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Jake Mangum leaves Mississippi State as the SEC’s all-time hits leader. He also finished atop the school’s career list in games played, doubles and at-bats.

OMAHA, Neb. “Thank y’all and Hail State.”

Those were the final words said by Mississippi State center fielder Jake Mangum before stepping down from the press conference dais on Thursday night following a 4-3 loss to Louisville that ended the Bulldogs’ season and marked the final chapter in Mangum’s storied career in maroon and white.

Chances are, there are thousands upon thousands of MSU fans who would happily line up to tell Mangum “thank you” for the last four years as well.

The fans love Mangum for all the hits, the stolen bases and the diving catches but, more importantly, for who he is and the passion in which he plays the game.

And the feeling is mutual.

“He is very loved by our fans, but he gives to our fans,” said MSU coach Chris Lemonis. “He never turns away an autograph. There’s days he’s stayed two hours, three hours. The night when he set the SEC (hits) record, he stayed for four hours signing autographs. The give-back of this kid is huge. Not only is he a great player – you see that every day – but who he is, is special.”

Mangum caps his college career as the SEC’s all-time hits king with 383 and also broke the school’s single-season hits mark in his final game on Thursday with his 108th hit of the year. He also owns MSU marks for the most games played (262), doubles (73) and at-bats (1,074).

Mangum also finished No. 4 on the NCAA career hits list.

“I’ve been very fortunate for the last four years,” Mangum said. “God has been very, very good to me for those four years, and they were the best four years of my life. Mississippi State baseball, it’s literally a part of me.”

The Pearl native was understandably an emotional wreck following Thursday’s walk-off loss, but collected his thoughts enough during the postgame press conference to express words of encouragement for the teammates he is leaving behind as he enters professional baseball with the New York Mets organization.

“You just want to leave the jersey better than when you picked it up,” Mangum said. “My freshman year, I came in with 16 guys. Five of them are left – four pitchers and I’m the only position player. We told each other we were going to help bring the first National Championship to Mississippi State. It didn’t work out, but man, we fought like hell for four years.

“Man, those four years were crazy. Baseball is like life. It’s not going to go the way you want it to, but how you respond to it is going to be good, and we’ve got a lot of guys that are going to respond to this very well. The guys coming back next year, they’re going to get after it in the fall, and they’re going to be ready to go in February in front of the best fan base in the country.”

Then in the same breath, Mangum turned towards Lemonis and looked him in the eyes to express his gratitude for him as well.

“Thank you for everything,” Mangum said. “You’re going to bring the first National Championship to this baseball program. You are. And it’s going to be awesome. I can’t wait to see it. You will.”

Student-athletes were then dismissed back to the locker room but Mangum asked the moderator if he could say one last thing. He proceeded to use his platform to plead for a third paid assistant coach to be added for college baseball and a scholarship increase from the current 11.7 model for each team.

“College baseball is evolving,” Mangum said. “It is. It’s time for a third paid assistant coach in college baseball. There’s a million people averaging watching this game. There’s 30,000 people in that stadium. This is my second time to Omaha. It’s time. This game is evolving. It’s growing. Every year it keeps getting bigger.

“In this dugout there were 27 players on each team. You start off with 35, you come with 27. Of those 35, there’s 11.7 on each team on scholarship. Like man, this game is getting way too big for that. These were the best four years of my life, and it’s time to adapt with that.”

logan.lowery@journalinc.com Twitter: @loganlowery

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