May 9, 2014 11:12:35 AM
STARKVILLE -- Ben Bracewell has seen it all in his five years at Mississippi State.
From the lows of suffering season-ending surgeries to the heights of being a key contributor last year in a run to the College World Series, Bracewell is one of the few Bulldogs who has experienced every emotion at Dudy Noble Field.
"The one thing I've learned at Mississippi State is there are things you just can't control in life, so all you can do is prepare the best you can and then have faith," Bracewell said. "I have had so many rehabilitation efforts and comebacks where I had to have something to believe in. It can be hard, but there's always a plan. I believe God always has a plan for us even if we can't understand it."
Bracewell will be one of six seniors honored this weekend when No. 21 MSU (39-18, 14-10 Southeastern Conference) plays host to Tennessee for the final regular-season home weekend. Barring anticipated showers tonight, both teams will kick off the three-game set at 6:30. The Bulldogs enter the weekend having won a school-record eight-straight games against Tennessee.
After suffering shoulder, knee, foot, back and elbow injuries in his MSU career, Bracewell said he has learned a sense of patience that can't be appreciated unless you've experienced what he has.
As a freshman, Bracewell was part of a rebuilding season in which MSU finished Bulldogs finished 6-24 in the SEC. Four years later, the Bulldogs were two games away from the program's first national championship.
"Benny is one of the few people in our clubhouse left that knows what it was like to be here when things were going really bad," MSU coach John Cohen said. "He's truly been to the highest of highs and lowest of lows with this program and everything personally in between."
Before arriving at MSU, Bracewell was considered one of the best high school power arms in state of Alabama. He went 15-0 with a 0.47 ERA and held hitters to a .108 batting average in his final season of high school. He struck out 156 in 90 innings to help lead the Briarwood Christian Lions to a runner-up finish in the Class 5A state playoffs.
MSU was in transition between the end of the Ron Polk era and Cohen's rebuilding efforts, so 6-foot right hander was asked to have faith in a program that had nothing but tradition. Bracewell was part of a recruiting class with future drafted players Chris Stratton, Kendall Graveman, and Chad Girodo that helped MSU become a success story.
"I don't think we've seen him at complete health," said MSU associate head coach/pitching coach Butch Thompson, who is regarded as one of the nation's top recruiters. "I always tell people Ben Bracewell is just as mature as I am as an adult man because of everything he has gone through here at Mississippi State. I would trust him as much as anybody else in the program with anything."
Unfortunately, Bracewell arrived in Starkville with an arm team doctors and Thompson feared would encounter medical issues before he graduated. While stepping into the closer role as a freshman in 2010, Bracewell suffered a rare injury to the front part of the labrum on his right arm near the biceps tendon. What made the injury unique -- and was good news for Bracewell's future -- was the right shoulder has remained strong and Bracewell hasn't suffered structural damage because he has overcompensated in the throwing motion.
"The sad thing about Ben Bracewell's time at Mississippi State is you always felt like he was coming off or trying to fight back from another injury," Cohen said. "You see it all the time in this sport, but there's always those guys where you can wonder what would've happened had they been pain free or injury free. Benny will always be one of those guys you admire because you know how hard he worked to get what he got out of his career."
With MSU's 2013 season at a tipping point in a critical Sunday matchup at Ole Miss, Bracewell pitched five innings of one-hit relief to lead the Bulldogs to a season-changing comeback.
"I've always been a guy that just wanted to come in and whether it was starting or coming out of the bullpen, or whatever the role was, wanted to help the team get a 'W' on that day," Bracewell said. "It was easy being that unselfish when you have so many people asking you about your health every season, but that's part of being on a team with guys you love and coaches you know care."
This season, Bracewell set career highs innings pitched and strikeouts for a reliever on April 20 in a victory at Missouri. After entering the game trailing 5-3 in the fifth inning, Bracewell struck out seven in six innings to give MSU time to rally for a 9-7 win in 11 innings. He allowed one run on 104 pitches to pick up his third win. That effort was just one example of the leadership Bracewell has shown as a captain in a season filled with ups and downs for the team.
"I've always said it has to be our players modeling our younger players on how to do things the right way because we can only be around them so many hours in a day," Bracewell said. "As far back as when I played at Mississippi State, the older players were a model you tried to mold yourself to, and it still has to be that way in 2014."
Off the field, Bracewell has maintained All-SEC status in the classroom each season. He also is one of 26 people, including six current and former members of the MSU baseball program, who traveled to the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas to assist with construction projects and to put on baseball clinics for children who live there.
"It sounds strange to say with everything that has happened to me from a health standpoint, but I knew immediately when I came here years ago for a recruiting trip and saw Dudy Noble Field that this is where I wanted to be," Bracewell said. "You immediately just saw the amount of people that legitimately care about this program and the players that make it special. I wouldn't trade my experience here for anything."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.
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