'Selfless': How Riley Self has helped Mississippi State baseball after injury
STARKVILLE – Riley Self was at the forefront of it all.
The Mississippi State pitcher, then a sophomore, shut out Florida State in the top of the ninth in the 2018 Tallahassee Regional. It was his third straight scoreless inning in a game that MSU had to win to stave off elimination.
The Bulldogs trailed 2-0, and they needed at least two runs to save their season. They got three on Elijah MacNamee's walk-off home run. Self had as good a view of MacNamee dancing around the bases as anyone.
Immediately after giving MacNamee a chance to be the hero by stymieing the Seminoles, Self didn't retire to the dugout like most relief pitchers would've.
He put a helmet on and watched the walk-off unfold as MSU's first base coach.
"It was something that you'll never forget as a fan, player, a coach – anything," Self said. "Just to be at first base when everybody realized it actually went over the fence, this is actually happening, and to have that interaction with Elijah coming around first base, it was something special."
Three years later, Self is still coaching first base for MSU. And he isn't even pitching.
Self injured his elbow in the eighth inning of an 8-2 loss to Arkansas on March 26. He had Tommy John surgery a few days later. Just like that, his senior season was over.
But it was really only just getting started.
Self has remained active with the team. He shows up to every practice. He's at Dudy Noble Field early on game days. He goes on road trips even though the travel roster has been reduced this season because of COVID-19 precautions.
And, of course, he coaches first base.
"It's been really special being able to be out there," Self said. "Even when I'm injured and not playing, I'm still part of the game. Still locked in."
'Dawgs win again'
You might know Self as the "Dawgs win again" guy.
Self ran up to a camera and said those words point blank after senior right fielder Tanner Allen's walk-off single against Tulane on Feb. 28. "Dawgs win again" has become Mississippi State's mantra this season.
And it's only fitting Self coined the phrase.
"To be honest with you, he is the team," MSU junior pitcher Preston Johnson said. "He's like the dad of the team. He's the one when you have a bad day, you can always count on Riley to bring you back up. When you see him, you can't help but smile."
That has remained the case even after the injury.
"His attitude in the dugout during the game and in practice has not changed," Allen said. "I have the utmost respect for that. If I went down with a season-ending injury, it would be hard for me to keep the same attitude like he's doing."
Self's altruism stems from a teachable moment one week after the MacNamee walk-off.
Mississippi State was three outs away from beating Vanderbilt in the 2018 Nashville Super Regional. Self recorded the first out. Then it all unraveled on him.
He gave up a solo home run. Then a single. Then another home run. Vanderbilt tied the game and threatened to steal it when Self proceeded to give up a two-out walk. He was taken out, and he immediately let out his frustrations on a dugout bathroom paper towel dispenser.
He punched a hole through it.
"Everybody, no matter what they say, is going to get angry at certain points, especially when they lose a battle," Self said. "And every time we lose a battle, that fire is there. I think it pushes people to be better, but I also think if we use it wrong, it can be destructive.
"For me it's, 'Hey, you can get angry for that 15 seconds, but then you've got to be there for your teammates and pick them up."
Self isn't advocating for destruction of property when times get tough. He said he'd take it back if he could, but he remained positive there after.
MSU relief pitchers Zach Neff, Denver McQuary and Keegan James combined to hold Vanderbilt scoreless in the 10th and 11th innings of what was ultimately a 10-6 Mississippi State victory. Self cheered as loudly and proudly as anyone.
The bathroom incident was behind him. That's how Self likes to live. Never dwelling on the past, not thinking about home runs or season-ending injuries. Always thinking about the opportunity ahead.
He has one right now. MSU coach Chris Lemonis said Self wants to be a full-time coach some day. What better way to get a head start than what he's doing now, coaching first base as a senior with a healing, surgically-repaired elbow.
"He's selfless," Allen said. "He could easily pack it in and not care. He’s a team guy."