If you were to catch-up with John Cohen and Burke Masters on a typical day, you would never guess the connection. Cohen is the intense, passionate head coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Masters is a parish priest in Chicago. But 23 years ago, they were teammates for the Maroon and White.
Their paths have once again crossed this week with Cohen’s Bulldogs here in Omaha playing in the College World Series. Masters is also here in Omaha teaching a one week class to seminarians at Creighton University. Masters says it’s purely coincidental but perhaps there is a “Master Plan” at work here.
Back in 1990, Masters was the toast of Starkville. His grand slam vs. Florida State in the NCAA Regionals catapulted the Bulldogs to the College World Series. Cohen was a senior outfielder on that team. To this day, Masters maintains celebrity status with Mississippi State fans.
Bulldogs’ Baseball Sports Information Director Joe Dier says Masters’ buddies are amazed. To them, he’s the humble Father Burke Masters. To Mississippi State fans, Masters’ autograph is one of great demand. He will always be remembered as the guy who had one of the single greatest games in school history, his grand slam capping a 6-for-6 performance, almost by himself eliminating the powerful Seminoles.
We got a chance to spend some time with Masters at practice Thursday and he told us (too no great surprise) that Cohen was a fiery teammate. He remembered an occasion when Cohen fell behind in the count and with two strikes against a great pitcher, the guys in the dugout knew what was coming. Anticipating that Cohen might strikeout and then in anger do some damage, his teammates cleared out. When Cohen did indeed strikeout, he returned to an empty dugout and just laughed.
Masters is one of many former Bulldogs including the legendary Will Clark and Jeff Brantley to reach out to Cohen to offer encouragement, support and congratulations as this Mississippi State team tries to do what no other has ever done and that’s win the national championship.
Mississippi State was not a favorite to get to Omaha, although I’m not surprised they are here. After all the Bulldogs finished 5th in the SEC but while regular season champion Vanderbilt got beat in the Supers and tournament champion LSU was a surprising two-and-out here in Omaha, Mississippi State is still standing and now just one win from playing in the national championship series.
Masters told the team the other day that he was proud of them and praying for them. Twice in this CWS, the Bulldogs have rallied with big hits in the 8th, ultimately beating Oregon State and Indiana by identical 5-4 scores. Watching this team play, it seems there might be a Master Plan at work.