Mississippi State freshman designated hitter Jordan Westburg (11) is greeted at home plate after hitting a grand slam in the second inning of Tuesday’s 12-2 win over North Carolina at the College World Series. Photo by: Kelly Donoho/Mississippi State Athletic Media Relations
June 19, 2018 11:14:42 PM
OMAHA, Neb. -- All was pointing up for Jordan Westburg as the middle of May approached. His batting average was on the rise, as was his playing time, and as was his Mississippi State baseball team's chances at a postseason bid.
With one forceful landing on first base on May 18, all of that was thrown into jeopardy. The hamstring injury he suffered that day left his parents, Paul and Christine, hiding their worst fears from Jordan to keep them from spreading to him.
"Having had that injury twice in my life, I didn't know if this would go out to eight to 12 weeks and would cost him summer ball," Paul Westburg said.
Summer ball is still up in the air, but Jordan Westburg can think about that later. For now, he's making history at the College World Series.
Westburg's grand slam Tuesday was the first hit by a Bulldog in the College World Series since Bobby Thigpen in 1985; his seven RBIs tied the College World Series record, the first since 2001 to hit that number. It was all part of a 12-2 beating of North Carolina (44-19) that put MSU just one win away from the national championship series.
MSU (39-27) is scheduled to play 2 p.m. Friday against the winner of Wednesday's game between Oregon State and North Carolina; if it loses on Friday, it has another chance on Saturday against the same team.
No matter where MSU goes from here, Westburg projects to be a big part of it.
"He has so much power, so much power potential," MSU assistant coach Jake Gautreau said. "I think he's going to be really special before it's all said and done."
To realize that potential, he had to get back on the field.
In the four games before his hamstring injury, Jordan Westburg tallied six hits, raiding his season batting average 37 points and getting four of his current 11 doubles. A season-long rotation between he and fellow freshman Justin Foscue at third base seemed to be swinging his way.
After the Westburg parents did their best to hide their anguish from Jordan, they did all the only thing they knew to do.
"We had people praying," Paul Westburg told The Dispatch. "I'm in a bible study group at home, we had them praying."
After a couple of weeks, aided by a full two days of rest after MSU's early exit from the Southeastern Conference tournament, positive reports started coming back. There was hope he could enter the Tallahassee Regional in some capacity, which he ultimately did, driving in two runs in the championship game.
Before that, he became famous for a banana.
The Rally Banana craze taking over the MSU fan base is credited to Westburg's dugout antics, as his combination of boredom and hunger drew him to a banana that he used as a prop, feigning it as a radar gun, telephone, hat and otherwise. It served as a window into his amicable personality, one that fits well with a crucial tenet of MSU interim head coach Gary Henderson's ideal clubhouse: when something is funny, laugh.
Henderson respects that ability of Westburg's, where he knows when to laugh and knows when to grind. Westburg knows when to get to work -- it's how he got back from his hamstring injury so quickly.
" He doesn't think negatively. He's always muscled through those things," Christine Westburg said.
Gautreau never feared for Westburg's future for that reason. His concern was not if MSU would get the Westburg of old back, it was only if it MSU would get it back in time to use it during the season. With a crowd adorned with banana shirts, earrings and other paraphernalia cheering him on, Westburg got it back in the team's biggest moment.
"I think if you're going to do all the shenanigans in the dugout," Jordan Westburg said, "you might as well step it up on the field and back that up."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson