“The strength of Mississippi State,” John Cohen told his team Saturday morning, “is our people. Our people are loyal. Our people are supportive.”
After that and the rest of his quick pep talk, MSU’s baseball team split into groups and drove around Starkville delivering season tickets to the local residents who supported them, an activity they’ve undertaken annually for years.
Tagging along with a full mug of coffee and a mental notepad, I graciously hopped in the car of chauffeur and junior pitcher Brandon Woodruff.
“She makes a few noises after 350,000 miles,” he said. “Well, 347,000,” he corrected after glancing at the odometer.
Squished in the middle of the backseat between Lucas Laster and Jacob Billingsley (Cody Walker called shotgun), we checked the five addresses on our envelopes of tickets.
What were the odds (and it was genuine chance, not planned) that my dad, Dr. Carskadon, was on the list.
His stop was the last one, though.
First was another house.
“We’re here to make your day, Mrs. Ellen,” Woodruff said looking at her door after checking the name tag as we parked in front of the house.
Each introduced themselves when she answered the door, greeted with a smile and handshake in return.
“We can’t wait to watch you,” she told them. “See you next weekend!”
Stop number two was actually the house next door, though we still pulled out of Mrs. Ellen’s driveway and parked along the curb in front of the Grantham house.
Then a wonderful Mississippi thing happened.
We waited for a moment, then turned as we heard some noise coming from the direction of the carport.
As we turned, the man of the house walked around the corner.
“Hey guys!” he called to us. “We’re country here. We don’t use front doors.”
He introduced himself, as we each did the same to him and his wife walked out the carport door.
“Do y’all mind if she takes our picture?” he asked.
Of course, they said. They’d love to take a picture.
“Alright, but y’all come give me a hug and tell me your names first,” she said.
Last in line, I told her, “I’m not actually on the team, but I’d still like a hug. I’m Bob.”
Introductions and hugs complete, we gathered up in the driveway and chatted while she tried to figure out the camera on her husband’s iPhone.
“You guys hunt or fish?” he asked.
“Oh yeah,” they each responded.
Woodruff eyed the man’s covered boat and asked if he did the same.
“Oh, I love it,” he said. “Just crappie.”
Finally, the photographer was ready. We leaned in, smiled and heard the click of the phone camera.
“Did I get it?” she asked, handing her husband the phone.
“I think you took a self picture,” he told her after checking the camera roll.
For whatever reason, the phone camera wouldn’t stop taking selfies, so she went for the iPad in the house. While we waited, he showed us pictures of his most recent crappie haul.
“Got all these on the river in one day,” he proudly told us.
After the iPad proved successful, we said our goodbyes, though she sadly told us she wasn’t going to make it for opening day.
“I haven’t been to a game in a couple years,” she admitted. “My arthritis won’t let me walk those stairs.”
“We wish she could come,” husband told us. “But the rest of us will be there. We can’t wait.”
“Well then we’re glad we got to see you today,” one of them said in response.
The journey to the next house was as fun as the delivery itself, using the talking GPS on our phones to find a road none of us were familiar with.
“I turned the voice off on mine,” someone said.
“I wish they had a redneck voice,” another replied. “I could understand that.”
“You should definitely write them about that,” came the response.
We made it to the house, though, finding a very gracious lady in her finest Saturday morning robe.
“I don’t want y’all standing out there in the rain too long,” she said after introductions and a few laughs on her front walk. “Thank you so much and good luck!”
House No. 4 was another example of the front door being near pointless, as a rap of the front knocker led to a voice coming from the carport door.
“Y’all had such a great season,” she said in congratulations for the College World Series run of last summer. “We’re excited about this one. I wish my son were here to see you, he’d be so excited.”
Poor guy, must be off somewhere else.
“He’s a truck driver,” she told us, “so he’s out of town. But he’ll be excited to know you guys came. Do you mind if I get a picture?”
Stop No. 5 was, finally, my dad, who I called to make sure he was home and knew to answer the door.
Woodruff, it turns out, had just taken his psychology class at MSU the previous year, an experience he remembered fondly.
“You couldn’t skip class,” he recalled in reference to the strict attendance policy, “but you don’t want to with him. He makes class fun.”
Not that any student-athlete would skip class at MSU, of course.
Woodruff knocked on the door upon arrival and we heard a voice call from inside.
“Did he say to come in?”
“I didn’t hear,” I responded, “but sure.”
So, I opened the door right as he walking up to it.
“We’ve got your season tickets, Mr. Tom,” Woodruff told him. “I took your class last year and loved it.”
“Aw, well it’s great to see a scholar,” Dr. C responded. “And I can’t wait for the season. I’ll be there.”
More pleasantries were exchanged before we headed back to Woodruff’s old car, morning deliveries finished.
“Bye guys,” my dad called with a big smile on his face. “Thank you!”
While the point of the annual delivery is to do something nice for the local season-ticket holders and loyal fans, the experience means just as much to the players who do it. Outfield fences and infield walls separate team from fans during games, but things like this give them an opportunity to hop over that metaphoric wall and talk those who make the games possible.
On either side, it’s just as Cohen said – it’s the people that make Mississippi State special.
Oh, and breakfast, the guys agreed as deliveries wrapped up a little after 9. It’s time to eat.