Photo | Courtesy of Mississippi State
In the case of Tanner Allen, one doesn’t win SEC Player of the Year honors — that distinction is earned.
“It’s just a true honor, it really is,” Allen, a former UMS-Wright star and now senior outfielder at Mississippi State, said. “I’m not going to lie to you, I felt like I earned it. I will never forget going home last year after the season got canceled [because of COVID-19 protocols] and not hearing my name get called [in the Major League Baseball Draft). Laying in bed that night, I said I’m going to do everything in my power next year [2021 season] to be the best baseball player I can be.”
And to make sure he didn’t forget the promise he made to himself, Allen left himself a note of sorts.
“I had a piece of tape [with a message] written on my bathroom mirror,” Allen said, “and it said ‘SEC Player of the Year.’ At the time, I just said I’m going to do everything I can to do it. I don’t know if I can do it, but I’m going to prepare and do everything I can.
“In the fall, I was having a really good fall, and some of my teammates were joking and picking at me, and they said, ‘You think you’re the best in the conference, the best in the country, don’t you?’ And I had enough guts to say, ‘I think I am.’ And then the next thing I know I turn around and I won SEC Player of the Year. I felt like I earned it. It’s truly humbling. Honestly, I really am proud of it because as hard as I worked, I feel like I deserved it.”
As much as it means to him to have been selected the SEC Player of the Year — in a season in which there are several high-profile individual players and several Top 25 teams — there’s a title Allen said he would mean even more to him: College World Series champion.
That, too, is a possibility for the Theodore native and former UMS-Wright standout in baseball and football. His Mississippi State team defeated Notre Dame 11-7 Monday in Game 3 of the best-of-three Super Regional series in Starkville to earn the final spot in the College World Series that begins this week in Omaha. The Bulldogs will take on Texas at 6 p.m. Sunday in their first College World Series game. It will be televised by ESPN2.
“It’s been an unbelievable season,” he said. “We ended [the regular season] with 40-plus wins, which was what we wanted to do. We got to host a Regional and a Super Regional, which is what we wanted to do. There were some tough losses in there, but we learned from them and we had some great wins as well.
“At the beginning of the year this year, our goal was to host a Regional and Super Regional. We wanted to pack this place out and play in front of 15,000, and we’ve done that. For any young guys trying to figure out where they want to play baseball, if Mississippi State offers you a scholarship to play here, you’d be crazy not to accept it. Because when you’re playing in front of 15,000 it’s a lot different than playing in front of 800 people.
“It’s like a football game, man. If you’ve been to an Alabama football game, it is electric, it’s loud. That’s what it’s like for a baseball game here. We may not have 100,000 people but we’ll have 15,000 in a smaller stadium. You step out on the field and you smell the smoke coming from grills and the lights are on for a 7 o’clock game on a Friday night and there’s 14,000 or 15,000 people hollering and you take the field and everybody goes crazy. There’s nothing like it. It’s a special place.”
And baseball is a special game for Allen, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound outfielder. He came by his love of the game naturally — “Watching the Braves play on TV,” he said.
“My mom and dad [Windi and Greg Allen] were really big Braves fans,” he said. “I can remember coming home from school and everyone would be watching the Braves game. I said, ‘Man, I want to play baseball.’ Ironically, I started out swinging a golf club left-handed and then I just naturally picked up a baseball bat left-handed and started playing.
“I used to go behind my house when I was 4 years old, 5 years old, and I would take a broomstick and hit rocks with it and act like I was Chipper Jones, hitting home runs over the fence at Turner Field. It was pretty neat. Chipper was my favorite player; he still is. I don’t even watch baseball much anymore since he retired.”
At UMS-Wright, baseball wasn’t Allen’s only sport. He spent his final three years at the school as the team’s starting quarterback. But he spent five seasons on the UMS baseball team, earning All-State honors three times. He also was named an underclassman All-America selection his junior season, when the Alabama Sports Writers Association awarded him Class 4A Player of the Year. He would earn second-team All-America honors as a senior.
Choosing between the two sports wasn’t as difficult a decision as one might believe.
“Obviously, football is a big part of the town back home in Mobile,” Allen said. “Everybody is really good. Every time you look up at the state championships somebody from Mobile is always there, no matter what the classification. Playing football at UMS is awesome, it was really neat. It has a great fan base, it’s a great school and Coach [Terry] Curtis does a great job with us and all the guys now that I’m gone. It was special.
“I knew I wanted to play at an SEC school. I wanted to play at a big school. I didn’t care if it was baseball or football. But after looking at those SEC [football] players, man, I am nowhere near that size and I didn’t want to get my brains beat out for the rest of my life. And I was obviously better at baseball than I was at football, and I figured my body would really appreciate it if I went to baseball instead of football.”
He signed with Mississippi State and his decision has proved to be a good one. Allen enters the College World Series with a .392 batting average in 60 games with 64 runs scored, 91 hits, 16 doubles, five triples, 10 home runs, 62 runs batted in, a .634 slugging percentage, 22 walks, a .463 on-base percentage and nine stolen bases. In the Super Regional, he hit a pair of home runs and a double, made a great diving catch in Game 3, scored five times, drove in four runs and was a sparkplug for his team.
Drafted in the 36th round by the Chicago Cubs in 2017 and in the 34th round by the Colorado Rockies in 2019, when Allen didn’t get drafted in 2020 during the pandemic, he used that as motivation toward preparations for this season. He is expected to be a much higher selection in next month’s Major League Baseball Draft.
“To be honest with you, I just let my preparation and my work ethic take care of everything,” he said when asked if he spent much time thinking about the draft. “I feel like I’ve worked hard enough in the offseason and this season to play at the next level, so I’m not really worried about it. I’m just worried about how I can help our guys win the Super Regional … I’ve been to Omaha a couple of times and it‘s awesome. Some of these guys have never been and I want them to go there and experience it. It’s the coolest place in the world to play baseball at.”
Allen said when he looks back on his time at Mississippi State the memories he will recall most vividly are of playing on great teams in front of great crowds.
“I’ll remember the grind it was every single weekend and the brothers that I did it with,” he said. “These guys are unbelievable. When you’re with great teammates it just makes this place more special. I’ll remember the fan base, the folks at Dudy Noble [Field], stuff like that, small things.
“Nothing compares to being at Dudy Noble with your teammates. This town and this fan base, we’re like a huge family. It’s special to me and it’s something I’ll never forget and will always be in my heart.”
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