The legend of the “Banana Man” has grown into a full-fledged phenomenon at the College World Series.
Jordan Westburg, a Mississippi State freshman from New Braunfels High School, smashed a grand slam Tuesday morning in the second inning of a winners’ bracket game against North Carolina.
As the player credited with inspiring a banana-related media buzz at the tournament in Omaha, Nebraska, he also totaled three hits and tied a CWS record with seven RBI in the Bulldogs’ 12-2 victory over the Tar Heels.
“Obviously a day he and his family will remember forever,” Bulldogs coach Gary Henderson told Mike Lopresti, writing for ncaa.com.
In the wake of the rout, Mississippi State (2-0 in the tournament) moved to within one win of the championship round.
North Carolina (1-1) and Oregon State (1-1) will play Wednesday to stay alive in Bracket 1 of the CWS, with the winner moving on to meet Mississippi State on Friday.
On Tuesday morning, Westburg was in the Mississippi State lineup as a designated hitter, batting ninth. For the season, he had played in only 39 of his team’s 65 games.
A modest .243 hitter, he was coming off an 0-for-3 performance in the Bulldogs’ CWS opener, a 1-0 victory over the Washington Huskies on Saturday.
But in the top of the second inning against the Tar Heels, Westburg delivered for his team.
With two outs and facing a 1-2 count, he stepped into a hanging breaking pitch from Tar Heels’ righthander Austin Bergner and drilled it into the left field grandstands for the 49th grand slam in CWS history.
Westburg, in a postgame interview with ESPN, called it “the greatest feeling ever.”
“That’s what every ball player strives to accomplish and dreams about,” he said. “Just being in that spot and knowing that my teammates had confidence in me and I had confidence in myself, I think that’s what helped me a little bit.”
Rounding the bases for only his second home run of the season, the euphoria of the moment kicked in.
“I don’t know what I was thinking,” he said. “It was just pure joy. In the second inning, to be able to give my team a lead. They scored first. It was huge. Just knowing that I could help my team that way was awesome.”
On social media, Westburg has been called “The Banana Man,” a reference to a moment of levity during the NCAA playoffs earlier this month.
During a June 3 NCAA tournament game at Tallahassee, Florida, Westburg ate a banana in the dugout as a snack.
Afterward, he reportedly picked up another banana and proceeded to start goofing around, holding it to his ear as if he were on the phone.
Also, according to a story in the Omaha World Herald, he pretended it was a radar gun.
The moment was captured on ESPN, which prompted the start of more and more social media posts.
When Westburg hit his grand slam Tuesday, television cameras captured the image of two fans dressed as bananas, celebrating with their fists in the air.
Fans were still going bananas in an eighth-run eighth inning when Westburg picked up two hits.
He singled and scored on one at bat, and then slapped a three-run double on the other.
After the game, ESPN went directly to an interview on the field with Westburg, who was holding his “lucky banana” at his side as he discussed his historic day and the apparent magic of the yellow fruit.
“It’s the best banana ever,” he said. “I’m just thankful I had a good day. So, yeah, this is definitely the best banana ever.”
Growing up in New Braunfels
Westburg played at New Braunfels High School under coach Bobby Alford.
He was a Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association (THSBCSA) first team All-State at shortstop in both 2016 and 2017.
Last season, Westburg also was the District 27-6A Most Valuable Player after hitting .457 for the Unicorns. He hit .406 as a junior in 2016.
Westburg played baseball, football and basketball at New Braunfels.
At Mississippi State, he started his college career in a program that was rocked with controversy in February with the resignation of coach Andy Cannizaro.
Officials responded by promoting Henderson from an assistant’s role into the head coaching job on an interim basis.
On the road to Omaha
Mississippi State steadied itself under Henderson, finished tied for third in the SEC West and gained momentum with a sweep of No. 1 Florida at the end of the regular season.
In its NCAA playoff opener, the Bulldogs were blown out, falling 20-10 to Oklahoma at Tallahassee, Florida.
Later, they won four elimination games in a row to advance.
At the Super Regional, they won two of three on the road at Vanderbilt to make it to Omaha.
“I think we just don’t have any give up in ourselves” Westburg said. “I think this whole team is just fighting. No matter what the score is. No matter what the situation is.
“We just play like some Bulldogs, honestly. We’re just going to keep trying to accomplish that every game.”
CWS Bracket 1 schedule
North Carolina vs. Oregon State, 2 p.m., elimination game
Mississippi State vs. North Carolina/Oregon State, 2 p.m.