This is twice in one week now that this space has been filled with a story about an interview with Andy Cannizaro, but hey, the guy is a great quote. And not just that, but he enjoys talking and having conversation, and he’ll be the first to relay a good anecdote or story when one is available.
Today, Mississippi State’s head coach was asked, among many other things, how the decision came up to take Brant Blaylock, an outfielder who hadn’t pitched since three years ago in high school, and put him on the mound in the SEC. Of course, the reporter asking the question knew why Cannizaro used Blaylock – there wasn’t anyone else. It’s the same reason outfielder Jake Mangum has a winning record as a pitcher this year. It’s the same reason first baseman Cole Gordon is MSU’s Saturday starter on the mound.
At a certain point, it’s almost funny. And when Cannizaro told the story of how all these oddities came to pass, he elicited more than a few laughs from the small herd of reporters standing in semi-circle around him.
Typically, a journalist is trained to not use too many quotes in stories. Anything that can be said by the writer doesn’t need to be quoted from a source. If it’s just a fact, the writer can say it. Use quotes to add opinions, reactions and unique thoughts or observations.
But, in this case, Cannizaro did a great job of telling the story on his own. He doesn’t need a reporter to chop up his words and write another story. So, these are the conversations had between Cannizaro and the press today.
“With a guy like Brant,” one question began, “did you ask him to pitch, or did he come up to you and suggest it?”
Cannizaro: You know what, probably, maybe, let’s call it a month-and-a-half ago, maybe two months ago, we had so many pitchers that were hurt. Like we’ve talked about all year, it is what it is. None of these guys are getting healthy, so we’ve got a limited staff.
So, we were in a hitters meeting and I just kind of threw the question out there: “Guys, like, this is a very serious, real question. Who can pitch? Do we have anybody in this room right now that can go get us some innings, that would like to start throwing bullpens? Who pitched in high school? You know, who had a really good high school career as a pitcher?” And Blaylock was the first guy to raise his arm. He was like, “I can get them out.” That’s exactly what he did. I was like, “Really?” He said, “Yeah, give me the ball.” I said, “Beautiful. You have a pen in 45 minutes with Coach Henderson.”
So, he ran down there and threw his first bullpen and Hendu came back and was like, “Hey, that was pretty good. He’s got feel for commanding the fastball, spun the breaking ball.” It was obviously rusty; he hadn’t done it in three years. So he’s continued to throw bullpens once a week, longtoss, doing those kinds of things in case he needed to pitch. We got him on the mound three weeks ago against South Alabama. He pitched against Alabama last weekend and did a great job for us.
We talk all the time; it’s all hands on deck. Who can help Mississippi State win baseball games? And if there’s a role for you right now, with the number of guys we have on our team, you’re going to get an opportunity.
So, Brant stepped up, put his arm up and 45 minutes later he’s in a bullpen, three weeks later he’s pitching in a game, four weeks later he’s beating Alabama. It’s kinda cool, man.
We talk about taking it back to the USSSA days where you had 12 guys on the team and everybody hit and everybody pitched and everybody played every day. Our team has done a great job of embracing that part of it this year. We’ve got position players that are starting SEC weekend games. We’ve got position players playing positions that they’ve never done before. We’ve got pitchers that are pinch hitting. We’ve got all kinds of crazy stuff going on. It’s a blast to be around our group every day.
Our guys have really embraced the challenge this year and they’ve stepped up each and every day. They’re having a blast playing baseball. We want to try to create an environment where our guys love coming to the field every day, where our guys love playing as hard as they can each and every day to try to help Mississippi State win baseball games. They’ve done that and it’s such a blast to be around these guys right now.
“Did anybody else in that meeting raise their hand and say they want to pitch that we might see this year?” someone asked as a follow-up.
Cannizaro: Yeah! Cole Gordon raised his hand. Jake Mangum raised his hand. So those guys are all pitching right now. It’s been a great team to be around because they’ve bought into the team concept of doing whatever they can to help us win. All of those guys that raised their hand in that meeting have now pitched very meaningful innings for us and have won SEC ball games and done things to help our team win. It’s been really cool to watch.
“So you’re not hiding Josh Lovelady from us, is what you’re saying?”
Cannizaro: Well, I think Josh Lovelady could pitch, but it would be one of those Bugs Bunny things where he pitched, sprinted to the plate and caught it, also.
We’ve got so many great team guys now that are doing everything they can to help us win ball games. It’s a great group, like I keep saying, to be around. They bring it every day. They play as hard as they can. There’s a lot of pride with our guys in terms of just wanting to represent the past that’s been here at Mississippi State.
We have a smaller roster right now of active players than anybody in college baseball, probably. Our expectation level has never wandered at all this year. We expect to win ball games, but it’s the process of getting there that our guys have really embraced, in terms of playing a complete nine innings, being ready to do whatever you can do on any given day to help us win. So, it’s been a really cool group to be around.