Morning game in Atlanta, Ruby Tuesday, Derek Jeter and a midnight hotel: How Mississippi State got Jordan Westburg to Starkville

Photo by Blake Williams courtesy of Mississippi State Athletics

Photo by Blake Williams courtesy of Mississippi State Athletics

By Brett Hudson

Paul Westburg couldn’t help but chuckle at the man in the black polo, effectively chasing his son down the first base line with stopwatch in hand at a summer ball event in Atlanta.

On that June day in 2016, Paul and Christine Westburg were almost 1,000 miles away from their home in New Braunfels, Texas, watching their son Jordan play. Jordan had set goals to play Power 5 conference baseball, and if at all possible in the best conference of them all, the SEC. Most of the interest came from in-state schools, but some others came calling in the later stages: Jordan remembers Kentucky and Duke, Paul remembers West Virginia and Christine remembers Air Force. Yet, if not for the events of this one Atlanta weekend, Jordan Westburg believes he was likely heading to the Texas Longhorns, all of 50 miles northeast of his hometown.

Then came that man in the black polo. It was Will Coggin, then a Mississippi State assistant coach. He was wildly impressed with Jordan Westburg and wanted to take a last-second shot at getting him. Coggin scheduled it out for them: Jordan had a 9 a.m. game one day and a mid-afternoon game the next, so drive over to Starkville after the 9 a.m. game, stay the night somewhere and get back to Atlanta in time for the next game.

“We were just sitting in the car, and Jordan looked over at me and said, ‘Can we drive to Starkville today?’ I said, ‘Absolutely,’” Paul Westburg said. “We went back to the condo, showered and took a road trip from Atlanta to Starkville.”

Little did they know they would be making a much longer drive to Starkville many more times over the coming years. Little did they know Jordan would soon reach banana-based fame and the top tier of 2019 SEC hitters — he’s currently 11th in the league in batting average (.345), slugging (.569) and on-base percentage (.443), tied for fifth in RBI (47) and tied for third in doubles (17).

They would soon find out that Coggin saw it all coming.

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Then-head coach John Cohen could tell his assistant was enamored with what he saw as he got the reports from Coggin. Cohen remembers Coggin telling him Westburg was a sure thing for the left side of the infield, an exceedingly rare prospect in that regard. He also noticed the speed on that stopwatch run — and Westburg didn’t make Coggin wait, hitting a ball hard to left-center on his first at-bat.

The schedule for an impromptu unofficial visit set, the Westburgs made the drive and got the Mississippi State experience. After the tours and meetings and all, as Paul Westburg remembers it, Cohen asked if the family could hang around for an hour as he solidified the scholarship status of another recruit. Cohen knew he wanted Westburg, but he knew others did, too, and his scholarship offer had to be competitive; that being the case, he wanted to ensure other recruits that their scholarships would not be impacted by getting Westburg, if they could seal the deal.

So the Westburgs went to Ruby Tuesday, down Highway 12 from campus. Paul Westburg said the waitress took one look at Jordan and asked him if he were considering MSU, and he said yes.

Her response: “Don’t do it, there’s nothing to do here.” Paul Westburg turned to his son and told him not to listen to her. He clearly didn’t, but he listens to her now: Jordan thinks the same woman is a professor in one of his classes this semester.

They laugh about that moment now, but it was the one that came after dinner that they remember most.

They returned from dinner to Cohen’s office. Paul Westburg said Cohen told them he asked Coggin to compare Jordan to a player. Coggin’s response: Derek Jeter. He’s Christine Westburg’s favorite player; Paul was gobsmacked that a coach would compare Jordan to such a great player.

They listened to Cohen’s offer and went back to the car, Christine searching for hotel rooms between Starkville and Atlanta. They got in the car and looked up at the football stadium, where there was projection playing highlights from what was a SEC regular season championship for the Diamond Dawgs in 2016. The family sat in the car and watched the highlights, Paul immediately impressed with Cohen’s marketing ability. Christine found a hotel room in Birmingham and the Westburgs made it back to Atlanta in time for the next day’s game.

Christine remembers Jordan feeling something for MSU as soon as he set foot on campus. Paul more clearly remembers the bedside conversation a couple of week later.

“Jordan’s always had that belief in himself that he could play at this level, and to be honest with you, I was watching and saying, ‘Wow, that’s amazing baseball,’” Paul Westburg said. “He always had this calm assurance and when it came down to make his decision, we sat on his bed and said, ‘I have great peace about Mississippi State.’”

That feeling was not lost quickly. In the final days before Westburg signed, MSU transitioned from John Cohen to Andy Cannizaro, all while Texas coach David Pierce was calling Westburg daily. Still, Jordan felt a peace about MSU, so he signed in November 9, a date Paul Westburg still remembers with ease. By the end of Jordan’s first season as a Bulldog, he was flashing the potential Coggin saw.

* * *

As people started looking ahead to the 2019 season, Jordan Westburg and his bat were a consistent fixture in the conversation; there was no guarantee that would be the case even entering what could have been the final month of his freshman season.

Westburg steadily battled Justin Foscue for third base playing time before a hamstring injury more or less put an end to that in early May. Westburg was out of the lineup entirely for four games and sat with a .216 batting average on 74 at-bats. Over the next 41 at-bats — a pivotal Florida series to end the regular season, the Tallahassee Regional, the Nashville Super Regional and Omaha — Westburg would raise his average as high as .261, getting 14 hits in those 41 at-bats (.341) before the final two games against Oregon State. Jordan Westburg believes that run laid the foundation for the elite hitter he is now.

“It was always in me. I think it took a little development, whether that’s mentally or being able to relax and let those tools I have come out,” he said.

This weekend, he returns to his home state as the proven commodity on a top 10 team. The Westburgs think as many as 30 or 40 people could make the drive 2 1/2 hours to College Station to see Jordan play against the Aggies this weekend; Jordan’s grandmother, Dot, has already drove from Philadelphia to be there: 1,700 miles from Philly to New Braunfels.

If not for a last-second drive to Starkville, this would be a weekly show in the Lone Star State.