By Brett Hudson
STARKVILLE — Rowdey Jordan has a calm presence about him. He exudes quiet confidence through a generally chill vibe, one that doesn’t change much whether he’s standing on first base after a single or getting roasted by teammates at batting practice.
His father, Kevin, wasn’t blessed with that quality when it comes to Rowdey’s performance. When the cruel nature of baseball strikes Rowdey, the player keeps his cool, identifies minor corrections to be made and goes about them; the father grows concerned for future playing time, eagerly awaiting the luck to reverse so Rowdey’s lineup spot is assured.
Every year to date, Rowdey has been right. He’s always been swinging a hot bat as the postseason comes, and in his first two years at Mississippi State it’s to the tune of a .400 career batting average in the NCAA Tournament (26-for-65) and MVP honors of last week’s Starkville Regional. It’s also come with the adoration of the MSU fan base that has Kevin Jordan, “ in awe,” never more than when a Rowdey chant takes over Dudy Noble Field.
The name that Rowdey admits probably contributes to his popularity is the only one he’s ever known — and one that’s not on his birth certificate.
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Kevin and Angel Jordan had a deal: he would name the boys, she would name the girls. They ultimately had three girls and a boy, but Rowdey came first.
Kevin was still searching for ideas when he watched Days of Thunder, the 1990 Tom Cruise film on life in NASCAR and the rivalry between his Cole Trickle character and Rowdy Burns, played by Michael Rooker. Kevin was drawn to the rivalry, to the character and to the name, so his mind was made up. Angel — then a school teacher, since retired — refused to have her colleagues see her son’s name on the role call sheet as Rowdey Jordan, so Rowdey’s birth certificate (and roll call) name is William Kevin Jordan Jr., “which I was very much opposed to,” Kevin Jordan says.
(So much for that naming agreement.)
Kevin would ultimately get his way: Rowdey Jordan can’t remember a day when he didn’t go by Rowdey, and Kevin Jordan confirms he’s been called Rowdey his entire life.
At mention of the movie, Rowdey asks, “Is that a NASCAR movie?” Clearly he’s never seen the movie that produced his name, but Rowdey Jordan also says he doesn’t watch a ton of movies. He’s open to coming across it one day and watching it, but apparently that day isn’t now.
In an ironic twist, Rowdey Jordan wasn’t all that rowdy as a child. Kevin Jordan said he has a subdued nature like his mother — “Unlike his daddy, with my mouth.” — which has served him well as his baseball seasons tend to follow a bumpy arc.
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As recently as two months ago, Rowdey Jordan’s 2019 was defined by a slump: the slump that had a .321 hitter from a year ago hitting .245 through 30 games, the slump that saw him miss a start (the final game of the series at Florida) for the first time in 53 games dating back to last season. Kevin Jordan
It helps that Rowdey has been here before. Kevin Jordan estimates Rowdey went through a 2-for-20 slump to start his junior season of high school and wasn’t lights out to start his senior season — far from his season-long hot streak as a sophomore that saw the Auburn native lead the state in hitting — but in all instances, Rowdey Jordan had it going when the games mattered most.
At Mississippi State, that trend has continued: Rowdey Jordan has hit .223 in March in his MSU career, and that number is boosted by his uncanny ability to punish his hometown Auburn Tigers coming in March of this season; if not for this year’s Auburn series, Rowdey Jordan’s March batting average would go down to .198.
But as a Bulldog, June has belonged to Rowdey. His .400 NCAA Tournament batting average and .646 NCAA Tournament slugging have made him a postseason hero — for reasons he can’t explain.
“I don’t know what it is the last two years where it wasn’t there at the beginning of the year and at the end of the year it is,” Rowdey Jordan said. “Getting some at-bats under you — I got 200 under me now — so I don’t know, just seeing the ball well and putting good swings on it.”
Kevin Jordan recognizes fortune’s role in all this: fortunate that Rowdey did so well last year that a coaching staff might be willing to let him find it through struggles, and fortunate that a new coaching staff was willing to do it on word of mouth alone.
Chris Lemonis is able to explain it easily: Rowdey Jordan’s postseason form is a result of Rowdey’s truest self shining through undeterred.
“He’s not thinking about it. He’s not a great thinker, just point him to the plate and let him play,” Lemonis said. “Early in the year he got caught up in trying to think about it and do too much; now that he’s relaxed and just playing, he’s one of our more enjoyable kids to coach. He’s always in a great mood when he runs out there.
“If he just relaxes and lets the game come to him he’s really good, and you’re seeing that right now.”