Mississippi State assistant baseball coach Jake Gautreau, with his sons, Liam and Weston, attend the opening ceremonies at the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, on Sunday. The boys have embraced the Bulldogs' "good luck" mythos, bringing a toy Darth Vader to the games to help spur rallies like MSU's ninth-inning comeback against Auburn on Sunday. Photo by: Courtesy photo/Jake Gautreau
June 18, 2019 10:04:10 AM
It started as a ploy from Tom Gautreau.
Serving as an affront in the Starkville Regional to Central Michigan's dugout antics -- which included a Yoda mask -- the uncle of MSU assistant baseball coach Jake Gautreau decided to bring the Bulldogs their own Star Wars themed prop.
Ahead of Mississippi State's matchup with CMU, he gifted a Darth Vader action figure to Jake's children, Liam and Weston.
Sitting in a box just behind the MSU dugout at Dudy Noble Field, the boys propped the figure up on the ledge separating the stands from the dugout.
Quickly the rally figure added to its physique as Liam (6) and Weston (4) put a Styrofoam stadium cup over its head.
With the Sith Lord in their corner, the Bulldogs rattled off a 7-2 victory against the Chippewas.
Since that June 1 affair, Liam and Weston have brought the action figure to the past four postseason games -- all of which were MSU victories.
"Darth Vader goes everywhere we go," Jake said. "It's kind of like the rally banana last year. Darth Vader is up there now."
Sunday, which happened to be Father's Day, the baseball-crazed Gautreau kids cheered on the Bulldogs through a middling performance in the first eight innings of MSU's College World Series opener against Auburn. Darth Vader was there, too.
Trailing 4-1 in the bottom of the ninth inning, Liam placed a cup on the toy's head in an effort to jumpstart the MSU offense as he had done before.
The Bulldogs responded resoundingly, scoring four runs in the final frame to upend the Tigers for an improbable 5-4 victory at TD Ameritrade Park.
"They're all about it," Jake said. "And the funny thing is they just expect us to win every game. They expect us to be in Omaha."
At an age that most are still learning to hit off a tee, the Gautreau boys have an understanding and affection for the sport far beyond their years.
"It's crazy. They'll talk at home, or when we're watching something on TV, or when I get back from the games, they start breaking them down," Jake said.
Liam and Weston have also seen their fair share of postseason craziness in their 10 combined years of life.
The kids looked on as MSU won in walk-off fashion against Florida State and Vanderbilt in the team's 2018 run to the CWS.
"Just to see them so connected and so involved and having a blast together and with their friends, and also being able to share that with Jake, is really special," said Erin Gautreau, Jake's wife and mother to the two boys.
Beyond the baseball, the Gautreaus have also taken their time at the CWS to celebrate the small moments of magic that Omaha affords a family.
Liam and Weston joined the team on their flight out of Golden Triangle Regional Airport June 12.
Once in Omaha, Jake and his kids joined hands as they walked toward TD Ameritrade Park ahead of the event's opening ceremonies.
With dad in the middle and a boy at each side, Liam and Weston donned matching maroon and white-striped MSU polo shirts buttoned to the top.
Jake followed the trend with a white-striped "M-over-S" logoed polo of his own.
"They are living their best lives here," Erin said of her kids. "They got to ride on the plane, they're staying in a hotel and they're going to the College World Series games. They are loving it."
Jake echoed those sentiments.
"All they do in the hotel room while we're here is play baseball," he said. "There's balls flying off the wall, they're swinging bats, they're hitting each other -- but it's what they're about."
Though their departure date from Omaha remains to be seen, this year's CWS has offered Jake, Erin, Liam, Weston and, of course, Darth Vader, a family vacation and a Father's Day victory over Auburn they will not soon forget.
"It ended up being the best Father's Day that I think Jake could ever ask for or that the boys could ever want for him," Erin said.
Ben Portnoy reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch.
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