The legend of how the Left Field Lounge began, despite what one would guess, is circulated by only a few. Those who know the tale, this is the story they tell.
When Mississippi State opened its new baseball stadium in 1967, everything was perfect for those regularly in attendance, save one issue: the smelly farmer. A local farmer, who was also a big baseball fan, would come straight to the games after putting in a day’s work and join his friends to watch the Bulldogs in their fancy new stadium. The trouble was that the farmer smelled like, well, a farm.
After deciding there was no reasonable alternative, the farmer was banished from the stands and sent to the other side of the outfield fence where he could back up his pickup and sit in the bed of the truck to watch the game. And so, the Left Field Lounge was born, growing over the years from one farmer and his truck to dozens of rigs and thousands of fans comprising the greatest spectacle in college baseball.
That legend, like most legends, has a small nugget of truth surrounded by a great many falsehoods and exaggerations, and is far from the real story. But within the convenient and humorous tale is where the story truly begins. The Left Field Lounge really was started by a farmer, even if the parts about his particular farm-ish scent were likely later added by friends who wanted to tease him.
The trouble is, the farmer denies that it was him. Well, he denies it was just him, anyway.
“I wanna say this,” Everett Kennard began when asked what he knew about the beginning of the story, “there are a lot of people that give me credit for starting the Left Field Lounge. The Left Field Lounge was not started by any one person. The Left Field Lounge was organized by a group of which I was a part.”
And it is certainly the case that a core collection of people made up the original group from which the Lounge grew, but any from that time who are asked are quick to give credit to Kennard, and there can be no doubt that the former farmer spearheaded many of the efforts that led to the growth and success of the Lounge over the last 50 years.
“They had a dairy farm out at Oktoc,” Kennard’s friend and fellow Lounge-founder Jimmy Willcutt recalled. “He’d get through with his milking and just come out there and sit in his pickup.”
Early pictures of the Left Field Lounge and the new MSU baseball field. Above: from the 1971 MSU yearbook. Below: From the 1969 MSU year book.
Courtesy: MSU Libraries
Naturally, people started joining him. If anything, it wasn’t that anyone was avoiding the grandstands, but that you could show up late and no one had to pay to watch from their truck in the outfield. You couldn’t charge someone for a seat if they brought their own. At least not yet, anyway.
“From there,” Kennard explained, “people just started pulling up out there, and it’s just like you’ve heard. Somebody brought out a blanket. Somebody brought out an ice chest. Somebody brought out a grill. The Left Field Lounge started and it was just game-by-game. You just pull up there and then go home.”
So, that’s how it began. But, how the Left Field Lounge grew, how it blossomed from a couple pickups to the show it is today, follows the story of Mississippi State baseball itself.
The lounging began in 1967 when the new stadium opened, but it came in the middle of a most extraordinary run for MSU’s baseball team. By the end of 1971, the Bulldogs had won four SEC Championships in the last seven seasons under head coach Paul Gregory, and in 1972, something revolutionary came along and changed the baseball experience forever: lights.
Before the 1972 season, MSU installed lights at Dudy Noble field for the very first time. So then, Loungers not only had the promise of good baseball, but they had all the opportunities that a full day and night could provide.
“Now, there’s when it took off,” Kennard said.
More and more people began to join in the fun, and the experience grew so popular that even visiting fans were finding their way to other side of the chain link fence at Dudy Noble. To this day, all are welcome in the Lounge, but in 1972, in that first year under the lights, the hospitality was a bit more, shall we say, fickle.
Back then, MSU and Ole Miss would play a three-game series in both Oxford and Starkville every season. Midway through the SEC slate, the rival Rebels were in town, and with the team had come a handful of fans. Now, visiting fans were expected and accepted, but a particularly brazen crew of UM faithful – football players, some claim – had not only taken to the Lounge, but they flew an Ole Miss flag from the top of their truck.
Well, that was a bit much for a pair of young MSU fans, and to show their disdain, those two brothers went and took the flag down and promptly burned it on their grill. No other solution could have seemed so natural to them. However, the gesture was less than appreciated by the owners of the flag, and they had, among a few other things, strong words for the Bulldogs surrounding them.
“And it was one heck of a brawl, brother,” said Kennard with a laugh, who watched a massive scrum unfold from his truck in far left field. “They might have had three cops at the game at that time and all three of them came running. It spread up and down left field pretty good.”
That, as is turned out, was the peak of the early years of the Lounge. The last couple years of Gregory’s career saw a slide in success ultimately ending in his retirement. A single and immensely unsuccessful season followed in 1975 under Jimmy Bragan, the head coach whose tenure at State ended almost as soon as it started, and all of a sudden, the Lounge, like the program, was struggling.
Before Left Field Lounge was settled on as the name, the area was called many things, including the Beer Garden
Photo courtesy: MSU Libriaries (1978 Reveille)
But in the fall of 1975 came perhaps the most important moment in the history of Mississippi State baseball, and the Left Field Lounge by association: Ron Polk was hired as the new head coach at MSU.
With what he considered to be a singularly terrible team, Polk managed to wrangle a winning record in his first season in 1976. He followed that up with a junior college-heavy signing class – including one Nat “Buck” Showalter – that helped set the foundation for the career of the winningest coach in MSU history and one of the greatest minds and leaders college baseball has ever produced.
As the wins returned en masse, so did the Lounge. During those early years, a Left Field Lounge Committee was founded, led by Kennard and a handful of others from the original crew, tasked with making sure everyone was happy and, more importantly, safe. The Lounge was growing, and it made sense why.
“Let’s face it,” Kennard said. “Football wasn’t very good. Basketball at that time wasn’t very good. It was what Mississippi State could hang its hat on. That had a lot to do with the popularity of baseball. Yes, people here have always liked baseball, but it got big at Mississippi State because it was the sport that we could stick our chest out and say, ‘this is us.’”
By 1978, people had started building their own sets of miniature bleachers to put in the beds of their trucks, and the contraptions and inventions only grew from there. By the early ‘80s, when Polk had really gotten things rolling, MSU had begun charging for access to the Lounge – which only seemed fair as those in the stadium had to pay for tickets, too – and they started letting people bring their trucks in Saturday morning before game one (this was when weekend schedules consisted of a Saturday doubleheader and single Sunday game) and leave them there all weekend.
The idea was to make things more orderly, and to some degree that goal was accomplished. Trucks would start lining up on Friday, and Kennard would actually arrive as early as Wednesday with his camper that he would ultimately park on the hill by the bathrooms (built so that Loungers wouldn’t have to keep using the cow pasture behind the Lounge – when nature called, it was to nature that man went). MSU would put alerts in the local newspaper that they would open the gate at 10 a.m. Saturday for trucks to enter.
It was nice, at first. But with demand growing and supply remaining static, chaos ensued as those in line at the gate were allowed to enter.
“The best description I can give is the old western movies with the covered wagons and the land rush,” Willcutt, a 1964 MSU graduate, explained. “Everybody tore out. Everybody was trying to get a particular spot. Fistfights broke out. That occurred for several years. It was quite stressful and entertaining for those few years.”
“When they would open the gate, people would come flying in there,” Kennard recalled. “You’ve got vehicles that didn’t run being drug by chains or pushed by people. It was like the Indy 500, man. Gravel going everywhere, those chains flying around like whips. Somebody was gonna get killed.”
That practice eventually came to an end, but not before the storm hit. In 1983, Thunder and Lightning came to Mississippi State when Rafael Palmeiro and Will Clark showed up to play for Polk and the Bulldogs. MSU’s program to that point had been very good, but with their arrival, the steps were taken to establish State as great, elite and a national power. And that’s when the big crowds really started to show up. As had always been the case, as Mississippi State baseball grew, so too did the Left Field Lounge.
Following the College World Series run by the historic 1985 team, plans were made to build new, modern grandstands to accommodate the massive crowds flooding the gates to watch the Bulldogs. While that was an easy solution around the infield, the problem of the outfield had yet to be solved. So, Kennard and a few others came up with an idea.
The proposal was this: the Left Field Lounge Committee would identify where each group wanted to set up their rig, assess how much space they needed, and with the help of Kennard’s brother David who was an engineer, they would measure out spaces for each rig and give everyone an assigned spot.
For a couple years the practice was allowed, and for the first time, people could haul in their rigs at the beginning of the season and leave them there all year, but in 1987 MSU announced that they were going to start selling numbered passes for permanent spots in the Lounge. Those passes were to go on sale on the next Saturday morning on a first-come, first-served basis, and that was that. Willcutt, his two sons and David Kennard showed up at the ticket office in Humphrey Coliseum on Thursday and announced, “We’re in line.”
Another man who just happened to be in the ticket office for his own reasons saw what happened and quickly declared, “Me too.” And so the line for the new, permanent lounge began with those five and stretched out for 48 hours of sitting, camping and waiting.
“Word began to get around a little bit,” Willcutt said. “The first night, probably 20-25 people spent the night in the foyer there at the Coliseum. Then word began to spread and on Friday night we may have had as many as 100 people.”
Early on Saturday morning, Polk himself showed up with donuts for the faithful Loungers. Local news station WCBI came out. ESPN sent a crew. Newspapers wrote stories. For those 48 hours, Willcutt and the growing line were a sensation, and he’s still got the stories saved and framed at home. The headline of the Collegiate Baseball Newsletter feature, over a story quoting Wilcutt, said simply, “Ticket to Paradise.”
At 10 o’clock Saturday morning, Willcutt bought the first-ever permanent spot in Left Field Lounge, and his rig is still there today. From then until now, the left field area has hardly changed at all, save for the addition of a handful of rigs on the second row and a few more regulations added for safety purposes.
So then, with that all taken care of, the attention was turned to right field. Up to that point, the Lounge as it is known today only stretched to centerfield. In right field, a small but dense patch of cedar trees had meant there was no space for trucks or rigs, and Polk had been adamant that he would not have them chopped down when he was approached with the idea. After all, it was he who had ordered that they be planted when he first got to MSU.
So for a time, the right field was just made up of individuals or small packs of a few people standing along the fence. Hobie Hobart, now one of the most recognized faces of the Lounge, was a student at MSU from 1985-91 and worked as a manager with the track team. Without a rig to call his own at the time, his solution was to borrow one of the three-tiered judges’ ladders and set up shop in the trees on the fence.
“That’s how I got through six years of college,” he said. “In that one spot.”
Before long, Polk agreed to a compromise of cutting down four specific trees, which would open up enough room for a handful of rigs to come in and officially stretch the Left Field Lounge into right field. Phil Silva, the long-time head of equipment at MSU, was one of the first to come into the new area and set up a spot right next to Hobart and his ladder.
“We had the back end of an old pickup truck,” Silva said, remembering the humble beginnings as he stood on the large rig he owns now. “We built a little platform and put it up in the trees against the fence and just kept building on.”
In the years that passed, more and more trees were removed to make room and eventually the fence was lined completely with those famous Loungers and their rigs. Stretching from foul pole to foul pole, the Left Field Lounge was officially complete.
“It is a lot more than baseball. I tell people all the time – people don’t throw picnics anymore. This is what the picnics were. My kids have grown up out here.” – Hobie Hobart
“What it means to me is the fact that we have a place that friends and family can meet. It’s a lot like anything else. Most of the people here don’t come to watch the baseball game. The baseball game is an excuse to be here. They just come to see friends and family. It’s the atmosphere, to be able to tailgate before the game starts, tailgate when the game is going on, and you never have to leave.” – Denis “Snoot” Everett
“You kind of get to still be a college student, you know? You have the responsibilities of the children and all that but you still kinda act like a kid. I’m 60 years old, but I’ll come out here as long as I’m alive.” – Bobby Crosland
“The thing with the Left Field Lounge is that it’s not about the rigs. It’s about the people. The rigs are great too, now, but it’s really about the people and the atmosphere.” – Everett Kennard
That, perhaps, is the best way to explain the Left Field Lounge from within: it’s about the people. The view from the outside is certainly impressive, too, as cameras have always highlighted the curiously configured contraptions made of all manner of old trucks, campers, portions of bleachers and even discarded bowling alley seats, all appearing to be held up by nothing more than duct tape, nails or prayers, if not all three. The fog of smoke rolling off the grills before, during and after games, often forming clouds over the outfield, sometimes appears to be the most stable and sensical part of the whole thing.
Twenty-feet high wooden structures full of frat guys stand behind old pickups at field level with bleachers strapped to the back, grills set out on the deck along the fence and children running in and out of their parents field of vision, their shirts, pants and faces all smudged with undecipherable mixtures of dirt, grease and BBQ sauce.
The whole thing is too big now to be considered a family, but it is a community in every sense. Neighbors who have lounged next to each other for decades have watched as families age, change and grow in number. Unlikely friendships have formed, people who would otherwise never have met spending hours on end together in the confines of the Left Field Lounge.
In one spot in right field, the soon-to-be-retired Phil Silva has an old milk truck that he and his crew use for their spot, a group made up largely of current and former MSU and athletic department employees and their friends, some Silva’s age, some younger. Fred Mock, MSU’s Associate Director for Facilities and Maintenance and a retired Marine nicknamed “Honcho,” is one of the heads of the milk truck crew, and he is one of many who has formed an unlikely bond thanks to his time in the Lounge.
See, right next to their group of adults – by definition, if not always by example – is a rig that has belonged to the same fraternity for over a decade. In theory, the two trailers should clash. In reality, they couldn’t get along better.
“This is why the Lounge is special to me,” Mock said. “By nature, I think our fanbase is made up of friendly people, so I think we all just kind of make friends with each other.
“We’re different in right field,” he went on to explain. “We come and go. With this big boardwalk we get more mixing and stuff. We have these fraternities right next door to us. And there are guys in these fraternities that I never would have met if we hadn’t been out here together. One of them sits next to us at church now and we never would have met him if we hadn’t been out here together.”
Sometimes, it’s about the family you make. Others, it’s about the family you have. For Hobie Hobart, the Right Field Tiki Lounge isn’t just a social gathering spot – it’s where his children were raised. Every rig – except, hopefully, the fraternity trailers – has children they’ve watched grow up, adults coming to games now who were babies when the whole thing started.
Silva, Wilcutt, Crosland – like so many others, they’re now out in the Lounge spending as much time tending to grandbabies as they do grilling.
“It’s the family picnic,” Hobart said.
Heck, some families have even been started in the Left Field Lounge. It was during the heyday of the ‘80s that a young man and woman were introduced to each other in the Lounge and eventually went on to get married. Their son Pete was born August 20, 1987, just a couple months after Bulldog pitcher Pete Young was named a freshman All-American and helped lead MSU to the SEC Championship. The name was no coincidence. It was only fitting that the couple name their son, a present-day Lounger himself, in honor of their roots in the Lounge.
And, as Hobart also likes to say, the Left Field Lounge is an ambassador of sorts. It’s an example of what makes Mississippi State – its fans, its baseball program, its home state – so special. It’s not always pretty, but there’s nothing like it anywhere. The way so many great cuisines have been born from poverty and creativity, locals having to work with whatever they can find, so too did the Lounge find its recipe for growth and success in that way.
It’s not just that the Lounge is cool, but that it’s the epitome of southern hospitality in the place that calls itself The Hospitality State.
“It’s such an ambassador for the state of Mississippi,” Hobart said. “We do so many things wrong; we do this right. This is good.”
Or, as Denis “Snoot” Everett more bluntly put it, “Mississippi has got the most unhealthiest people, we’ve got the most poorest people, we’ve got the most uneducated people, and we’ve got one thing that shines.”
Not to say that the state doesn’t have other good things going for it, of course, just as Starkville and MSU, for that matter, have a great many things about which they can brag and highlight to outsiders. But certainly, the Lounge has become a part of MSU’s identity, and that’s why visitors have flocked to it as far back as those Ole Miss flag fliers in 1972.
“We’ve got two traditions: one of them is cowbells, and the other one is the Left Field Lounge,” Silva said. “Everybody that comes, from all the different schools we play, they love Left Field Lounge. They think this is awesome.”
Visiting teams have a long history of enjoying the Lounge, provided their outfielders are able to withstand the heckling of the fans on the other side of the fence. Those who can take the ribbing are rewarded with the open arms and hot grills of the Lounge, regularly being invited to come out after the game for sausage or chicken or whatever is being cooked that day.
Sometimes, they don’t even wait until after the game. Not many years ago, a rightfielder was spotted chasing down a hard-hit liner, catching the grounder with the glove on his left hand while holding on to a fresh piece of sausage with his right hand.
A Michigan State outfielder takes a break for a snack between innings
The hit went for an RBI double, and the snack was finished before the next pitch.
The all-time winningest coach in college baseball history, the legendary Augie Garrido, is quoted secondhand as saying he made sure his Cal State Fullerton team got a trip to Dudy Noble to see the Left Field Lounge one postseason.
“Regionals are a really good time,” Willcutt said, “because teams play in the afternoon, then they don’t play until the next day, so they come and they mingle out in the Left Field Lounge. Augie came down there and told us one night, he said, ‘I’m on the selection committee. I could have gone anywhere in the country. I could have taken my team anywhere in the country, but I wanted them to come see this. I wanted them to see the atmosphere that y’all have here.’”
In addition to running his farm and helping propel the livelihood of the Lounge, Everett Kennard, known by many simply as “The Bus Driver,” was also the long-time director of transportation at MSU. As such, he was regularly tasked with picking up incoming teams at the airport and then taking them back at the end of the weekend.
He got to hear first-hand the reactions that first-time visitors had to the atmosphere at MSU.
“You’d be surprised how many of them got off the airplane hating Starkville, Mississippi before they ever got here,” he said. “Before they left, invariably, they would tell you it was one of the best experiences of their life. That’s because of, partly, the Left Field Lounge. As you well know, everybody took them in out there. Actually got mad at them if they didn’t eat with them. It was really amazing to see the people not want to come here, and leave here saying it was the best baseball experience of their life. That became kind of a goal of the outfield.”
Of course, that interest has extended beyond opponents visiting Starkville. TV broadcasts, national reporters, food and culture magazines and a host of other media entities have made their way to the famous Left Field Lounge to see what it’s all about. Seeing TV commentators leave the press box to spend an inning or three in the outfield is a regular occurrence, and Hobart’s spot in right field has played host to nearly all of them.
Even strangers with no affiliation to MSU, no professional reason to be in Starkville, have made the college baseball pilgrimage. Two years ago, a couple from Chicago saw the Left Field Lounge on TV, and though they’d never been to Mississippi, they agreed that they had to go. Three weeks ago, they were back for their third visit, having made fast friends with Hobart and the whole crew in right field thanks to nothing other than dumb luck and the divine intervention of the Lounge.
That same day, as Snoot was being interviewed on his rig by a videographer, he interrupted a question midway through and said, you know what, why don’t you ask these guys? We met them in Omaha and they flew in from Las Vegas just to be here today, to see the Left Field Lounge for the first time.
The camera panned to two middle-aged men walking across the rig, both already yelling about how much fun they were having and the game hadn’t even started yet.
“The Lizard Lounge” – (close; they’re called the Lounge Lizards) – “is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen,” the first man said. “It’s heaven. It’s heaven to me. I’d like to die here.”
“This was on my list,” random man from Las Vegas No. 2 explained to the camera. “I told my wife, ‘I don’t care what you say, I’m going to Mississippi. I have to see it.’ This is fabulous. This is the best baseball venue of all time.”
“You have to see this place to believe it,” Man No. 1 picked back up. “Pictures don’t do it justice. Look at this place.”
“This is great, you know?” Man No. 2 finished. “Just good people having fun and enjoying baseball.”
And that’s what the Left Field Lounge is. Good people.
Now, the Left Field Lounge is going to change. Again. Like it always has. The way it’s always evolved.
2013 Super Bulldog Weekend
Photo courtesy: Russ Houston, Mississippi State
The day Kennard first drove his pickup from the farm to the outfield, the year people began transforming truck beds to full rigs, and the Saturday morning that Willcutt bought the first-ever permanent Lounge spot are the three biggest moments in the history of the Left Field Lounge.
This offseason will be the fourth transformative event in the storied history of one of the most celebrated attractions in sport. When Mississippi State announced it will be building an entirely new baseball stadium, the first major build since 1987 and the first significant upgrade since the ‘90s, it also announced that it would be constructing a new Left Field Lounge.
Through months of planning, design and town hall meetings, a final conclusion was drawn and a plan set into motion for the future of the Lounge. The rigs, as iconic as they may be, were no longer viable. For reasons of safety, space and accessibility, change was again necessary.
Construction will begin on the new Left Field Lounge this summer after the season ends and the rigs make their exit from Dudy Noble for the final time. In their place, a two-tiered, permanent structure will be put in place around the outfield fence with customizable spots for each group who previously called a rig home, in addition to a few more who will now be able to have permanent Lounge spots for the first time.
In the planning stages, each group of rig owners met with architects to customize their design for their area, settling on their own choices from a variety of possible setups and floor plans.
Each spot will have some added amenities not previously available, including access to electricity, as well as a concourse connecting the entire Lounge with itself as well the stadium structure. Beyond safety concerns, that was one of the driving forces behind the change: making the Lounge accessible to everyone and easier to navigate, ensuring that all who want to have the experience are able to do so, not just those who either own a spot or know someone who does.
And yes, to be quite certain, nearly all involved are sad to see the rigs go and to see the Lounge change. There were plenty who fought the decision, and understandably so, as they wanted to preserve the way of enjoying MSU baseball that they’ve had for decades.
In response to questions and feedback, MSU released a Q&A following the announcement to address the big question: why are you changing the Lounge?
“Preservation of the Left Field Lounge is of the utmost importance to everyone,” the answer began, “but safety, convenience, and comfort are key considerations. The new Left Field Lounge design maintains the ambiance Bulldog fans have enjoyed, removes potential hazards, allows for a permanent student area in right field and provides amenities that maintain this premier location fans have enjoyed for years.
“Your safety is our primary goal – but rest assured, this will be done in a way that also allows the Left Field Lounge to retain its unique culture and appeal.”
After the initial shock, understanding set in for most, even if it took some time to make sense of it.
“We’ve been fortunate,” Willcutt said. “If you ask me, do I like this new change we’re fixing to go to? No, I wish they’d leave it alone. But I’m also a realist. We have been extremely lucky that in all these years, to my knowledge, we’ve not had a serious accident out there. We’re better now on our setups than we have been in the past. In the past, some of the units out there were not as safe as they should be. But we got by with it. It’s gonna go away, and we’ll just start a new era of Left Field Lounge.”
The Left Field Lounge in 1980 Photo courtesy: MSU Libraries
Bobby Crosland started joining the crowds in the outfield when he was a student at MSU from 1975-79, back in the days when he could just drive the truck right in from the street and pull up to his usual spot. He’s been grilling food, watching games and eventually raising kids out there in the 40 years since. He’d prefer to keep the rig and setup he has now, if he’s being honest, but he too knows that change is an inevitable part of life, and the Left Field Lounge is no exception. The key is to roll with it and enjoy it, just as before.
“We’ll adapt,” he said simply. “We always do.”
Of course, the evolution of the Lounge isn’t bittersweet for everyone. Not only did all current rig owners have the opportunity to secure a location in the new Lounge, but a few more spots were created, making it possible for a select few to have permanent locations in the Lounge for the first time.
In far right field in the current Lounge, there is an area reserved for people without reservations. This particular area of the Lounge has no rigs, no trucks and no lines of property or personal space. It’s open to whoever wants it, whoever gets there first.
For years now, a group made up largely of locals who grew up in Starkville or now claim the town as their own has set up shop, becoming a mainstay of the Lounge by arriving early every weekend with grills, coolers, stools and even an outdoor bar with an umbrella and seating for half a dozen in need of rest for their legs.
Next year, they will be among the few lucky groups to have their own spot in the Left Field Lounge for the first time, a permanent location designed and built exclusively for them, a place they can call their own. Chase Hogue, one of many who grew up as a kid running around Dudy Noble, is a part of this group.
“I think it’s the coolest thing MSU has to offer,” he said, “Over a skybox in football. Getting a spot is the best thing to happen to the [group]. Left Field Lounge is one of the greatest traditions in all of college sports, so I’m glad to be a part of it.”
“Getting a lounge in the new stadium is the coolest thing in the world to us,” added Jonathan Parrish, another member of the group. “We love MSU baseball and have literally grown up in the park running around the Lounge, so we look at it as gaining admission into one of the coolest traditions in all of college sports. I know there is a lot of debate on what the university should do with the Lounge and depending on who you talk to the new stadium could be a negative or positive.
“Ultimately, the Lounge is about the people who occupy it more than the structures those people sit on, and the hospitality and recipes get passed on from generation to generation, so the Lounge will always be the Lounge, long after even the new stadium is considered a relic.”
The future of the Left Field Lounge will be defined by the same thing that shaped its past: the people. And at Mississippi State, that tends to be a good thing. If the future looks hazy, that’s probably just the charcoal fog rising from the grills.
I call her Mrs. Becky, or Mrs. B., for short. Like anyone who knows her, like anyone who has played or coached baseball at Mississippi State for the last decade, I can easily spot her in any crowd by looking for the color pink. Hat, sunglasses, jacket, shirt, shoes – something she’s wearing will be bright pink, if not multiple somethings.
Fred stands in the middle with the red, white and blue American flag MSU hat. Bet you can spot Mrs. Becky.
I accidentally nicknamed him Honcho when, in a story I wrote about a weekend in the Left Field Lounge, I referred to him as the head honcho manning the grill at his rig. The next week, he showed me that, in celebration of his recognition, the rest of the group had decided to keep the name for him and even wrote “Honcho” on his cup. He gave me a quick history lesson, that the word Honcho is Japanese in origin, having made its way to America via members of the military stationed overseas in World War II, and that it indicates someone is the leader of a group. The “head” I had inserted before it was actually redundant.
Fred and Becky Mock are what the Lounge is to me, and what Mississippi State Baseball is to so many people. Over the years they have served as, basically, foster parents for scores of Bulldog baseball players, making sure they have someone to take care of them and be sure they’re able to find the things they need while they’re away from home. The Mocks have traveled across the country to watch the team, and they’re mainstays at any home game, Honcho sticking to their rig in right field and Mrs. Becky bouncing back and forth between sitting in the grandstands and standing along the outfield fence.
Go to their rig on any weekend, the one they share with Phil Silva, and you’re bound to find a former player, a parent of a current pitcher perhaps, or even a former manager, coach or trainer. As a kid, I spent countless afternoons and nights in a rig lining the left field bullpen, but now, you’re likely to find me in right field too, as they weekly welcome me like one of their own, despite having no stronger connection to me than Fred having worked with my mom on occasion when she was a Honcho herself as the director of the Shackouls Honors College. I also grew up with the Silva children, but the fact that Mr. Phil knew me in my formative years only weakens my case.
In 2003, the Mocks came to Starkville and visited MSU for the first time. Fred had an interview for a job on campus. When they were in the car with their host, the man was telling them things about the school, laying out some high points, and then he got to something he realized he didn’t have words to describe.
“I can’t explain it,” Mrs. Becky remembers him saying. “You’ve got to feel it and you’ve got to see it. We have something really special here and it’s called Left Field Lounge.”
“The first baseball game we came to, we sat in the bleachers over there because we didn’t know anybody yet,” Mrs. Becky told me while she stood around friends in the Lounge. “We looked out here and we said, wow, that looks like fun. Little did we know that we’d become so involved in Left Field Lounge and make so many friends. And it’s about relationships. That’s what this is about. We’ve had people out here pregnant, and now their babies are big. We’ve raised everybody out here.
“I get it now,” she finished. “If I had known it then, I would have said, take that job immediately, because of the Lounge. We love it out here. I love it. The people are what make it.”
And of course, she added, “I like baseball, too.”
“It’s beyond baseball, it is … It’s who we are, the hospitality … It’s my favorite place.” – Hobie Hobart
“It’s unique to Mississippi State. There’s not another place like it. Anywhere.” – Jimmy Willcutt
“In my opinion, it’s the biggest spectacle in college sports.” – Everett Kennard