When John Cohen was a kid, his dad shared a parable with him that he’s always remembered. Everyone’s version is a little different, but the story Cohen recalls from childhood goes something like this one.
A man was walking down the streets of New York when he fell through a hole into the sewer. All day he called out for help and no one could get him out. A Wall Street trader passed by and wrote him a check. A reporter saw him trapped and stopped to take a picture.
Finally, the man saw his friend look into the sewer. When he asked for help, the friend jumped into the sewer with him.
“What are you doing?!” he yelled at his friend. “I’ve been yelling all day and you were my only hope. Now we’re both trapped.”
“Don’t worry,” the friend told the man. “I know how to get out of here. Follow me.”
Decades later, the little boy who heard the story from his dad is now the head coach of his own baseball team.
As Cohen met with Mississippi State’s players before their opener against Georgia in the SEC Tournament, he told them that same parable. He then went on to explain the meaning and the application for his Bulldogs.
“I’ve been keeping track of tournaments all day,” he told them. “Every team I’ve seen who has found a way to win did it by the leadership of juniors and seniors.”
His point: when you’re in a hole, you need the experience of someone who has been there before and knows how to get out.
In the sixth inning Tuesday night, MSU was in one of those holes. UGA was up 2-1 and State hadn’t scored since the second inning. Even then it was just one run.
Win that night, and you get to the double-elimination portion of the SEC Tournament. Lose – you go home.
“Having the TV in the background today, almost every game in the country right now is like this,” Cohen said after the game. “They’re all close games. It’s a high level of baseball.”
When two of his batters got on base in the sixth, Cohen saw an opportunity. His team was in the hole, but he had the man to throw down in the hole with them, the man who knew how to get out.
He hadn’t been on the field at all, save warm-ups in pre-game. In fact, MSU’s team captain hadn’t swung at a pitch or stood at the plate all night.
But with the opportunity for MSU to get the lead, Cohen sent Wes Rea into the game. MSU’s burly, bearded and experienced leader stepped into the batter’s box with the outcome of the game on his shoulders.
What happened next could only come from the confidence of someone who knows where he is, where he’s going and how to get there.
It only took one pitch. The first throw from the mound came and Rea swung the bat from over his shoulders like Paul Bunyan taking a cut at a tree with his great axe.
No hesitation. No waiting. No signs of coming in cold having not played at all that night.
Bat collided with ball and Rea sent a hard shot to deep right center. It hit the grass and kept on rolling as his teammates kept on running. By the end of the lightning-quick play, Rea stood at second base with his arms raised in the air and MSU had taken a 3-2 lead over Georgia. Those two runs were the catalyst to what ended in Rea’s team winning 5-4.
When MSU was in a hole, Cohen knew exactly who could get them out. His speech pre-game could’ve easily been about the team captain.
“That’s the old Wes Rea,” Cohen said. “That’s huge for him and for our ball club … I said many times, even when he wasn’t playing as much, that for us to win ball games, he has to be a factor for our team late in the season.”