Mississippi State junior center fielder Jake Mangum scores a run against Ole Miss as part of a doubleheader on April 7 at Dudy Noble Field. MSU won the first game 13-3 and lost to the second game 6-1. It won the three-game series as part of a 9-1 record against top-five teams. MSU will take on Washington at 7 p.m. Saturday (ESPN) in its first game at the College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch
June 15, 2018 10:28:45 AM
STARKVILLE -- Jake Mangum winning the Southeastern Conference batting title as a freshman put him in the record books as the first Bulldog freshman to accomplish that feat. Performing up to a similar standard for the two years that followed may make him one of the best Bulldogs of all time.
Mississippi State's junior center fielder enters the College World Series already climbing up the ranks in the record books for both the school and the conference. When he takes the field at TD Ameritrade Park at 7 p.m. Saturday (ESPN) against Washington, it presents him an opportunity to do even more for his legacy, performing on the sport's biggest stage. His personal legacy will not be on his mind.
"I've played my butt off for three years and I'm trying to win as many games as I can with my team," Mangum told The Dispatch. "I wouldn't say legacy's on my mind. I know from the team standpoint we want to be the first ever to win a national championship.
"Really, the only thing I'm thinking about is our school needs its first national championship," he added.
It's possible he's already done enough to make himself remembered for decades to come.
Mangum enters the College World Series with 271 career hits, ranking ninth in school history. His five hits in the Nashville Super Regional moved him past Bulldog legend Rafael Palmeiro. He could easily pass Brad Hildreth (275 career hits), Tommy Raffo (278) and Matthew Maniscalco (279) if MSU runs to the second half of the College World Series.
As the voice of MSU baseball Jim Ellis pointed out, Mangum and Palmeiro are the only three-year players in the top 10 in MSU history in hits. Mangum already has more hits in three seasons than one MSU great and, by the end of his time in the College World Series, could have more hits in three seasons than other famous Bulldogs had in four.
He also has 38 career doubles, aided by a career high 21 doubles this season. If he did that again next year, his 59 career doubles would rank third in MSU history (behind Travis Chapman and Richard Lee).
At times, he has been the baseball anomaly of a single person truly carrying a team through tough times.
"When you talk to coaches around our league, they say, 'Man, you just have to stop him,'" MSU athletic director John Cohen said.
In those three years, he has also accomplished his only goal: being a part of good teams.
"You're talking about a guy that's been to two Super Regionals, won a SEC championship and is going to Omaha. There's not a lot that he hasn't done," Cohen said. "I think his will to win is off the charts and I truly believe that guy just wants to win a national championship. I don't think he has any selfish motives at all."
An impressive resume
Even though he isn't interested, the time to celebrate Mangum's individual accomplishments is coming quickly.
Twice, Mangum has been drafted by Major League franchises and twice he has chosen to return to MSU, moves he will likely be rewarded for in his senior season. At his current pace of 1.5 hits per game, he will break the school record for career hits -- Jeffrey Rea's 335 -- in late February or early March of his senior season. That same pace has him breaking the SEC record for career hits, 352 by LSU's Eddy Furniss, before the end of the regular season.
"He's got a chance to have one of the best four-year resumes anybody's had," Ellis said. "He had a great freshman year and he's been able to maintain that kind of play. I've even seen some areas where he's getting better, which is what you really want out of a player."
Eyes on the prize
Despite Mangum's best efforts, the subject of his legacy has been present, one he admitted has come up more recently in the last week given the ticket to Omaha has been punched.
Part of Mangum's legacy will be the obvious passion he has always displayed for MSU and its baseball program, one that has fueled his trademark emotional play for three years now. It's also something he knows he'll have to manage with a shot at the national championship he so covets finally in his hands.
"It's been such a long ride trying to get to Omaha, now that we're finally going we're all going to have to take a deep breath and try to slow things down," Mangum said.
As one of the great current players in college baseball makes his College World Series debut, he is adamant he won't pay attention to what his performance there and the season that follows means for how he will be remembered. Plenty of others will -- including the greats that he surpasses on the way.
"I've thought about it and I knew people would call and ask," Rea said. "He's about to be the best in the SEC, so if somebody's going to beat me, I'm glad it's the guy that's going to rewrite the record books in the SEC as well, not just at Mississippi State University."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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