STARKVILLE — If Mississippi State’s 2018 baseball season had not ended in Omaha, Cole Gordon might not be a part of the 2019 season.
Last year was Gordon’s fourth as a Bulldog, a time in which one can get more than enough of college baseball if they so choose. Every player must find a life after baseball at some point, and in the final weeks of MSU’s run to the College World Series, Gordon wondered if his time had arrived.
Yet, a few months later, he is taking swings in an indoor facility, preparing for one more ride.
Gordon’s choice to return to the team for 2019 is good news for both a bullpen and a lineup trying to break through for the program’s first national championship. MSU concludes fall practice this weekend with its yearly intrasquad world series with scrimmages 4 p.m. Thursday, 7:30 p.m. Friday and 11:30 a.m. Saturday.
“After Omaha, I took some time, went home and when Coach (Chris) Lemonis was hired, he called me in his office and we talked about it,” Gordon said. “From then on, I was going to do everything I could to come back. I felt like we left off in a place where we should have finished. I think it’s something we need to go back and finish.
“I figured it’s been four years, I had a great time and at that point I was trying to decide if it was time for me to start living a life past baseball. I wasn’t ready for that yet.”
It turns out, Lemonis’ pitch to Gordon wasn’t all that difficult.
“I think he wanted to and didn’t think about it,” Lemonis said. “He got hot late, what a fun ride and now I think professionally he’s got a shot if he can show it all year long.”
Lemonis is referencing Gordon’s postseason run in which he dropped his earned run average (ERA) over half a run in June, from 4.87 to 4.26. He got a win in an elimination game against Oklahoma in the Tallahassee Regional and pitched seven scoreless innings in the Nashville Super Regional, striking out 10. Gordon was also scoreless in 7 1/3 innings in the College World Series.
Ending his season that way is why he is back.
“More so the taste of Omaha and the guys we have coming back. Obviously Coach Lemonis was a big part of it and him wanting me back made a big impact on me, but also the guys we have coming back and how we came together,” Gordon said. “It’s really hard to leave that when you have a chance to do it again.”
Gordon ultimately made that decision over the summer and assumed the role of the rest of his teammates: waiting for fall practice to resume baseball activities. Then came a surprise: the prospect of hitting.
Gordon hasn’t hit with any consistency since midway through the 2017 season. He was a full-time hitter in 2016, hitting .333 in 18 at-bats with three doubles and a triple, and started 2017 the same way with 28 at-bats in the first three weeks. As injuries obliterated the bullpen, MSU had to turn to emergency pitchers and Gordon was one of them, ultimately logging 55 1/3 innings and starting nine times.
His role did not change last year, taking 61 1/3 innings without a single at-bat. He admits he missed hitting and he’s thoroughly enjoyed working off the rust over the fall.
Yet another reason his comeback has worked out.
“Most of the time, I missed it when I was out running with the pitchers and everyone else was taking (batting practice), I missed that part of it,” Gordon said. “It’s fun, it’s the part of the game that everyone loves doing.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson