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MSU faithful cling to lucky rituals, rites

 

Mississippi State first baseman Wes Rea and head coach John Cohen share a laugh during Sunday’s press conference at the College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb. Mississippi State meets UCLA in Game 1 of the best-of-three championship series tonight at 7 p.m. The broadcast will be on ESPN.

Mississippi State first baseman Wes Rea and head coach John Cohen share a laugh during Sunday’s press conference at the College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb. Mississippi State meets UCLA in Game 1 of the best-of-three championship series tonight at 7 p.m. The broadcast will be on ESPN. Photo by: Dave Weaver/USA Today Sports

 

Scott Walters

 

OMAHA, Neb. -- Starkville resident Kim Dier does not believe that she is an overly superstitious person. 

 

Yet, there she was following the same pre-game routine before each of the Mississippi State University baseball team's victories over the University of Virginia at the Charlottesville Super Regional. 

 

"We had a big group of MSU fans in our section," Dier said. "We sat in the same seats every day. I also made sure that I did everything the same way I was doing before the game. Even though it was a two-game series, we played for three days. After winning the first game, it was important that we keep the momentum up, so all of us in our section made sure to follow the exact same routine." 

 

Now the pre-game rituals have turned even more serious as the Bulldogs begin play in the College World Series national championship series. MSU (51-18) plays UCLA (47-17) in the first game of a best-of-three series at 7 tonight at TD Ameritrade Park. The entire series will be telecast by ESPN. 

 

MSU is attempting to win its first national championship in any team sport in school history. 

 

Joe Dubeaur has taken pre-game rituals to another extreme this week. With better than 100 eateries in the Omaha Market District area, Dubeaur has found his spot. For a fourth straight night, Dubeaur dined at Cisco's Steak House, one of the area's premier dining establishments. 

 

"It is good food," Dubeaur said. "We have come in here each night and socialized with a bunch of Bulldogs. It is like a restaurant in Starkville. I know there are other options. Now that the team is winning, we aren't about to change things up." 

 

Alicia Cole, a wait staff member at the restaurant, said business was booming and had a definite Maroon and White feel to it. The restaurant served roughly 200 customers with MSU ties Saturday night and was looking at 70 or so patrons from the Magnolia State Sunday night. 

 

For Dubeaur, the good news is he won't have to eat early Monday. The restaurant is closed on Monday nights. 

 

For Nancy and Brenda Cole, two sisters from Amory, the superstitions began long before postseason play began. 

 

"We have lucky socks," said Nancy Cole, while in the Omaha District, buying t-shirts Sunday night. "Mine are maroon and Brenda's are white. We wear our lucky socks and our lucky hats to each and every Bulldog game. Everybody knows that we sit in Section B and they come by and make sure we are wearing what we are supposed to be wearing. 

 

"I feel like it is us as fans doing our part to help the team win." 

 

Without question, the Bulldogs themselves have ridden a momentum of superstitions to 51 wins, the second most in the program's rich history. The national spotlight has caught on to the addiction of facial hair. 

 

In his first four seasons as the MSU head coach, John Cohen had a rule prohibiting facial hair. Yielding to a plea from tonight's probable starting pitcher, sophomore Trevor Fitts, Cohen rescinded the rule and the hair has flown. 

 

The facial hair trend has extended beyond the Bulldogs' locker room in some instances. 

 

"We decided to let our hair grow out at the end of the regular season," said MSU sophomore student Cane Faust, a native of Sturgis. "It's gets a little out of control at times. That is how we show support for the baseball team. 

 

"My roommate was already growing a beard. When went to the (Southeastern Conference) tournament, he said he was going to grow his hair out until the season ended. Of course, I don't think any of us really thought it was going to last this long." 

 

Faust, roommate Brian Thomas and four others made the 14-hour trek to Omaha over the weekend to see the Bulldogs play. The last-minute scramble to find tickets, hotel rooms, gas money and time off from both work and summer school more than worth it. 

 

"This may never happen again in our lifetime," Thomas said. "The two of us (Faust and Thomas) were thinking about going and then in about 15 minutes, our group grew. I think it is safe to say Starkville is going to be close to a ghost town this week. It already is during the summer anyway. This will just make it worse." 

 

The official MSU baseball Twitter account asks for fans to turn in their best superstition stories, connecting to Bulldog baseball. More than 50 stories were collected in about six hours. 

 

One story includes a wife who won't let her husband watch the eighth inning of games because that has been MSU's biggest inning throughout postseason play. Another involves listening to the radio broadcast instead of the television broadcast because that is what that family was doing when the Bulldogs began their magical run in Omaha. 

 

The litany of stories included certain foods for pre-game meals, certain parking spots at the stadium and balancing yard work around watching the game, based on which inning and which team was in the field. 

 

Baseball has long been known as the most superstitious of the major sports. The number of games played and the down time during a game and in between games has helped create that environment. Certainly, MSU has lived up to the superstitious mantle with several players' antics lined up to help bolster a school-record 11 wins in postseason play. 

 

The dugout even includes two sledge hammers, which signify the hard work and sacrifices made beginning in the fall. There is also a stick named "Chip Barks" which is carved with a logo each time the team grabs another victory. 

 

While these activities draw the most attention, it is simply part of the equation. Whether it is a seat location, lucky socks or facial hair growing out of control, there is little doubt that this week Bulldog nation is all in it together.

 

Scott is sports copy editor and reporter

 

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