By Brett Hudson
STARKVILLE — Saturday’s second-inning single was a moment 1,152 days in the making, beginning with Jake Mangum’s first hit as a Bulldog on March 1, 2016. An otherwise meaningless single in a 14-0 Tuesday night win over Alcorn State is now one of 354 hits off Mangum’s bat, more than any player in the history of college baseball’s most powerful conference.
It was the most historic moment of a career that includes a SEC batting title, countless All-SEC and All-American honors, an Omaha appearance and his name all over the Mississippi State record books.
Jake Mangum’s response to the moment: “I’m really glad that’s over.”
In a way, that’s fitting. Mangum did start the season 77 hits behind Eddy Furniss’ former SEC record of 352. Mangum has never finished a MSU season with fewer than 84 hits and finished his junior season with 101. The senior season he chose to play for one last shot at team glory has been defined from the beginning by his chase of one particular individual record among many he can claim.
His 353rd hit ended that chase, freeing him of the daily chatter. He was a good sport in the moment — recognizing the hat tips from the dugout and the 9,572 in attendance, removing his helmet in salute, keeping the ball he hit and the base he rounded — but truth be told, Mangum will enjoy the post-record part of his senior season more than the chase.
Saturday’s history was more for those around Mangum than it was for him.
It was for Luke Alexander, the shortstop-turned-first base coach, the first person to embrace him after he broke the record. Alexander was with Mangum when they were the youngest players on a travel team, batting 8th and 9th together. Alexander was with Mangum when they went to a MSU camp in 8th grade, when both got asked to stay late and Mangum waited outside of John Cohen’s office as Alexander received a scholarship offer.
“Luke’s been joking the past couple of days whenever I get it done he’s going to give me a big hug,” Mangum said. “I’m really happy to be there and do it with him.”
Mangum’s day of history was for Stacy Mangum and the dozens of family members and family friends that surrounded her as Jake broke the record. Jake called his mother, “the most genuine woman I’ve ever met,” and — correctly — said everyone at Dudy Noble Field knows Stacy Mangum.
Hit No. 353 was for his cousin, Taylor Nowell, who Mangum says is a big reason why he chose MSU out of Jackson Prep. Nowell, who swore up and down through high school he has a cousin who’s really good at baseball, left Dudy Noble Field Saturday with a cup of infield dirt in his hand, his own souvenir of the day.
Jake thought of his father, John, who Jake remembers driving from an Atlanta baseball tournament through a Sunday night while Jake and Stacy slept, to get the family home for Monday morning. One of many sacrifices the family made to get Jake here. (Not that John is sentimental at the moment. There are two people pleased to see the record chase end not for the history made, but for the end of pomp and circumstance: Jake Mangum and John Mangum.)
Jake Mangum’s day for the record books was for all of the people that kept him out of the locker room until 5 p.m. after a game that ended at 3:35. For the youth baseball teams with baseballs to sign, for the outfield loungeholders with banners to behold, for the hangers-on in the Left Field Lofts that included former Diamond Dawg Wes Rea that watched him trot across the outfield for more autographs and more pictures.
Jake made the path to this moment look easy — even in his 101-hit season last year, he didn’t reach the 79 hits he has today until the final weekend of the regular season. It may have looked easy, but he says it was not.
“Hitting with that in the back of your head, it’s really hard,” he said. “No matter how locked in you are on the game, no matter how locked in you are in that moment, it’s hard stepping into the box knowing you’re one hit away, two hits away. It’s tough.”
On April 27, 2019, Jake Mangum gave so many people the moment they’ve been waiting for. Then he emerged from the locker room to a Saturday sunset and the moments he’s been waiting for: the final weeks of his senior season, when the college baseball community will join him in counting wins, not hits.