At the College World Series in Omaha last summer, Jake Wells left each game and found his phone packed full of messages from friends.
“Every time Wes Rea gets on first base,” Wells remembered with a smile, “I get to be on TV.”
The follow-up question from friends and fans alike who saw him was some variation of “What is it you do?”
After all, it’s the third base coach doing all the work, telling players when to run. A batter doesn’t exactly need someone to tell him to go to first base after a hit.
“A lot of people think the first base coach just kind of stands around,” Wells admitted.
“We’ve got signals that are being relayed in from third base,” Wells began. “We’ve got the outfielders and infielders positioning. We’ve gotta help guys on turns, help guys on backpick tags, help them on base running as far as fly-ball communication – where is it at? Hit-and-runs, if the ball is in the air, they gotta get back.”
Oh, is that it?
Of course, in those moments when Wells is on TV, he’s typically seen chatting with his player on his first base.
Light conversation, perhaps. An expressed desire for the game to end so they can eat, maybe?
“There’s some times that we have fun,” Wells conceded, “We chat a little bit, but most of the time it’s important information. We’ve got break times. How fast is the pitcher getting to the plate? What kind of arm does the guy behind the plate have if we’re in a running situation?
“Where outfielders are positioned, are we gonna be able to go first-to-third? Telling them to be locked in on a certain move. Maybe we’ve got a scouting report on a guy that picks on a certain point of his delivery. It’s a constant lock in from pitch-to-pitch to give those guys the opportunity to advance.”
Point taken, Coach.
Though those fun moments do come naturally for Wells, the youngest member of John Cohen’s staff at MSU.
Wells will joke he doesn’t have the lengthy resume he should for such a position, but less than two years ago he was actually a head coach.
He was named the skipper at Marion Military Institute at the young age of 26, and it was there he started the relationships ultimately bringing him to Starkville.
A native of Texas, Wells made a point of recruiting talent from the Lonestar State immediately upon arrival. One of his first signees was a young pitcher many Bulldog fans are familiar with – Luis Pollorena.
When MSU began recruiting Pollorena – then playing at Marion – Wells developed a relationship with State’s pitching coach, Butch Thompson. Not long after, the coordinator of camps position came open at MSU, which Wells jumped for and received after multiple calls on his behalf.
Last season, his first at MSU, was particularly enjoyable behind the plate for Wells. Not only did he have two experienced and talented senior ctatchers to work with, he was coaching the same position he himself played.
Wells loved the sport his whole life, playing it all through high school, college and into the professional world.
It was because he loved baseball so much that he never actually wanted to be a coach, though it’s also the same reason he found himself a coach now.
Wells’ mom, outside of fostering that passion for sport, was also the athletic director at his high school. Her familiarity with sports (and belief in her son) provided her with a clear message to her young catcher.
“I’ll never forget this, my mom was a huge influence in my life,” Wells said. “She told me, ‘You don’t ever wanna be a coach, because the day that you’re a coach, that means your playing career is over.’
“I always said, I don’t wanna coach because I wanna keep playing.”
But then life, as it so often does, happened.
While Wells had the time of his young life playing baseball for a meager living in the independent leagues, he had also fallen in love with something much more real – a girl. The one he would go on to marry, in fact.
Once they were engaged, Wells paused to examine his life and figure out what was best.
As bachelor, traveling around the country for little pay and playing games with next to no benefits was fun.
As a husband, as a man with a family, the downsides became a bit more difficult to look past.
So, after deciding with his fiance they wanted to have a family, feelers went out. It was time to admit the day his mother told him about had come.
One night as he was on the road “in a hotel somewhere in Texas,” Wells got a call from the athletic director at the school he had spent some time coaching at in the offseasons – Marion Military Institute. She offered him the head job and, of course, he accepted.
“I don’t know if I could have an opportunity to be around a better staff than here,” Wells said. “I was a head coach at 26, I’ve played all my life, but I still had a lot to learn about the game. I’ve learned so much from these guys here. They’re just unbelievable baseball guys. It’s been a true blessing.”
And while the rest of his young career likely won’t keep him at MSU forever, he wouldn’t be too upset if he somehow never left.
“It’s hard to explain,” Wells said. But he tried to, anyway. “Obviously, my goals in life are to advance and continue to move up the coaching ladder, but it’s gonna be tough to leave a place like this. I don’t know if there’s a place in the country that compares.
The fans that we have here – it’s mind-blowing the support we get from the university, the community, the whole state of Mississippi. It’s unbelievable.”
And, surely, it didn’t hurt to find himself at the College World Series in his first season on the job.
“Omaha was wild, man,” Wells said with a huge smile. “Being able to stand in the first base box in Omaha in the Championship Series was special.”
Though, it turns out, as special as that was, it wasn’t a completely foreign experience. After the first NCAA Regional in a decade at MSU, Wells had seen what a genuinely passionate college baseball crowd could be.
“The stadium’s not as big as TD Ameritrade, obviously,” Wells said of MSU, “but it feels like the same amount of people because the stadium’s on top of you here at Dudy Noble. With the lounge and the chairbacks, it’s right there. Omaha’s crowd atmosphere wasn’t different. Dudy Noble’s atmosphere seems like the same and how it gets crazy with the fans.
“But the view,” Wells did admit, mind’s eye imagining the sights from first base in Omaha, “you can’t beat the view, man.”