OMAHA, Neb. — When the Mississippi State baseball team got together for its College World Series photoshoot Thursday in Omaha, Nebraska, head coach Chris Lemonis did something unexpected.
The Bulldogs’ skipper laid two fingers on his outstretched right arm near the elbow, his palm in the air. Behind him, sophomore starter Will Bednar struggled to keep a straight face as his coach pantomimed the right-hander’s “ice in my veins” gesture.
“My Will Bednar impression!” Lemonis tweeted later in the day.
The third-year coach has gotten his team to Omaha for the CWS twice in as many tries, although he told reporters Friday it’s his players who have brought him here and not the other way around. But it’s the laid-back attitude Lemonis and the Bulldogs have espoused that’s helped them weather the high stakes of playing on one of the biggest stages of the country.
“In our environment that we play in all the time, you know, as great as our fan base is, as great as our stadium is, there’s a lot of pressure being a Mississippi State baseball player,” Lemonis said.
That’s why he and the Bulldogs hope to have ice in their veins just like Bednar does — to negate some of the heat they’ve been feeling — especially at TD Ameritrade Park in front of 25,000 fans and a national TV audience.
Even senior right fielder Tanner Allen, making his third CWS trip with Mississippi State, knows it will be “nerve-racking” when he and his teammates first step onto the field Sunday against No. 2 Texas.
“Everybody will have butterflies,” Allen said. “I don’t care if you’ve been to Omaha 10 times.”
Allen said he’s reminded his fellow Bulldogs it’s still baseball, the game they’ve been playing since they were small — just on a bigger stage. Indeed, Mississippi State is hardly out of place on that stage, having qualified for the 2018 and 2019 events and making a nation-leading third straight trip this season.
Still, Lemonis and the Bulldogs are doing their best to have fun along the way. Where other teams donned suits for their “business trips” to Omaha, the Bulldogs kept it casual with shorts and T-shirts.
Part of that, Lemonis said, is his players’ laid-back nature.
“I have a hard enough time — if I give Tanner Allen a shirt two days prior, he’ll cut the sleeves off of it,” the coach said with a laugh.
Even players who haven’t seen a lot of time on the field in 2021 are making the most of things in the dugout with their fellow Bulldogs. Bednar doesn’t remember who first found a white hard hat with a flat, wide brim, but it became a prop in Mississippi State’s dugout celebrations. Infielder Davis Meche and reliever KC Hunt will don the hard hat — which the team has now covered in maroon bulldog silhouette stickers — after an MSU pitcher tosses a 1-2-3 inning; home run hitters get to wear it when they’re finished rounding the bases.
“It kind of gets the dugout going,” Bednar said.
The pitcher said it was “electric” when Lemonis mimicked his gesture, which took off on social media with photos of Bednar holding the pose on his way off the mound.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “My mom doesn’t like it for some reason. But it’s fun.”
And for Mississippi State, it’s a way to counter the pressure of a lengthy season where everything is on the line.
“I think our kids have to deal with that all year long,” Lemonis said. “Getting here is that piece of it, but I think our kids are pretty used to it. We try to play a little light.”
HOW TO WATCH
- WHO: No. 7 MSU vs. No. 2 Texas
- WHEN: 6 p.m. Sunday
- WHERE: TD Ameritrade Park, Omaha, Neb.
- HOW TO WATCH: ESPN2
- HOW TO LISTEN: 100.9 FM
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.