'Be a dude today!': MSSU Pitcher Cole Gayman keeps late father's text with him written on his ballcap

May 15—Missouri Southern State University's Cole Gayman has had a season to remember as the ace of the pitching staff. Gayman is among the best in the MIAA conference in many pitching stats and was named to the all-MIAA first team at the conclusion of the regular season.

But something has been missing for the Lion during his breakout season.

"I think about him every day," Gayman said. "I really wish he was here this year to watch me pitch."

Gayman's dad, Mike, a former Joplin police officer, died of a heart attack two years ago during Cole's freshman season at MSSU. In spite of losing his father — the man who introduced him to sports — Gayman has found a way to have him on the mound with him for every start.

"One of the last texts he sent me was, 'Love you! Be a dude today!' So I always think about that. He was really just my hype man," Gayman said.

That text is written on the underside of the bill on Gayman's MSSU ballcap. You can even catch him looking down at it as he steps up onto the rubber to pitch. He will sometimes take his cap off and look at his hat.

Right next to it is Isaiah 40:31: "But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."

Gayman says that verse reminds him to be himself and be courageous. That might be what his head coach Bryce Darnell has seen on display the past two years or so.

"Cole is just really level-headed and mature emotionally," Darnell said. "I would say that's definitely helped him with the loss of his father, and that's obviously way more significant than baseball. But I would say those same things help him in baseball."

Gayman said he wishes his dad was able to sit down at Warren Turner Field this week and watch him pitch on Thursday as the Lions face Harding University in the opening round of the Central Region tournament. But he also said he knows there's no seat at the field as good as the one his dad is in now.

"Knowing that he is watching over everything, he's got the best seat in the house watching me this year," Gayman said.

He recalls his father being a huge sports fan and even more of one when he was watching his son play. Gayman grew up around sports all the time with an older half-brother, Austin Carter. With both boys often playing, his mom, Rona, and dad would have to split up to take one boy one direction and the other one another.

"The biggest sports fan you could ever imagine," Gayman said, describing his dad. "He bragged about me so much growing up. ... He was hard on me. He was just my biggest fan."

Gayman's dad coached him during some of his youth sports until a certain point, when he wanted his son to experience new coaches.

"He stepped away from coaching and just wanted to be a dad to me. He wanted to get me ready for a coach that wasn't him, to help get me ready for the next levels," Gayman said.

Even then, Mike didn't refrain from letting Gayman know when he needed to fix something, work harder or just do better. Gayman referred to it as his dad critiquing his game whether he played well or not. He admitted his stubbornness led to some differences at times.

"We got in our battles. Me being a teenager, I was the one always wanting to be right," Gayman said. "But, what he said to me, I still hear today from our coaches. He was right."


Gayman has pitched to an 11-2 record this year and holds an MIAA-best 2.33 earned run average. He's pitched the most innings (92.2) and has the second-most strikeouts (87). He's held opponents to a league-low .181 batting average.

But he pushes a lot of credit to those around him.

{span}"It's unbelievable," he said. "For me to pitch the way I am this year, it doesn't come just by myself. It takes all of us. I think we have around 45 guys on this team. If they're not playing, they're cheering everyone on. If they are playing, we've got each other's backs out there. It's just fun to see all of us together, playing and having fun."{/span}

{span}He added that the emotion some of his teammates put on display after last weekend's MIAA championship victory over Central Missouri was just a sign of how much it means to this team.{/span}

{span}{span}"It shows how much they care about this team and program and winning," Gayman said. "That's huge for our program to have guys like that."{/span}{/span}

Lions make All-Region The National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association on Wednesday announced its All-Region teams. Three Lions were selected to the All-Central Region team — Cole Gayman as a first-team starting pitcher, Henry Kusiak as a second-team shortstop, and Drew Townsend as a second-team utility player.