If you get Landon Sims to sign a baseball after a game, compare it to his autograph from before the game and it might look a bit different.
Known in baseball circles for his overpowering fastball and sweeping slider, Sims' reputation includes an unrivaled intensity. It's one of the reasons Mississippi State called on the South Forsyth alum to close 13 games this season.
Sims lives for those moments, when his heart is racing and the adrenaline is flowing.
“It probably takes an hour or two before I calm down," Sims said. "After the game, sometimes some little kids will be asking for signatures or autographs and my hands will still be shaking from closing the game out, just from the intensity of the game and the high-pressure situations. It just really gets your blood flowing, and it’s a really fun time out there.”
He is the ultimate competitor — just ask South head coach Russ Bayer, who recalls promoting Sims to the varsity level as a freshman back in 2016.
“We saw it early on with him," Bayer said. "I knew with Landon in middle school coming in, and obviously as a freshman he was on varsity with us, you could watch him in football and you could watch him in baseball. It didn’t matter if you were in the weight room, kids were playing fungo golf; whatever it was, he was just wired differently. He’s uber competitive, and some kids have it and some kids don’t. It doesn’t really matter the situation — it’s, ‘I’m going to win. I’m going to win.’
"The leadership aspect of it is really what made him stand out from everyone else. It didn’t matter whether he was uber successful in what he was doing. The competitive nature was there and the leadership was there.”
Mississippi State head coach Chris Lemonis must have seen it too when he put the ball in Sims' hands and asked him to get the last nine outs against Vanderbilt.
A win would mean the school's first national championship in any sport.
The Bulldogs had raced out to a 9-0 lead, and after a four-run seventh inning, Lemonis turned to Sims after six no-hit innings from starting pitcher Will Bednar.
"Not that the game wasn’t going to get out of hand, but when you have an insurance policy in the bullpen like him, and he’s rested, which he was, it’s a completely understandable situation to go to him," said Bayer, who watched the game at home with his family. "It’s as close you’re going to get to being set in stone to finish up those last handful of outs that he got.”
Sure enough, Sims blanked the Commodores and the celebration was on.
“It took a few weeks to really settle in, but watching some of the replays back over and watching some of the videos back over, it really started to sink in," Sims said. "It’s a really good feeling.”
Sims finished the season 5-0 with a 1.44 ERA in 25 appearances. He struck out a remarkable 100 batters in 56 1/3 innings and averaged nearly 16 strikeouts per nine innings, which is second in the nation.
What impressed Bayer the most?
“Everything but nothing," he said. "The reason I say that is because I’ve been around him since he was a 14-year-old kid. It’s not that it doesn’t impress me – I just know the caliber of person and character and talent that he is. Not to say that anything is expected, because to do what he did in the SEC and on that stage in the College World Series, no one’s expected to do that.”
"Whether it was a big deal or little deal, playing whiffle ball in the backyard with my friends or playing in the national championship, I want to win at everything. Nobody likes losing. Ever since I can remember I’ve really, really hated losing."Landon Sims
By the time Sims was a junior at South, he was "one of the biggest verbal and physical leaders," according to Bayer.
That season ended with a 28-8 record and the top seed in the playoffs after winning the Region 5-7A championship. Though Sims was a junior on a team full of seniors, he had the respect of his teammates.
"And you can see it on TV – the exact same thing," Bayer said. "You look in the dugout and he’s always verbally picking up guys. You’re talking about a bullpen arm who in the first couple innings is the first guy out of the dugout to congratulate teammates for getting a big hit or moving guys over. That’s worth its weight in gold.”
That leadership is part of a legacy that Sims traces back to before his time at South Forsyth.
He's seen it continue through players such as Gehrig Frei, who was a freshman during that 2018 season.
“I think it’s been passed on even before I got there. It’s a really good community in Forsyth County – specifically South Forsyth – especially in the baseball world," Sims said. "I still keep in contact with all those guys, even Gehrig. Me and Gehrig were texting the other day, and he’s a really good example of what a baseball player and a person should be like. He’s a team-leader, he’s a really, really hard worker, and I’m extremely excited to see what he does heading into college next year. He’s a perfect example of what you want in a teammate and who you want to surround yourself with as a person.”
Similar to Sims, Bayer knew Frei had the potential to help the team at an early age, specifically in the infield where the errors were beginning to pile up that season.
“When you take a 14-year-old or 15-year-old kid and put him against the amount of college players, Division I players that we had on the team that year, usually it can go one of two ways: they’re kind of overwhelmed or they’re taken in," Bayer said. "Landon and the other guys on the team – Matty Bapst, Cooper Davidson, Bradley Prince – they embraced him. Landon was, like anything else, the front of the line just being that big-brother mentor type and really embraced it.”
Given the nature of SEC baseball, Sims' leadership at Mississippi State centers more on performance and leading by example.
Sims, who had a 3.46 ERA in seven appearances last year as a true freshman, burst onto the college baseball scene in the first game of the 2021 season. He pitched four innings of no-hit ball against Texas, striking out 10, then struck out 10 more in his next outing against Tulane.
Before long, Sims was drawing comparisons to Craig Kimbrel from online pitching guru Rob Freidman.
Landon Sims-brel https://t.co/ehnpqQmZGK pic.twitter.com/8SbXWyuE2f— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 21, 2021
“It gave me all the confidence in the world, and in this game, you’ve got to have confidence or you’re never going to be successful," Sims said. "Starting out the season with that outing really, really helped me to get out on a good note and get my feet wet a little bit. Texas was a really good opponent. We ended up playing them four total times this year. It created a lot of confidence, and I felt like I kept continuing to build off of that.”
Not that Sims was lacking confidence; his confidence is a byproduct of his tenacity.
What people saw on TV during Mississippi State's College World Series run is the same demeanor Sims carried as a kid in the backyard.
“I’ve just been competitive my whole life," Sims said. "Whether it was a big deal or little deal, playing whiffle ball in the backyard with my friends or playing in the national championship, I want to win at everything. Nobody likes losing. Ever since I can remember I’ve really, really hated losing. I think it makes everything a little bit more fun sometimes, when you’re competitive. It brings the stakes of the game a little higher, and the intensity. The good feeling when you win and you’re super competitive is pretty second-to-none.”
It seems Sims' personality is tailor-made for the closer's role, despite being a starting pitcher at South Forsyth. Sims doesn't know whether he'll stay in the bullpen or become a starter for Mississippi State, adding he's happy to play anywhere as long as he's competing.
And with a healthy number of starters returning next year, Sims hopes he can help bring at least one more championship to Starkville, Miss.
“The support that we get from the fanbase and the city of Starkville is unreal. It helps us a lot," Sims said. "We feel very loved by all of our fans. The parade was unreal. We drove on three firetrucks through the city, then we showed back up at the stadium and every single seat in the whole entire stadium was filled with people ringing their cowbells. It was crazy.”