Billingsley always had desire to become a Bulldog

Jacob Billingsley, right
Staff Writer

To say this weekend’s baseball series between Mississippi State and No. 1 Florida is big for the Bulldogs is an understatement.

MSU is fighting for its postseason life as it looks to qualify for the Southeastern Conference Tournament and boost its resume for an NCAA Tournament berth.

No matter how things shake out, Mississippi State pitcher Jacob Billingsley is already a winner. From a young age, the right-handed hurler always dreamed of playing for the Bulldogs. Now that the senior is coming to the end of his tenure in maroon and white, he can’t help but look back with a sense of accomplishment.

“I was able to play in the place that I always wanted to play,” Billingsley said. “We came to the games here and I was always wishing I could be out on that field. I had the opportunity to do that and it has been awesome.”

Billingsley’s road to Starkville and a Mississippi State career has been one paved by hard work and good fortune. Before any of that though, it was built on the foundation of a Bulldog bloodline.

“My dad went (to MSU) and my granddad did too,” Billingsley said. “Growing up, as far back as I can remember, we were Mississippi State fans. We came to Mississippi State football games, basketball games and baseball games. For Christmas when I was little, we asked to come to the baseball camp that they held (at MSU) in January. That’s what we’d get. I just grew up around it. It was ingrained in me. I didn’t really have a choice.”

With that in mind, it should come as little surprise what Billingsley’s ultimate goal was as he played his high school baseball at Magnolia Heights in Senatobia. He wanted to be a Bulldog. Yet pitching wasn’t really his plan. That all changed though thanks to what ended up being a fortunate twist of fate.

“I never really pitched until I was a junior in high school,” Billingsley said. “I was a shortstop and third baseman, but I ended up tearing up my knee in high school football and having to rehab and all that. I came back and it was within six months and I was like, ‘Heck, I can pitch.’ That’s kind of how it started. We ended up getting a pretty good shortstop and I was still trying to rehab so I just went into pitching. I kind of realized I was decent at pitching. That summer and fall, I made those progressions to where I was kind of specifically thinking about and training for that. It has been a blessing in disguise.”

Billingsley went on to have two outstanding years as a high school hurler. In that timeframe, Billingsley earned a spot in the State Games of Mississippi as a pitcher and third baseman. It was there that he first caught the eyes of the Bulldogs.

“I pitched the second or third game (at the State Games) and (former MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson) saw me and sent me an email,” Billingsley recalled. “I thought that was the biggest thing ever. It was just a generic email. It was just one you send out to all the guys you’re thinking about, but I thought it was cool. He sent me his number. I called him and he asked me to come to a camp. I had to come to the camp and played (at MSU) in front of about 180 or 200 high school kids that day. I came out here and I think I faced four guys and struck out three of them. After that, (Thompson) pulled me aside and told me he wanted me to come on a visit. That’s kind of how it started. It was a blessing that he was the one that ended up seeing me first.”

Not long after, Billingsley was finally, officially a Bulldog. All wasn’t roses though for Billingsley early on in his MSU career. He redshirted his first season in 2014 – an understandable situation given that year’s Mississippi State bullpen featured future big leaguers such as Jacob Lindgren, Brandon Woodruff and Jonathan Holder, then in 2015, Billingsley was slated to be the Mississippi State closer. That didn’t happen after it was discovered Billingsley had bone chips in his throwing shoulder. He missed his entire redshirt freshman season, too.

Finally, after two years of sitting out, Billingsley made his Mississippi State debut in 2016. It started out right where he always envisioned it would – in the bullpen. As a reliever in 2016, Billingsley pitched 10 innings and allowed just a pair of runs while striking out 14. It appeared MSU finally had Billingsley as a valuable back-end of the bullpen piece. Like with his high school injury situation years prior though, fate had other plans.
In 2017, Mississippi State’s pitching staff was depleted as guys suffered through numerous ailments. That led Billingsley to have to adjust one more time in his baseball career.

“We were low on arms and (then-pitching coach and current MSU interim head coach Gary Henderson) came to me and said, ‘Can you start some games?’ I said, ‘Yeah. Let’s do it.’ That’s kind of how it started.”
Billingsley went on to start 13 games in 2017. By the end of the year he was a weekend starter. He’s held that role essentially ever since. This season, Billingsley has capped his career by starting for the Bulldogs every weekend except for one.

“I never would have guessed I’d be a weekend starter,” Billingsley said. “I always was making myself kind of go for that bullpen role. That’s just kind of who I was. I was always the guy that came in and struck dudes out. Get hyped, then get out of the game. It has definitely been something that has been a transition.”

As Billingsley gets to the end of his MSU career now, he’s just hoping for the chance for a few more starts, relief appearances, or whatever the Bulldogs need from him. That starts with getting at least a win or two this weekend.

The more MSU wins, the longer Billingsley gets to be a Bulldog. It’s what he always wanted to be. He’s not in any great hurry for it to end.

“I definitely think about it, but we have huge games left,” Billingsley said of his MSU career winding down. “If we can take care of business with that, I can extend my career here. That’s what we’re looking for and that’s where my focus is right now.”