Free Baseball

When most fans talk about free baseball, they mean the game has gone into extra innings. For those of you who are not fans of “the sportsball” that’s the equivalent of overtime in baseball speak. But this week, my experience with free baseball was a little different.

My alma mater (Mississippi State University) has a storied baseball program. We also have a shiny, newly rebuilt and redesigned stadium. Dudy Noble Field has been the home of Bulldog baseball for decades, and its latest incarnation–lovingly called The New Dude–is a thing of wonder. We have been itching to take the kids to a game there all season, but until this week hadn’t quite made it work.

On Tuesday night, the Bulldogs played an extra game. It was added to the schedule only two weeks ago. Admission was entirely free for everyone. Instead, the university asked for something a little different. Let me back up a minute.

Last month, Ruston, Louisiana and the college that calls it home (Louisiana Tech) suffered significant damage thanks to a tornado. The south has experienced quite a few tornados this spring and there are several areas in need. Unfortunately, that means that the aid is spread pretty thin.

Now, I’ve talked about the chainsaw and casseroles brigade that marches through the south when people are in need of help. But sometimes, you still need something more. The baseball game this week aimed to provide that something.

The game was a fundraiser. Instead of admission, each fan was asked if they would or could donate a little something to the Salvation Army who is leading relief efforts in Ruston. No donation was too small (none was required, because we know not everyone can).

It was too much for us to pass up. My husband and I picked our kids up from school and drove down. We donated to the Salvation Army on the way into the park, got to experience the New Dude, ate hot dogs and nachos, and the kids even got a foul ball. A great time was had by all. I don’t know what the totals were for donations that night, but I know they were changing out the donation buckets when we arrived at the field–a full forty-five minutes before the first pitch. Hopefully that means it was well worth it.

It certainly was for us.

img_20190514_172108_1
My 5yo putting his donation in the bucket.

Free baseball at the New Dude and a valuable lesson on giving what we can to help those in need–priceless.

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.

bb_newdude
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.

dudy-rendering-771x421
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.