The last anything is always a little sentimental by nature, and the last of a good thing is impossible to be enjoyed without a hint of sadness. Time has a habit of speeding up during the things we enjoy, so the best way to fight back is just to take more time.
Saturday morning, around 10, the first grill in the Left Field Lounge was lit. After allowing the coals to heat up, biscuits, sausage and tins of molded eggs were thrown on to be cooked and served for breakfast, a day-long tradition to say goodbye once more to Dudy Noble Field and Mississippi State baseball at the last game of the year.
That early in the day, there’s no music on, no crowds buzzing with conversation. The only sounds are cars driving by and the tin of the rakes from the grounds crew. In that moment, there’s nothing to distract the small group from each other. They’ve got nothing to do but relax in each other’s presence.
Sometimes it’s good to just be. No tweeting, texting or critical thinking. Just hanging around with food and friends enjoying the company, conversation, sun and slow moments provided by the day.
There aren’t many relationships quite like the ones you have with the people you watch baseball games with. For a consecutive four or five months, you spend almost every weekend with the same group. Others mix in and out, as well, but the core stays intact the whole way through. In the Lounge, in the grandstands or even in the press box, you commit to spending anywhere from four to eight hours a game for almost 40 games a year with each other. You pass the time together as the earth slowly turns from the end of winter to the start of summer.
Then, with the result of one pitch, it stops. There aren’t many social communities quite like it. Churches, service clubs and even friendships at work, they continue uninterrupted until you decide to leave. Baseball gets stopped for you, and you don’t always know when it’s coming.
The same can be said for the players, who fight, fight and fight every game, every inning and every out, only to reach the final moment and realize the game they worked so hard to end is the very thing they want to go on forever.
Just as some arrived a little early in the outfield to get some extra time in on their last day at The Dude, the players happened to take the game a little longer than anticipated, going all the way to the 12th inning. They didn’t intend for it to happen that way, but it was almost as if the baseball gods were giving the fans who cheered so hard and the seniors who worked so long just a little more time to enjoy it.
Wes Rea, Trevor Fitts, Ross Mitchell and Matthew Britton have put their entire collegiate careers into MSU baseball, and their names will be remembered for what they accomplished. Lucas Laster, Seth Heck, Cody Walker and Jake Vickerson took their own paths to Dudy Noble, choosing to believe in MSU and rest their futures on the result.
When Saturday afternoon had turned into Saturday night, Seth Heck stepped up to the plate for what would turn out to be his last time in front of the Mississippi State crowd. He waited for the pitch as his parents, in town for only the second time all season, watched from the same spot in the outfield where breakfast had begun so many hours before.
Heck’s last at-bat was an RBI single in the 12th inning, a walk-off in every sense of the phrase for the senior from the state of Washington. The hit scored Jake Vickerson, who raced home only to find that his sprint to the plate ended a marathon he began in Starkville two years ago. They won; the Bulldogs won.
The home finale will always be a little bittersweet, but in a non-perfect season, the ending for many turned out as perfectly as could be wanted – much more sweet than bitter.