts, improving.
It began with a series win over third-ranked Ole Miss. Two weeks later the Bulldogs swept No. 4 Arkansas. Finally, on the last weekend of the regular season, needing at least one win to secure a spot in the conference tournament and keep alive hopes for a spot in the NCAA Tournament, the Bulldogs swept No. 1 Florida.
The drama didn't end there, either. MSU lost its first game in the Tallahassee regional and fought back through the loser's bracket - including a dramatic win over host Florida State that came with a three-run homer in the final inning for a 3-2 win. State, which had been embarrassed by Oklahoma, 20-10, in the opener then came back to beat Oklahoma twice to earn a trip to the Super Regionals in Nashville.
The Bulldogs split the first two games. In the decisive final game, State squandered a three-run lead in the ninth inning, only to come back to win the game two innings later, punching its ticket to Omaha.
After the game, Henderson summed up the season with great insight.
"It was a season that started in humiliation and we sit here today going Omaha," he said.
If you are among those who are today feeling defeated, humiliated and hopeless, the story of this team can be your story, too.
If you feel it would almost take a miracle to put your life back in order, take a lesson from these Bulldogs: Go out and make your miracle, one day, one step, one striving effort at a time.
The only certain way to lose is to quit.
So be comforted, losers.
The game isn't over yet.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]