Wikipedia tells us that the first known intercollegiate baseball game took place in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, on July 1, 1859, between squads representing Amherst College and Williams College. Amherst won, 73–32, in what is now known to be a “rout”! This game was one of the last played under “Massachusetts rules”, which prevailed in New England until the “Knickerbocker Rules” (or “New York Rules”) developed in the 1840s gradually became accepted. The first ever nine-man team college baseball game under the Knickerbocker Rules still in use today was played in New York on November 3, 1859 between the Fordham Rose Hill Baseball Club of St. John’s College (now Fordham University) against The College of St. Francis Xavier, now known as Xavier High School.
So why all the fuss about college baseball here in Mississippi?
College baseball is baseball that is played on the intercollegiate level at institutions of higher education. In comparison to football and basketball, college competition in the United States plays a smaller role in developing professional players, as baseball’s professional minor leagues are more extensive. However, moving directly from high school to the professional level is more common in baseball than in football or basketball. This is just part of the “fuss”.
Traditionally, college baseball has been played in the early part of the year, with a relatively short schedule and during a time when cold (and/or rainy) weather hinders the ability for games to be played, particularly in the northern and midwestern parts of the U.S. These and other factors have historically led colleges and universities across the nation to effectively consider baseball a minor sport, both in scholarships as well as money and other points of emphasis. But, it is very important here in the southeast.
College baseball has grown phenomenally in popularity since the 1980s, as coaches and athletic directors in warm-weather regions of the nation began to recognize the unrealized potential appeal of the sport. Soon, in many warm-weather regions such as Mississippi, baseball came to be considered a major sport, approaching the level of football and basketball.
For 2008 and succeeding seasons, the NCAA mandated the first ever start date for Division I baseball. This day is exactly thirteen weeks before the selection of the NCAA tournament field, which takes place on Memorial Day. For 2016, this date was February 29. Many feel this date will give schools outside of warm-weather areas more parity and help continue to make college baseball a major sport nationally.
Now, to all the “fuss”. As reported by Shane Mettlen of Today’s USports, “It was clear heading into the season the SEC had multiple national championship contenders — Florida, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M entered the weekend the top three in D1Baseball.com’s rankings — and now you can officially add Mississippi State to the list. The No. 20 Bulldogs could become the sixth SEC team in the Top 15 this week after sweeping No. 9 Oregon over the weekend. It was MSU’s first Top-10 sweep since 2012. Mississippi State got both great hitting and solid pitching throughout the three-game series. The Bulldogs scored 24 runs in the series, sparked by a pair of sophomores…The Bulldogs improved to 12-3-1 and established themselves as a serious challenger to both Texas A&M and LSU in the SEC West.”
As reported by Guerry Smith, Special to the New Orleans Advocate on Monday, March 21 (when this blog post was written) “In Monday’s D1Baseball.com rankings, Tulane and Southern Miss were among nine teams in the “also considered category” for the top 25. Southern Miss averages 7.2 runs.”
Mississippi State will take on Southern Miss on Tuesday night, March 29th at the MS Braves Stadium at Trustmark Park (gates open at 5pm, first pitch at 6:30pm) – the question is, will you be there to see what the fuss is about?