In my time covering Mississippi State, I have asked a lot of athletes a lot of questions, and heard questions being answered from my cohorts on the beat. From Dak Prescott to Victoria Vivians, if you have played in maroon and white, chances are I have heard you give myself or somebody else a cliched, coach-speak response to a question. Very rarely does an athlete give an answer that makes me pause and really think about what they said, and what they meant. Even rarer still do I feel that answer is a genuine look into the soul of that player, that he or she is truly telling you what they feel at that moment.
On Saturday, I had such a moment when I asked Jake Mangum about his time at Mississippi State, his path that has seen him work with four different head coaches, all while having great individual and team success. Mangum’s answer could become the new motto for Diamond Dawg baseball. It strikes me as something we could soon seen on a graphic on social media, or on a plaque inside the newly remodeled Dudy Noble Field. I felt Mangum was doing more than answering my question, I felt he was giving me and everybody else listening a true look at what drives him, what brought him back to Starkville after being drafted by the New York Yankees, and what motivates him as he looks to make a return to the College World Series and a run for the program’s first national title.
Said Mangum, “You know, four coaches in four years is tossed around a lot, but like I said, you play for what the program represents, and the tradition here, you never go out there for any day of practice or a game….there might be some days where I don’t want to be out there, feeling bad, long day of school, long terrible test, you name it. The tradition and the what it means to play here is what gets you through that. Fake it ’til you make it some days, you think about these guys, the ’85 team, the ’16 team, the ’13 team, there’s so many moments that you think back on whenever you aren’t having that good day. But that’s what you play for. If I talked to Burke Masters right now, what would he say? He would love to be out there today, he would love to be out there in a 20 degree game in the snow, he would love to go back out there and wear this one more time. (Jake pointed to the logo on his hat at that moment.) So that’s kind of what you think about. You think about the tradition here, the guys who would give anything to come back out here one more day, and that’s what I think about. This is my last year. The guys who might not play at the next level, think about that, this is all we got right now. So you just think back about what we’ve had here, and all the guys who would give anything to play one more game, relive one more moment. That’s what you think about.”
Mangum is already one of the most beloved athletes in Mississippi State history, regardless of sport. His name will be in the same pantheon as not only Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro, Brent Rooker and the other greats who have graced the diamond, but alongside Dak, Darryl Wilson, and Fred Smoot as the icons of future generations of Bulldogs. His numbers alone have made him an All-American, the wins he’s been a part of will be long remembered by the maroon and white faithful. But it’s answers like this, that show that Mississippi State is more than just the place he chose to go college, that will forever endear him to those who call Mississippi State home. Jake Mangum spoke from the heart on Saturday. He will lead from the heart when the Bulldogs begin the season on February 15th. Regardless of how it ends, Mangum’s legacy will be one long remembered after he takes his final at-bat.