June 27, 2013 10:22:48 AM
By Friday afternoon -- when the last out of Mississippi State's 4-1 win over Oregon State had secured the Bulldogs a spot in the College World Series championship series, the river of excitement produced by Mississippi State's baseball team had become a torrent.
Through the weekend, MSU fans who had been content to follow the team's exploits through the TV coverage, quickly made plans to make the long trek to Omaha, Neb., to be a part of it all. TV commentators marveled at the thousands of Bulldog fans who had arrived at TD Ameritrade Park by Monday to watch the best-of-three finals pitting MSU against UCLA. Only MSU's 1996 Final Four run in the NCAA basketball tournament could rival the amount of excitement generated by the Bulldogs' remarkable run to the title series.
... And then, of course, the game started.
UCLA beat MSU, 3-1, in Monday's opener and by the middle of Tuesday's second game -- an 8-0 UCLA win that secured the title -- it was obvious to all that the Bulldogs' hopes of a national championship would not be fulfilled -- not this year, at any rate.
The dizzying rise and sudden fall of the Bulldogs' prospects left MSU faithful in an odd emotional state.
On one hand, there is nothing shabby about finishing as the national runner-up, itself an unprecedented achievement for the tradition-rich MSU baseball program.
On the other hand, you never see anybody running around flashing two fingers and screaming, "We're Number 2!"
So if it takes a while for fans to sort out their freeings about what happened at the College World Series, it's understandable.
Tonight at 7, the team will be honored with a "Welcome Home Party" at Dudy Noble Field in Starkville and we suspect by then, MSU fans will be more inclined to celebrate the success of the season than dwell on its unfortunate end.
The Bulldogs didn't bring home the big trophy, but they achieved much, both on and off the field of play.
MSU went farther than any of the 32 Bulldog teams that have made it to the NCAA playoffs. Throughout it all, the team exhibited a sense of fun that quickly made the Bulldogs the de facto home team for Omaha residents who had no dog in the fight, if you will pardon the term. The Bulldogs proved humble in victory, gracious in defeat. They played hard, if not always flawlessly. Of no small importance, they also displayed a sense of propriety that can't always be assumed for a group of young men ranging in age from 18 to 22.
The team may not have achieved the ultimate goal, but it did succeed in many important ways. First, the Bulldogs proved to be fine ambassadors, not only for their school, but for the state of Mississippi, which does not always acquit itself well when thrust into the national spotlight.
Their spirited play also helped re-energize a fan base that -- over the past decade -- watched as the MSU baseball program's status decline from being considered one of the country's preeminent programs to simply another "pretty good" program.
While nothing is assured, it seems reasonable to expect that this MSU team has created a momentum that will help a future MSU team not only reach the championship, but win it.
In that sense, "We're Number 2" may simply mean "We're Next!"
Tonight, that is what MSU fans and the 2013 MSU baseball team will celebrate.
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