It’s finally February again, the month for lovers – lovers of baseball.
Yep! Over the next two weeks, every high school and college baseball field in Mississippi will fill up with players, coaches, and fans eager to begin another season of America’s favorite pastime.
Granted, the opening days of the 2024 high school baseball season here in Mississippi could also usher in another round of sleet and snow to our state. But the faithful, hardcore followers of baseball will not be deterred. In fact, extremely cold temperatures are an expected encore to each year’s baseball season in Mississippi.
Have no fear! Baseball moms throughout the Magnolia State are already prepared for these opening games. Each mom has her gigantic baseball bag filled with blankets, umbrellas, gloves, multiple layers of clothing, coats, hats, gloves, scarves, and extra socks – along with numerous snacks and first aid items, of course.
Those “baseball momma bags” are packed and waiting by the door, standing right beside the family’s assortment of team-colored folding chairs. And the portable heaters are ready to roll – literally (Mine has its own collapsible pushcart, accompanied by another tank or two of butane, just in case the games go long and the temperatures plummet).
Needless to say, most baseball dads are not quite as psychotic about their cold weather preparations as baseball moms and grandmothers. The guys will just grab all their warm hunting gear from the backseat of their trucks, left there after the last day of deer season, specifically (or so they say) for the upcoming baseball games.
So, no matter the weather on opening day, the baseball games will go on, and the fans will cheer on their teams with love for the game and for their boys. And in the future, these cold 2024 games will bring back some of the warmest memories.
Just ask Coach Rex Berryman.
Berryman retired from Mooreville High School in 2010 with eight state championships and Mississippi’s record for most wins (1,068) in the least number of seasons (38). He has fond memories from some of the coldest baseball games on record.
“Early in the season of 2005,” said Berryman, “We played Pontotoc High School, and it was freezing cold, barely 20 degrees. Truth is, we should have rescheduled that game.
“Luckily, I had just bought a nice pair of warm leather gloves for the season, and one of our other coaches, Derek Thompson, borrowed them each inning as he headed out to third base. We were hitting good, and the fifth inning went really long. By the time Derek got back in the dugout, he was so cold he headed straight to our portable heater.”
Berryman laughed as he finished his story, “Even inside those nice gloves, he still could not feel his fingers, and before Derek knew it, he had melted the tips of my brand-new, $80 gloves. That’s one cold game I will never forget!”
That cold and costly baseball game was only one of many great memories Berryman has of his 2005 Mooreville state championship team. It was also memorable for our family as well, since our youngest son Chris was the catcher for the Troopers that season.
But the truth is, it’s a bittersweet memory. And the opening day of the 2024 baseball season up here in the northeast corner of our state will also be bittersweet, especially for the athletes, staff, and fans from East Union Attendance Center.
Our East Union baseball boys will return to the field as back-to-back 2A State Champions, but they will return to play the game they love without one of the coaches they loved – our son, Coach Chris Lucius.
On June 2, 2023, at Trustmark Stadium in Pearl, Mississippi, the East Union Urchins walked away from that baseball field with a championship trophy. And 18 days later, Coach Lucius died after a six-year battle with leukemia.
News stations across the state reported his death, and one commentator even announced that Coach Lucius “lost his battle with cancer.” But that statement was the farthest possible thing from the truth.
Just ask any player or student from East Union, and they will tell you that Coach Lucius taught them what it takes to win in baseball – and in life. But by consistent, hard-fought example, he showed them exactly what it means to be forever a champion.
So, yes, this season means a little more to East Union baseball players than ever before.
Make no mistake! They definitely hope to bring home three state championship titles in a row. But they also intend to do their best for Coach Lucius – no matter what obstacles they face, be it tough opponents or harsh weather.
Whatever it takes, the Urchins will face this season with the courage of champions.