Mississippi State’s Elijah MacNamee is greeted by his teammates after hitting the first of two home runs in Friday night’s 10-8 win over Vanderbilt at the Nashville Super Regional being played at Hawkins Field. Photo by: Kelly Donoho/Mississippi State Athletic Media Relations
June 9, 2018 10:08:14 PM
NASHVILLE -- Contrary to recent evidence, Elijah MacNamee is not predisposed to the moments he's been granted in the NCAA tournament, the same pressure-laden moments he lives for.
He is not a naturally calm person, a trait he gets from his mother, Jennifer Horton. He has to find ways to calm himself, and find new ways to replace the old ways when they need to change, be it lack of effectiveness or outside influence.
MacNamee's ability to conquer those moments shocked Horton to silence and tears in a scene of unchecked pandemonium.
MacNamee's teammates jumped over the wall, water bottles and other celebration paraphernalia in hand; the hundreds of Mississippi State baseball fans at Hawkins Field were no longer under control, some of them spilling out to the top of the dugout their team just emptied. But as MacNamee's two-run walkoff home run that beat Vanderbilt 10-8 Friday night left Hawkins Field, all MacNamee did was point at his mother, in her seat in stunned silence.
"I'm always the yeller, the screamer, jumping around, but I was in shock. Before I knew it, it was over," Horton said. "That happens to a player once in a lifetime, but to do it twice like this is crazy to me."
The process that makes it happen is a simple one.
Horton describes her son as, "high-strung," someone who would often pace in the background when things got tense.
"He gets caught in the moment of, 'What if this is the moment, what if this is the time?' He wants to win no matter what, so he's going to put it on himself.
That desire may make MacNamee the perfect player for the game-deciding moments, but it doesn't make him the right person. That requires work.
As he awaited the 0-2 offspeed pitch he would launch to left field, the only thing on his mind was the word Easton. It is the maker of the bat he has used since the NCAA tournament began and the only discernible print on the bat, so he used it as a distraction. He read it, over and over again, to the point that it was the only thing on his mind. He was no longer aware the game's winning run was on first; he was also unaware he could send the game to extra innings tied by grounding into a double play.
The need to stay calm doesn't go away when the moment's passed. He celebrated both of his Friday home runs -- he hit a three-run shot in the third inning -- by simply pointing to the contingent of MSU fans in the building.
"The reason I'm pointing is so I don't go crazy," MacNamee said. "I like to show my emotion, that's my passion for the game, but I try not to do anything psycho in that moment."
The second point was just for his mother, the one who still isn't well-trained in keeping her cool for these moments.
Horton did not see the Vanderbilt run that gave MacNamee a ninth-inning at-bat; she was under the stands of Hawkins Field with Sarah Brown, the wife of MSU assistant coach Mike, acting out any number of superstitious rituals. As the Vanderbilt run scored, they determined they had to make a change, returning to their seats above the Bulldog dugout.
From there, Horton watched her son become a Bulldog legend. He may have been remembered forever for his heroics in the Tallahassee Regional, and with yet another blast that legacy is almost certainly cemented.
Horton was frozen in her seat, in honest disbelief. Then all she could do was jump and cry, eventually embracing Erin Gautreau, the wife of MSU assistant coach Jake. MacNamee found her leaning against the net for a moment of celebration, one that would continue on the street outside the stadium half an hour later.
There's been a lot of celebrating to do lately for Horton, MacNamee and his step-father, Phil Horton. Jennifer Horton hasn't tried to respond to every phone call and text message over the last 48 hours, knowing she is unable to; she's convinced some of the well-wishers are still reacting to MacNamee's first walkoff home run (in last Saturday's Tallahassee Regional win over Florida State), unaware that the junior has done it again.
Jennifer Horton can't blame them. This has been a daze for them all, and they like it that way. She said when MacNamee met her after the game and she asked for an explanation, he said, "'I don't know, Mom, but whatever it is it has to keep going on.'"
MacNamee has hit five home runs in MSU's first six postseason games.
It's possible the daze has helped MacNamee keep it going, although Phil Horton is quick to credit MacNamee's dedication to the next day, next at-bat approach Jake Gautreau preaches. Whatever it is, MacNamee is willing to feed the monster.
"Yes, I'm thinking about it all the time and I'm going to go watch the video a hundred times, but I'm trying to stay so humble about it because the feeling of being successful is fun," MacNamee said as he walked across the outfield, celebration behind him and more ahead. "I'm trying to keep my head straight and stay humble about it so I can keep doing that."
Maybe MacNamee is trying not to enjoy his spoils too much, but he's getting better at it. His home run trots are slowing down -- he's no longer halfway to second base when the ball leaves the park. Despite his best efforts, he's getting better at being the hero, and given his approach to it all he can only hope it's subconscious.
Given enough repetition, anyone can slow down when they need to most.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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