Early in the spring of 1972, the five-years-young Dudy Noble Field, home to the then-unheralded Mississippi State baseball team, had a breakthrough of sorts.
For the first time in Starkville, the Bulldogs played a night game.
From the window of his dorm in Critz Hall, freshman Joe Dier could see the lights come on as he rose from his bed.
Like a lone bulb on an otherwise-dark porch or a campfire deep in the woods, the lights of Dudy Noble drew every student on campus, with Dier at the front of the line.
“That was one of those things that just attracted you,” he remembered. “It was a fun thing to do.”
41 years later, Dier’s career ended the same way it had truly begun: under the lights of Dudy Noble, as MSU celebrated its historic 2013 season, just two days after the College World Series.
The sports information director for MSU baseball, Dier announced his retirement today, ending a run in Starkville that started as a freshman back when he was 18.
The well-wishes have continued unrelentingly, with those both across the country and from many decades offering their congratulations, calling Dier a legend, a pro’s pro and “one of the good guys.”
While it is a loss for baseball fans, many have told him, they couldn’t be happier for Dier to enjoy retirement, something he began working toward so long ago.
After nearly 10 years as a reporter right out of college, Dier was hired by MSU’s athletic department in 1986 to work in sports information, assisting with just about every sport on campus.
Over the years, he worked with some sports more than others, though he took over his favorite, baseball, in 1996.
In his career, whether as student, reporter or MSU employee, he’s been to all but the very first of the Bulldogs’ nine College World Series appearances, starting in 1979 as the Bulldogs began to make a name for themselves.
“It was the year that we won the SEC Baseball Tournament here and hosted our first Regional here, and won that, and went to Omaha,” Dier recalled. “At that time, the College World Series was not that big destination, at least for the fans. That was a new thing for us and I think people got a taste of it then.”
That 1979 appearance was the first of four in just over a decade for MSU, as Dier followed along in the prime of Bulldog baseball, watching as legends like Ron Polk, Rafael Palmeiro, Will Clark and a seemingly endless list of others trotted out in front of the fans at The Dude.
“I was with the ’85 team, and that was a fun team to watch,” Dier continued. “There was a closeness very similar to the closeness we have seen with the 2013 team. That was a fun experience being involved with that team and watching the coaching staff direct the advancement to Omaha. The stadium was much smaller then, but you could see that the seeds of what we have today were being planted back in the mid ‘80s.”
As the Diamond Dawgs’ status evolved from middle of the pack to national powerhouse, Dier was along for the ride, living a life no better than he could imagine.
While others may have fantasized about being rock stars, astronauts or Presidents, Dier graduated from MSU knowing what would make him happy, however unlikely it seemed then.
Sports information may not have been at the top of everyone else’s list, but Dier couldn’t think of anything better.
“That was a dream job, but it was one of those you thought, ‘Gosh, wouldn’t it be great, but how many people get a chance to do that? There would have to be an awful lot of good hops of the ball to make it to a sports information office. ‘”
Of course, Dier did make it. And his ambitions to pursue such a career offer insight to who he is. He never wanted attention for himself. Dier fell in love with sports because he was a fan, spurring on those who competed on fields and courts.
Behind the scenes, he did the same for his beloved alma mater.
“I think that’s my nature and became my philosophy,” Dier said. “I’m primarily interested in the university and the athletes and the coaches getting the spotlight. People aren’t buying tickets to come see me. They want to see these athletes perform. My biggest thrust was to make sure that they were the ones getting the publicity they deserved at every opportunity.”
And that he did, from his first job in 1976, to his last day in 2013, as his Bulldogs left Omaha without a title but having become the favorites of both media and the locals.
Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels, once offered up an observation both as a mathematic truth and a philosophical opinion.
“The smallest circle hath as many degrees as the largest,” he wrote.
In a world where he remained in offices, press boxes and meetings as he promoted teams playing in front of thousands in person and millions on TV, Dier preferred to be the small circle, offering glory to the big circles, the legends, who passed through Mississippi State.
But, as Swift so perfectly implied, Dier’s job meant just as much, whether it seemed big or small, as those who he tirelessly brought attention to the last 30-plus years, never considering himself through it all.
Barely unpacked from his latest trip to the College World Series, Dier accomplished what so many dream to do. He went out on top.
“The run to Omaha this year was an incredible cap to everything for me,” he said. “To be a part of the best advancement for baseball here is something that will stay with me for a long, long time.”
After finishing “lots of yardwork,” he says, Dier will get to again be the wide-eyed freshman from so long ago, looking out of his dorm window at the bright lights over Dudy Noble Field.
“I look forward to becoming a fan and being in the stands as often as I can,” Dier said with a smile. “I started off being a fan and evolved into a person that thought it would be an attractive profession to give out the information. But I was a fan to begin with, and I’m hoping to return to that role very soon.”