Baseball is Back!

This past weekend, the first home games of the season were played at the newly renovated Polk Dement Stadium at Dudy Noble Field. That’s a lot of names for someone unfamiliar. It’s the name of the field and the stadium where Mississippi State University plays baseball. All those names pay tribute to people who helped make our baseball program what it is today. Just the same, most of us shorten the name to “the Dude”.

The Dude got a makeover. Cue the flirty pop song montage. Just kidding. But, truly, our baseball stadium, perennially voted one of the best in the country, got a whole world of upgrades in the offseason. Well, the past two offseasons. Rome wasn’t built in a day. You might ask why we improved a stadium that is storied throughout college baseball fandom. The answer is that in Mississippi we love baseball and we love barbecue. We have perfected one, so we must turn our attention to the other.

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via HailState.com

To get an idea of what the atmosphere is like at an MSU baseball game, we hold the single game, on-campus attendance record. We also hold the top four Super Regional attendance records. When I say we love baseball, I mean half the state will put on their colors, travel to the stadium, and come sweat, sunburn, or double-header will cheer on our beloved Bulldogs. My son thinks the picture I have of him holding a foul ball in his tiny little hands was taken at his first game. The truth is he attended several while he was still in the womb. A girl’s gotta go see her Dawgs.

Back in the 1960s, many stadium upgrades ago, it was common for people to drive trucks around behind the outfield and park. They’d sit on their tailgates and watch the game. Over time, people also started bringing grills and ice chests. They’d parade in until the lot filled up and the rest would be turned away. They’d cook, drink, and watch baseball. When the game was over, they’d pack it all up and go home. It was a tradition.

Sometime in the next decade, an “unfortunate” event occurred when one post-game tailgater couldn’t get his truck to start. Left with few options, he decided to leave the vehicle where it was overnight and deal with it the next day–after the game, of course. By default, this sort of reserved his spot for the next day’s game and people took notice. Others began leaving their vehicles in their spots. Some even towed in trucks that no longer functioned to leave them there all season. The Left Field Lounge was born.

Over the years, instead of fighting the crowds tooth and nail, the university established a set of rules to regulate the Lounge and keep everyone safe. Eventually, bringing in a lounge rig became part of a parade that marked the start of each season. By the time I attended the university in the mid-to-late 2000s, the university built a permanent boardwalk around the back of the outfield fence to better serve the Lounge crowd.

This year, the Lounge looks a bit different. In one area, the largest video board in college baseball looms over the seats just past the wall. And there are now loft apartments overlooking Left Field. The nostalgic side of me hates to see it all change, but the baseball fan in me is in awe. More than one former player for the Bulldogs has commented that when a player graduates from MSU and goes on to play professional ball, they need to be prepared for a downgrade in facilities.

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Since I do not have access to a convenient overhead shot, here is a rendering of the New Dude given as part of the original press release.

Baseball and Bulldogs. Hail State.

 

10 Things About the History of College Football

Monday night the NCAA College Football National Championship game was played. And, at the risk of sounding like Anna from Frozen, for the first time in forever I didn’t watch. We recently ditched traditional TV service in order to save money. We like to watch live sports, but pretty much everything else we watch is through a streaming service these days anyway. And our internet package affords us access to several big sporting events, so we’re covered for now. We might have to revisit our options before next Fall, but we’ll see. The point is, I could have watched the game, but I didn’t.

It was the same ol’ teams, playing the same ol’ match-up. To be fair, I did read the recap and even get some live updates during the game so I know that it wasn’t actually just “same ole, same ole” all night. But I was very busy and not altogether upset over missing it. That was a new feeling for me. Even when my oldest child was born and I was knee deep in hormone changes, new infant insomnia, and new parent panic I still watched most of the game. Maybe next year.

A lot of my friends, especially the writers I know, have different interests from me. They don’t watch or follow “the sportsball”. Totally fine. I don’t judge. We’re allowed to have different passions. In fact, it means we bring different things to the table. I value that. But I also realize that there has been a lot of talk about using sports and/or holidays to make your fictional world/culture feel more real and true. How are you supposed to build a believable sport when you don’t like sports to begin with? Where do you start?

It might help to start with the history of a game that already exists. Sports didn’t appear out of the ether one day with complete rulebooks and defined playing surfaces. Each game we know and love has evolved in some way or another, and many continue to do so in small ways. Looking at that evolution could be helpful while trying to build a fictional sport. So let’s jump in with some examples.

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10 things about the history of college football (American football, that is).

  1. American Football as we know it today evolved from a game commonly played in Britain called “mob football”. The same game is also the precursor to rugby and was mentioned as far back at the 9th century. Versions of this original game are still played at special events in parts of the United Kingdom.
  2. While mob football became a more organized tradition at Princeton (then the College of New Jersey) first, it was also part of a traditional at Harvard that began in 1827 when the sophomore class challenged the freshmen to a game. This became known as Bloody Monday and was an annual tradition until 1860 when university officials and local police banned it due to violence.
  3. The first intercollegiate game was November 6, 1869 between Rutgers and Princeton. There still wasn’t a formalized set of rules, and the game was often played differently from school to school, so the team captains came together to decide which rules to play by. A round ball was used and the field and number of players were both considerably larger than they are today.
  4. Walter Camp played at Yale in the late 1870s and was instrumental in formalizing the rules. He reduced the accepted number of players per team on the field from 15 to 11 (1880 – though this would officially change once more before returning to eleven), reduced the size of the playing field to the current 120 yards (1881), created the line of scrimmage, and adjusted the scoring rules and points awarded. And for those of you who don’t follow the game and are asking “But I thought the field was only 100 yards,” you aren’t crazy. However, each endzone is ten yards. Two endzones+field of play=120 yards.
  5. Officials were not mandated (or paid) for games until 1887 when two became the requirement. We commonly call them all referees, but that’s not accurate. A referee is only one member of a team of officials who all have different roles. This is true for most sports, but it’s just easier to angrily scream “Hey, REF!” than it is to keep that same angered tone for “Hey, Line Judge!”
  6. The new, more organized game spread from schools in the East, to the Midwest, and then to the South by 1873. It would travel to the Southwest and then the Pacific coast by 1888. However, the game was still very violent by nature and between 1890 and 1905, 330 players died on the field or as a result of their injuries. The game was banned at many colleges around the country. President Theodore Roosevelt, who was a fan of the game and had sons who played, met with leaders from several schools to find a solution. The Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States (IAAUS) was the solution. In 1910 it would be retitled the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and is still the governing body over collegiate sports.
  7. As the sport grew in popularity and more schools began to play, groups of schools began to form conferences to better govern the game on more regional levels. The Southeastern Conference (SEC) and the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), the conferences represented in Monday’s game, are both descendants of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA). Alabama and Clemson (the two teams from Monday’s game) were both charter members (so was my alma mater, Mississippi State then known as Mississippi A&M). The SIAA boasted the first accepted forward pass, the first game decided by a field goal, some of the first trick plays, John Heisman, and Pop Warner.
  8. While the SIAA claims the first ever forward pass in 1895, the forward pass wasn’t technically legal in the game until 1906. The game sometimes evolved faster than the official rules.
  9. The most lopsided victory in college football history was Georgia Tech over Cumberland in 1916 with a score of 222-0. That’s not a typo.
  10. “Modern Era” college football has more or less been the same since 1958. However, meetings are held each year at both the conference and national levels to discuss rule changes and adjustments and reassess any changes from the previous years. Most of these are minor, but the sport continues to evolve, especially when it comes to player safety.

I’m not going to lie, being both a geek and a sports fan I could keep going on this for a while. Lucky for all of you, this is clearly a “10 Things on the 10th” situation so I must stop. Hopefully, though, this shows you how sports come into being and gives you some ideas for what sports in your fictional world might look like.

And if not then at least you have some new tidbits for your next trivia night. You’re welcome.

 

10 Things About Team Mascots

I love sports. Not only am I riveted by the competition and strategy, but I enjoy the ice-breaker that sports often provide. Whenever I’m far from home and begin to feel isolated, sports have always found a way of making me feel connected again.

When I traveled to Europe for the first time, I was fourteen. I traveled with an educational tour group and the only person I knew at the start of the trip was the chaperone from my school. I can be a bit awkward socially, so this was a recipe for disaster. But early in the trip, I wore a t-shirt bearing the logo of my favorite sports team and someone from another school started a conversation with me about it. I was no longer alone.

When I got an internship in New York City in college, I had no idea where to even look for housing. I had a very small stipend to live on and, as you might guess, things are expensive in the Big Apple. My options were limited. Until I found someone from my alma mater, a fellow Bulldog, who had a loft to rent.

Those are just two of a plethora of stories I can share about how sports connected me to someone. In fact, the first time I met my husband he was the referee for my game. Though, to be fair that meeting did not go well and, thankfully, we met again under other circumstances a few months later.

My point is sports are about more than rules and uniforms. Wherever there are sports, there will be a fandom. Wherever there is a fandom, there will be people that fandom connects, for better or worse. So why deny that to your characters? Build them a world in which they can connect through sports. Give them a common ground. An ice-breaker. Or, if necessary, a jumping off point for their animosity. Because that can happen too.

And if you need a bit of inspiration to build your athletic world around, maybe I can help. I am, after all, more than a sports fan. I’m a nerd. Trivia is my jam. And since school is back in session, let’s talk about school mascots.

  1. The term mascot is actually derived from a French word meaning talisman or lucky charm.
  2. Mascots can and in some cases should change. Many schools have voted to change mascots for a number of different reasons over the years. Common reasons include lack of fan support and/or a racist connotation.
  3. The on-field mascot, meaning the human in costume, might change more often than the mascot itself. Two examples: 1 – Ole Miss is officially the Rebels, but their on-field mascot of Colonel Reb was offensive in his design because he looked like a Civil War Confederate. They have changed their on-field mascot a couple of times in the last few years trying to find something that both resonates with the fan base and is less controversial. 2 – At Stanford, each year the students get to redesign the Cardinal (the tree) on-field mascot to their liking. The school has not had an official mascot since 1972 when they voted to stop being the “Indians” out of respect for cultural issues. The school is simply represented by cardinal (the color).
  4. Sometimes schools don’t actually pick their own mascots. A single line from a sports reporter can sometimes stick. Such is the case for my own Mississippi State Bulldogs. Originally Mississippi A&M, the university was first called the Maroons for the color of their uniforms, and then the Aggies because it has a large agricultural school. But in 1905 a sports reporter wrote about the tireless efforts of our “bulldog defense” and the name stuck. And now Bully is a treasured member of the MSU family. In fact, when the first Bully (Bully I) died, his funeral procession was a half-mile long and included the Famous Maroon Band and three ROTC battalions. He was buried under the bench at the fifty-yard line of the football field. The funeral was covered by LIFE magazine.

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    There have now been twenty-one dogs who have played the role of  Bully. 
  5. And sometimes a school can end up with more than one mascot when nicknames or images stick. The University of Alabama earned the official nickname of the Crimson Tide when a reporter in 1907 described how the offense, in their deep red jerseys, rolled down the field like a crimson tide. However, on the sidelines today, and on their logo, you will also see an elephant named Big Al. This stems from another incident in which the Offensive-line was said to be like a herd of elephants as they stampeded over their opponent (in this particular case it was Ole Miss and has led to a rivalry across state lines between the schools).
  6. The mascot and the battle cry are also different. Auburn University is a good example of this. Auburn’s mascot is a tiger named Aubie. However, many people confuse their battle cry-“War Eagle”-with their mascot. The battle cry is separate and there are many different stories about its origin, but the most popular is from a game against Georgia in which an Eagle that had been found wounded on a Civil War battlefield and restored to health escaped its caretaker and swooped over the team. The fans began pointing and calling out “War Eagle” after which the Tigers won the game. The battle cry remains popular to this day.
  7. Not every team at a school shares the same mascot. Long Beach State is officially known as the 49ers. However, their baseball team is the Long Beach State Dirtbags. Why? Because in 1989 their sub-par baseball team got a new coach who would make them practice on a local all-dirt field that was nicknamed “Dirtbag Field”. They practiced extra hours and ended up with a berth in the College World Series. The nickname is meant to represent the scrappy effort of the team in those days and is proudly claimed today by the baseball team, but no other team at Long Beach State.
  8. Sometimes a mascot is about owning and reclaiming a disparaging nickname. Teams at Delta State University in Mississippi, for instance, were officially the Statesmen while being mocked by those around them as “The Fighting Okra” because of their location in a heavily agricultural area, among other things. Today, you can find Fighting Okra merchandise at Delta State because they have decided to bear the name with pride.
  9. Mascots don’t have to be real things. For instance, there is no such thing as a Nittany Lion. Penn State made it up. And they aren’t alone. Virginia Tech uses “Hokies” as their mascot. It stems from a filler word in a school cheer from 1899 because they decided they didn’t want to be “The Gobblers” anymore. It doesn’t stop either fan base from loving their school.
  10. When a team has an on-field mascot (not all of them do), that mascot is often portrayed by more than one person. It’s often a small team of three or four people and each of them has to try-out with a routine before earning a spot on the team. This is, of course, not true at every school, but for many of them. A lot of the costumes get very hot and cannot be worn by a single person for the duration of a football game without risk of overheating.

Part of me really wants to keep going, but this is only a “10 Things” post and my geek is showing. So that’s it for this month, but I’ll be back with more trivia in October!

Saying Farewell to a Friend

My MMA instructor has been more than my teacher. He’s been a mentor and a friend for the last few years. He has a great life story that I’ll share with you someday, with his permission of course. He’s a great guy. He retired recently, and I’m happy for him, but I’m also sad to see him go.

I met Don several years ago when I first attended a community group for moms. I was a new mother and feeling a lot like I had lost control of life. He came to give us all a few quick pointers in self-defense, and in general talk about how to be safer as we cart our kids all over town. I was skeptical at first. After all, I knew the basic rules of self-defense already, what could he really add to that in the span of the ninety minutes he was given? It turned out, a lot.

At the end of that meeting, I was amazed at some of the things he taught me. I could do it. I could throw a grown man to the ground without breaking a sweat. It was empowering. It was also a little embarrassing because during the demonstration he had me demonstrate a strike and I ended up punching him square in the chest. He ended up smiling at me and talking to me about joining his class. I’m glad I did. Even back then, his particular brand of catharsis broke through even my post-partum new baby haze.

Over the next few years, Don taught me concepts and moves from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Krav Maga, Kung Fu, and several others. But it wasn’t just the moves I loved, it was what they meant to me.

My biological mother was killed when I was a small child. Murder. When I was only eleven years old, a stranger propositioned me outside of my local grocery store and I had to retreat into the store where I found a friend’s mother in order to escape him. It was not the last time it happened. It was also not the worst. I learned at a very young age that safety is an illusion.

But in Don’s class, I learned something new. I’m powerful. My short and admittedly stocky body can take down men twice my size. I have the sparring record to prove it. He empowered me with his teachings. I grew more confident in myself because I became aware of what I could do–what I was capable of.

Eventually, Don began inviting me to assistant teach his all-female youth classes. He wanted an adult female present in the class for obvious reasons, but he also wanted them to see that strength and power comes in all shapes and sizes. I helped him finish up a class less than a week before my second child was born. He was sure to be careful with what he had me doing and teaching, but it was great to be able to show the students that even at nine months pregnant, I could kick butt.

He also often had his daughter come to classes to help out. She’s a teenager and has been training with him since she was four. Believe me when I say that girl has a future as a superhero. She is legit. The two of them have also helped get my oldest child started training.

I’m happy for Don, that he is taking a step back and spending more time with his family. He has worked hard all his life. He still has two other jobs, actually. The man doesn’t know how to sit still. I’m glad he is able, though, to take more time to be at home. I will still miss him.

Oh, I have his number and he has invited me to call him up to arrange gym days now and again. But it won’t be our constant schedule anymore. It won’t be the same.

I haven’t found a new instructor or class yet. I have trouble believing I will find one that I’ll relish quite as much. And it won’t be the same. But time marches on, and so must I. I suppose after the holiday, I’ll begin checking out new options. It’s time to start fresh and bid the old adieu.

It is a bittersweet farewell.