Mississippi State at Louisiana: How This Man Would Have Loved It – From the Bird’s Nest
Cindy and I had plenty of time before the Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajuns (then known as USL) faced Georgia Tech in an elimination game in the 1997 NCAA Starkville Regional at Dudy Noble Field/Polk-Dement Stadium. The Cajuns had lost a one run game to Washington the day before. We were walking on ground level when she said “there’s my dad. I want you to meet him.”
We walked over and up to a man holding a game program, wearing glasses. He smiled when he saw Cindy. She introduced us and told her dad I was the radio broadcaster for the Ragin’ Cajuns. He shook my hand and growled “Y’all should’ve won that damn game yesterday,” he said.
And, THAT was my introduction to Barton Wentworth MacNeill, PhD.
Over the next several months I would get to know the man known to many as B. W. The first time I went to his farm to spend a weekend, I found out Bart had many passions. He loved to hunt. He enjoyed fishing. He had cattle on his farm to which kept him plenty busy.
But Bart MacNeill loved baseball.
It seemed no matter the season, our conversations always turned to baseball. He was a big Braves fan. He loved his Mississippi State Bulldogs. But Bart would watch any baseball game. He just loved baseball.
The day I talked with him about marrying his daughter was at, as you might expect, Dudy Noble Field during a fall ball scrimmage. After I talked with him, we went up and sat in the seats he and his wife Kathryn had during the season. They were at the top row behind home plate right under the press box. That led me to believe Bart had these tickets for a l-o-n-g time before we ever met.
Just about every man of Bart’s age had a story to tell. I was fascinated by Bart’s.
He was from New Jersey. He joined the Air Force when World War II broke out. He was a fighter pilot who flew seventeen missions over Nazi Germany. Got shot down on the 17th mission and was a prisoner of war for a year. It came at a time when troops were told the Allies were winning the war and, therefore, not to attempt an escape. He spent a year in the POW camp. Probably wasn’t his most pleasant experience.
My good friend, Jim McGehee, threw a party for Cindy and me after we got married. (We got married in Mississippi). Bart, never one to miss a party, came in with Kathryn. And Bart, who was known to enjoy his whisky (Makers Mark was his choice), got a bit tipsy. Kathryn was originally from Georgia and had that perfect “Suthen” accent. As we all walked to the car she said “Bahhht. You’re drunk.” Bart simply said “(shoot) woman, I bombed Hitler drunker than this.” He was probably telling the truth.
When the war ended, he and his Cindy’s mother Jean started their family. He made the Air Force a career. His family was in Biloxi, Aberdeen Proving Grounds (MD), Savannah, GA, Okinawa, Harlingen, TX and finally, Amarillo. By the time they got to the final stop, Bart and Jean had eight children, three boys and five girls. By the time he was ready to retire, Bart had attained the rank of Major. Bart’s last day in the Air Force was November 22, 1963, the day President Kennedy was assassinated.
Bart wanted to settle in the south. He chose Mississippi. But the question now arose: How would he now support his wife and his eight children? He decided he wanted to teach. There was only one problem: He didn’t have a college education. So, at the age of 40, Bart MacNeill became a college student. He made the decision he would go to school full time and live on his military pension….
With eight children.
Cindy says there was one summer when the only thing they ate was corn. Every day. But it paid off. Bart had his degree from Mississippi State in three years. He got a job as a schoolteacher. He eventually became an elementary school principal.
And, he continued his education, eventually earning his doctorate in educational psychology. He went to work at Mississippi State in the continuing ed department and eventually retired in 1985.
By that time, the kids were mostly grown. Every one of them…all eight…got his/her degree. Four earned at least a masters. One became a lawyer. One got a PhD in chemistry. Allen, the eldest, got an appointment at the Air Force Academy. He fought in Vietnam. Died very young. The family believes his cancer was a product of Agent Orange.
It took a lot of visits, and plenty of fill in the blanks from Cindy and her siblings to get the whole story. Bart told plenty of the stories, but when we got together, we talked more about baseball than just about anything else. During his career after the war, Bart did a lot of semi-pro umpiring and was able to stay close to the game. As he got older, Bart continued to go to see his Bulldogs play, although he went less at the beginning of the season. “Too damned cold,” he said.
But, he also became a fan, from afar, of the Ragin’ Cajuns. The Cajuns earned a regional bid in 1998, won a regional in 1999 and went to the College World Series in 2000. Bart lived vicariously through me during those times. He and Kathryn would occasionally make the trek to Lafayette to see a series during the season. One time they stayed through Monday and I introduced him to Coach Tony Robichaux after his radio program. Bart proceeded to talk baseball with Tony for the next two hours. Robe had his undivided attention and Tony was kind enough to give his to Bart.
He made trips to Houston for the Astros College Classic at then-Enron Field to see the Cajuns play. He had two college teams and the Braves to follow.
Bart MacNeill was a happy guy.
Right after the 2007 season ended, I went to the farm to visit him for a few days. Just me. It was during that visit that Bart hinted of some health issues. As it turned out, his body had quit producing blood and he had to go to the VA hospital in Jackson to get regular transfusions. But, after a time that didn’t help and he refused further treatment.
We went to see him just before football season started. By that time, he was in bed. He wasn’t eating much. He slept a lot. But when he was awake, he was lucid. The last day I was there, we spent some time together. Watching the Braves on TV. When it was time to go he said “you’re about to start your busy time.” I smiled and nodded. He stuck out his hand and I shook it. He nodded. And, that was it.
Bart passed away September 20, 2007. He was 84.
On Monday, when the regional pairings were announced, we all found out Jackson State and San Diego State.would be here.
Along with Mississippi State.
Needless to say, my thoughts immediately went to Bart. I tried to imagine what this week would be like if he were still with us. I do know this: He would have been here, wearing a Mississippi State shirt and a Ragin’ Cajuns cap. And, after the games, we’d have a drink together.
And, if things didn’t go the Cajuns’ way he probably would have growled.
“Y’all should have won that damned game.”