OMAHA — It begins with a “stomp,” soon followed by a “clap.” No words needed, just two sounds repeated with an underlying guitar.
The harmonic melody, which opens Johnny Cash’s God’s Gonna Cut You Down, injects a buzz into Dudy Noble Field signaling to Mississippi State fans closer Jonathan Holder is entering the game.
The roots of Holder’s entrance lie behind an Indiana catcher’s mask. Hoosiers backstopper Kyle Schwarber caught for the same Cape Cod League team that the MSU sophomore pitched for. During pregame banter one day, Schwarber suggested the now iconic walkout song.
“I listened to it and was like, ‘Man, it’s kind of slow isn’t it?’ ” Holder said. “I listened to it a few more times and it kind of grew on me a little bit.”.
Monday, Schwarber, Holder and Johnny Cash come full circle in the College World Series, where Mississippi State plays Indiana in the winner’s bracket (ESPN2, 8 pm.. ET).
Nineteen times Johnny Cash welcomed Holder this season in a save situation. Each time he cut down the opponents. His 19 saves are a school record, six more than the previous mark. Combined with his nine last year, Holder sits one shy of the school record 28.
“I guess it means a lot, I haven’t really thought about it,” Holder said. “I’m blessed to be able to be out here and pitch. It’s a good thing for sure.”.
The “good thing” almost never happened. Holder came to Mississippi State as a pitcher and power-hitting first baseman. The latter didn’t pan out. During the fall of his freshman year MSU coach John Cohen advised Holder to focus on pitching. If he didn’t, a spot on the team might not remain.
“I went and thought it over at Christmas for a while, prayed about it,” Holder said. “I kind of got led to pitching, that’s kind of how it went about.”.
He’s now the anchor of one of the best bullpens in the country. Three Mississippi State relievers boast ERAs of less than 2.00. Holder and Ross Mitchell were named All-Americans, the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association naming Holder to its first team.
“He’s just a sophomore. So proud of him,” Cohen said. “He knows who he is, he’s a great team guy and has really made the adjustment to college baseball faster than most kids do.”.
He’s cut down records and opponents. As he and the Bulldogs arrived in Omaha, they looked to cut seven more down for the program’s first College World Series title.
But Holder will have to do it without his salient entrance. The closer entered to God’s Gonna Cut You Down at the SEC tournament and again in the Starkville Regional. But in Omaha, as players step to the plate and pitchers enter the game, there is only silence.
“I’ll be thinking about it in my head,” Holder said. “Just kind of relaxes me, get me back in my state of mind. A lot of people kind of sing along with it, so it will definitely be here.”.
Michael Bonner also writes for The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger.