HOWELL: Southern Miss should ditch Pearl once and for all following Tuesday’s sod debacle

Enough is enough. 

Typically, the main complaint about Southern Miss baseball games at Trustmark Park in Pearl boils down to broadcast issues where highly-anticipated matchups between the Golden Eagles and Mississippi State or Ole Miss are unavailable to watch. Those are minor issues in the grand scheme of things. Tuesday’s issues proved to be a threat to player safety. That’s a major issue.

With Southern Miss leading 2-1 in the bottom of the fourth inning, Matthew Etzel laid down a bunt against the shift for a single down the third base line. After Etzel settled in at first, the umpires met with Southern Miss’ Scott Berry and Ole Miss’ Mike Bianco. 

Dima Mixon

The reason for the meeting? Playing conditions. A week away from the Mississippi Braves’ season opener at the stadium.

On Etzel’s bunt, Rebel pitcher Brayden Jones stumbled off the mound while trying to make the play. His leg buckled in what could easily have resulted in a knee injury. Luckily for Jones, no apparent injury occurred, and all parties involved smartly called the game off. This was the final straw for the umpiring crew and the two teams, as there was a mound meeting the previous inning covering the same topic.

While having sod that even a junior varsity team would scoff at is bad enough, the response by the Mississippi Braves might be even worse. After the no-contest ruling, fans who made the trip from Oxford and Hattiesburg alike awaited either a make-up date or a refund on their tickets. They were awarded neither.

Instead, the M-Braves released a statement revealing that the game is not to be rescheduled and fans will not receive a refund. In lieu of getting their money back, fans are allowed the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the M-Braves partake in AA minor league action. Personally, I can’t see many Rebel fans or Golden Eagle fans eager to make another trip to Pearl after Tuesday’s field-fiasco. Southern Miss shouldn’t make the trip any more, either.

It’s hard to ignore the history that the Golden Eagles have with Trustmark Park. The stadium, opened in 2005, has hosted matchups between the Golden Eagles and Rebels since 2006, as well as matchups between the Golden Eagles and Bulldogs since 2009. Before that, the trio made appearances at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson, which is in no condition to host the rivalries once again. This leaves the teams no choice but to leave the Jackson-Metro area.

Dima Mixon

There is a reason why Southern Miss, Mississippi State and Ole Miss no longer play at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium. It’s because, like Smith-Wills, the programs outgrew the dated facilities. It was no easy task for fans to fathom the teams not squaring off on the gridiron in the City with Soul, but the decision ultimately proved for the better. Though that move sparked the beginning of the end of regular meetings for Southern Miss and their in-state adversaries in football, the teams remain in good spirits about playing in baseball. The series against the Bulldogs and Rebels will continue.

The question is where do the meetings go from here? MGM Park in Biloxi is a frequent response thrown around, but I don’t see Ole Miss willing to make the trip every season. Prior to a game at MGM Park against Nicholls State in 2017, the Rebels had not played a game on the Gulf Coast since 1911. They have not returned.

Mississippi State, on the other hand, makes frequent visits to MGM Park including a pair of games March 14-15. The Bulldogs have a strong following on the Gulf Coast, so one might figure that they would be willing to play Southern Miss in MGM Park if the two teams went the neutral site route.

Charlie Luttrell

The easy solution for all parties involved is to go to a home-and-home series. One game in Hattiesburg, one game in Oxford or Starkville. It makes for a much longer bus ride for the Golden Eagles, but I know the prospect of getting to potentially host the Bulldogs and Rebels each year at Pete Taylor Park would more than make up for it. For Mississippi State and Ole Miss, it’s just two extra hours down Highway 49. Considering that both Dudy Noble Field and Swayze Field boast a larger capacity than Trustmark Park, this seems like a no-brainer for them. This way, more money goes directly into the universities’ pockets and fans get to partake in a raucous atmosphere on their territory. 

I will say that I personally enjoy Trustmark Park. I’ve been there numerous times as a fan, watching eventual 2022 NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt and the Mobile BayBears defeat the M-Braves, and I saw my hometown George County Rebels try and fail three times in the state championship at the stadium. I have fond memories of the stadium, just like many fans had of The Vet. They say that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. In this case, it is.