STARKVILLE — Ethan Small stood atop the mound inside Wrigley Field. The former Mississippi State baseball ace, with adrenaline racing through him and sweat dripping from under his yellow and blue clothes Milwaukee Brewers cap, skimmed the environment around him.

The brick safety net sat in front of him. Green ivy provided an iconic backdrop. A sea of ​​fans in red and blue shirts, jerseys and hats surrounded him.

He couldn’t find an empty seat in Chicago’s baseball cathedral. Nearly 40,000 spectators watched Small make his MLB debut. The nerves of reaching his goal got over him, but the atmosphere of a raucous crowd on a scorching May afternoon in Wrigley didn’t scare him off.

four years to Field Dudy Noble and two trips to Men’s University World Series prepared him for his greatest moment.

“That’s the one cool thing about Mississippi State is you play in front of huge crowds all the time, especially if you go to Omaha,” Small said. “Wrigley is a bit bigger than that, but luckily I’ve had experience pitching in front of crowds.”

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - MAY 30: Ethan Small #43 of the Milwaukee Brewers throws a pitch in the third inning of game 1 of a doubleheader against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on May 30, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)

Small’s debut was short-lived: 2⅔ innings, two runs, four strikeouts and four walks.

MLB allows teams to add a player to the active roster before doubleheaders, which are typically used on pitchers. The brewers knew it was coming, so they informed their Lead #8 two days before the May 30 double bill against the Cubs.

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Brewers star reliever Josh Hader praised Small’s arsenal after the game, and he noted that Small’s return to the big leagues would be coming soon.

“Baseball is a tough game, and these guys can really rock it,” Small said. “The major leagues have a good way of showing you what you need to work on and exposing some of your weaknesses. So I came back (to Triple-A) with just the mentality that I’m going to keep working on that stuff. .

Milwaukee’s Triple-A affiliate is the Nashville Sounds. For the Jackson, Tennessee native, home games are about two hours east of his hometown.

Small’s journey with the Brewers began with the decision to leave the big leagues. After his second redshirt season in 2018, Small was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 26th round.

Mississippi State had just finished a run at Omaha, and Small’s first season after Tommy John surgery wiped his 2017 slate clean. He was stuck with a decision that many Bulldogs will face again in a month. : accept the draft offer or bet on yourself and return for another year in Starkville.

Two things went into Small’s decision to come back and become a first-round pick.

“The big issue, obviously, is money,” Small said. “And then obviously the love of school and all that.”

Mississippi State's Ethan Small (44) drops a pitch in the third inning.  Mississippi State defeated Auburn in the NCAA College World Series First Round on Sunday, June 16, 2019 at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha.

Among Small’s first conversations upon returning to Starkville was pitching coach Scott Foxhall, who had just been hired on Chris Lemonis’ first staff.

“We’re not going to change much,” Foxhall told Small.

It turned out to be the right decision. Small went 10-2 in 2019 with a 1.93 ERA. Mississippi State won 52 games in Small’s final season, but the Bulldogs failed at Omaha for the second straight season.

Small is one of a plethora of elite Mississippi State players who have never clinched a championship ring, and playing in the Brewers system is a frequent callback.

Among the first to greet Small in the Wrigley clubhouse was Brewers outfielder and former Bulldog Hunter Renfroe. Small was called up with the Brewers pitcher and former Bulldog Brandon Woodruff heading to the disabled list, but the two were able to reconnect in Memphis when Woodruff began rehab with the Sounds on Saturday.

There’s angst for Small not to be on a championship team at Mississippi State, but the experience gained to become a quality MLB talent is a solid consolation prize.

“You’ve got a lot more guys than me moving up pretty quickly too,” Small said.

Stefan Krajisnik is the Mississippi State drummer for the Clarion Ledger. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @skrajisnik3.