Toward the end of every preseason, in any sport, coaches and players share some form of the quote “we’re ready to stop playing against each other and go against other people.”
Toward the end of the regular and postseasons in baseball, those same coaches and players realize they may be saying goodbye to their teammates for good, at least at the college and high school levels where graduation and the MLB keep young men from spending more than a few years together.
In an odd happenstance, Mississippi State junior pitcher Jacob Lindgren found himself bucking both of those trends, when he pitched against his former high school teammate on Sunday afternoon as his Bulldogs hosted Arkansas.
MSU has a full host of players from the Mississippi coast, but only Lindgren is from Bay St. Louis, where he played high school ball at St. Stanislaus alongside Razorback designated hitter Krisjon Wilkerson.
Wilkerson was actually Lidngren’s catcher back in those formative days, offering him a bit of insight on MSU’s undefeated reliever, even if it has been a few years.
“We used to face each other all the time in intra-squad games,” Lindgren said. “He knows everything about me. It was kind of cool getting to face him. We hung out the past couple days. Took him out to eat. It’s all good.”
Oddly enough, the pair wasn’t far from being college teammates, as the athletic Wilkerson was actually a two-sport walk-on at MSU, playing both baseball and football, though he quickly decided to go to a junior college and up his value on the diamond. The result landed him at Arkansas, eventually bringing him face-to-face with his old high school pitcher on a trip back to Starkville.
Wilkerson did have a single early in the game Sunday before Lindgren got in the game, but when the teammates met at plate and mound, Lindgren got the better of the match-up, striking out Wilkerson swinging to end the seventh inning.
On the day, it was quite an impressive performance for Lindgren, securing the win (his third of the season) and striking out eight batters in four innings pitched, only allowing one hit. The Bulldogs went on to win 5-1, now tied for No. 1 in the SEC and the western division with a 6-3 conference record, winning all three of their series’ so far.
While baseball was still waiting to begin, the MSU softball team started their third and final game of the weekend against Marshall at noon, the Bulldogs hoping to get the series sweep.
After four years of practice, training, watching, cheering and waiting, it was the first start for the senior. She didn’t know it was coming until shortly before the game, and her parents didn’t find out until they heard their daughter’s name called in the starting lineup.
As luck would have it, they were in Starkville to watch.
“I went and gave my dad the biggest hug,” Zdeb said after the game. “It felt really good.”
Zdeb has been an emotional, mental and physical backbone for the team, always one of the hardest workers no matter the situation, be it in the weight room or class room.
Few in the dugout are as supportive as Zdeb (which you can read about in the Dog Pound story here), and anyone who saw my efforts to complete the Bulldog Break-In last year will find it easy to believe that she is one of the most fit and strong on the team.
The Bulldogs entered the fourth inning on Sunday leading the Thundering Herd 4-1. Zdeb was the first batter up for the bottom frame.
Dad watched from the stands as daughter stood at the plate, swung and knocked the ball deep into the outfield for a leadoff double. The crowd cheered as always, while Zdeb’s teammates in the dugout erupted, yelling and clapping for their senior.
Before long, Zdeb was batted in, scoring the first in a five-run inning which ultimately led to MSU run-ruling Marshall for a 9-1 win.
“I just wanted to get on base for my teammates,” Zdeb said. “I felt really comfortable today. I just trusted myself and trusted the work and the practice. I’m really happy that it turned out the way it did.”