Rivalry. The very word evokes emotion in every sports fan. For some, it’s fairly simple. Their team does not like another team, so they don’t like that team. For others, the diehards, rivalries run deeper. The impulse to despise that one opponent has been ingrained in them from birth. The hatred is passed down from generation to generation. And yet, deep down, these fans know they need their rival teams. Without them, what would they have?
It Just Means More
The greatest rivalries in sports are in the SEC. Sure, there are others in different conferences, Ohio State vs Michigan and Duke vs UNC to name a few. However, it just means more down south. Auburn vs. Alabama, Florida vs. Georgia, LSU vs. Alabama, the list goes on and on. One of the most intense rivalries in the SEC and in all of sports is Ole Miss and Mississippi State. The hatred between the Rebels and the Bulldogs has been around since 1901, and it won’t stop anytime soon.
Most collegiate rivalries span all sports, and Ole Miss Mississippi State is no different. Football is obviously the most popular, but every time these two schools meet there is extra intensity on the field or court. And now, this time next year, two members of Buchholz baseball, Luke Baker and Corbin Grantham, will be on opposite sides of the Battle for Mississippi.
Baker is a 6’6 lefty pitcher for the Bobcats. His height and body type caught the attention of scouts as early as his freshman year. However, only a few schools were looking at him until his sophomore year when his velocity came in. Within a few months scouts began heavily recruiting Baker.
“The summer after my freshman year was really quiet,” Baker said. “I come out the next summer and it’s blowing up.”
Ole Miss began recruiting Baker only three months before he committed. It was pretty simple as to why he chose Oxford.
“People in Gainesville have told me that’s the best place they have ever gone to watch baseball,” Baker said. “It’s a nationwide known thing that Ole Miss is one of those places you have to go to. I also really like the coaching staff…. I’m really excited about everything they have there. Not just the fans, not just the coaches, but the whole mix.”
As for Grantham, his recruitment was a bit more complicated. Many people, scouts especially, used to look at him more as a football player because of his father, Todd Grantham, being a football coach. Grantham is the current defensive coordinator for the Florida Gators. It was not until his junior year that baseball recruitment really picked up. He didn’t play football his senior year to focus on baseball and attended a showcase in Indianapolis, rightfully garnering the attention of scouts.
“People were like ‘hey this kid is pretty legit,’” Grantham said. “Then, I started getting phone calls and it started picking up. Then Mississippi State called, and I went on a visit and it just happened.”
When asked about why he chose Starkville, Grantham was quick to show love to his future school.
“The fanbase is pretty insane and their stadium and their facilities are just crazy,” Grantham said. “There’s a lot of good people that come out of Mississippi State and go to the MLB. I feel like they develop players pretty well so that’s a big key for me [also].”
Having these two on the same high school baseball field is a huge advantage for the Bobcats. Entering the 2021 season, however, they will be 95 miles away from each other and in the middle of a century-long war. Each has experienced rivalry at the high school level. Buchholz has a long-standing rivalry with Gainesville High School. That is nothing compared to what they will experience at the next level.
“It’s pretty heated, Grantham said. “There’s a lot of blue-collar white-collar stuff going on. It keeps the state of Mississippi like ‘hey we’ve got two of the top baseball teams in the nation.’ So, I think that’s pretty special for each of them.”
These two will not only be involved with this war, but they will be fighting each other in it. For Baker, he’s excited about the challenge of throwing to a familiar face.
“I think that’ll be kind of cool,” Baker said. “I’ve been throwing to these guys for a few years, so I wouldn’t say it’s anything new. I think it is actually a disadvantage to me because he’s seen me more times than not, but I think that’ll be cool. It’s always nice when you see a friend walk up to the plate. You kind of know like ‘ok you can throw it here and you can do this, and you can do that.’ I think it’ll be fun.”
Grantham, on the other hand, didn’t think about the actual logistics of facing Baker in the box.
“ If I get up there and I see Luke, I’ll start laughing a little bit, to be honest,” Grantham said, smiling. “I probably would.”
There is a full season of baseball to be played before these two reach Mississippi, and the Bobcats will make a run in the postseason. However, Rebels’ and Bulldogs’ fans are counting down the days until they each step foot on campus, set to continue the war into another century.