The 2019 Diamond Dawgs were good to watch, but better to know

By Brett Hudson

OMAHA, Neb. — It was shockingly easy for Cole Gordon to find appreciation in the lowest moment of his baseball life.

He just spent dozens of minutes in the outfield, receiving consolation words and hugs from every teammate, coach and staffer in a 50-foot radius — and judging by the red patches under his eyes, he needed every second of it. He was surrounded by heartbreak and was arguably feeling it more than any other, Gordon found positive in the painful ending to a trip he didn’t have to take.

“Looking back on it, there was nothing I could see myself doing but what we did this year,” he said. “Getting one more chance to go side-by-side for a whole year with these guys, these are things I’ll never forget and things that will never leave.”

Gordon was able to find that perspective because he was a part of the group that, yes, was one of the best teams in Mississippi State history.

The record books will remember the 2019 bunch fondly, but the throngs of people that followed it will remember it even better. It will be remembered as a group of Diamond Dawgs that was easy to love.

None embody that better than Jake Mangum, the four-year fixture that gave this year’s team and the program moments it will remember forever. The plays that lead his Mississippi State highlight reel will be ones with effort and passion at the forefront — conveniently, the two things he wants to be remembered for.

In Mangum, this group of Bulldogs had its marquee figure, its flashy attraction. Mangum drew thousands to the team as they hoped to witness history, to witness the given day’s record-book climbing. In doing so, he brought those thousands to a journey as enticing as the entire university has seen in decades.

They saw Ethan Small do his own damage to the record book and JT Ginn poise himself to do the same in years to come. They saw Justin Foscue become a slugging monster, the complete reinvention of Dustin Skelton and the realization of Jordan Westburg’s God-given tools.

They saw those feats of athleticism combine, creating a team baffling consistent in a game that known for everything but. In 65 games, these Bulldogs had all of four losing streaks, and only one of them lasted longer than two games; the other one lasted three games. They saw a team rack up double-digit hits in 42 of its 67 games (62.6 percent) and strikeout over three batters for every one it walked.

They saw compelling baseball. They saw more compelling people.

Elijah MacNamee took physical and emotional duress — broken foot from a base path run and broken heart from no MLB Draft selection — just to conclude his senior season as the beloved Big Hit Mac all the same. Peyton Plumlee rose from the rock bottom of his life and the top of college baseball, the ball in his hand for most of the game that sent these Bulldogs to Omaha.

Jared Liebelt changed his outlook on baseball and learned to love it again — as he was dominating it. Marshall Gilbert changed positions for his storybook ending, Brad Cumbest changed sports daily in March and Luke Alexander changed from player to coach, just to find himself on the biggest stage once again.

In the final days, this team had no choice but to be in elite company. It is one of just 11 in its school’s history to get to Omaha and one of just nine to win a game here. It was never shy of its goals higher than what it ultimately accomplished.

It will also be hard to forget.

The 2020 Bulldogs, the 2021 team after them and beyond have an unenviable task on their hands. Yes, they have to attempt to win the national championship the group this good could not, but all told, that’s reasonable. Championship-caliber talent is in no short supply in Starkville and will not be any time in the near future.

The teams to come have to replace a crop of compelling, lovable legends. No amount of talent possible can guarantee that success.