This Best of the LPJ for 2022 story was originally published on February 23, 2022.
By Malcolm Butler
Throughout the office of Louisiana Tech head baseball coach Lane Burroughs at cozy J.C. Love Field hang photos of him as a boy with his late father, Lavelle “Rube” Burroughs.
Daddy Burroughs was a train man.
Rube, as he became known in reference to an 1800’s train robber named Rube Burrow, worked for Norfolk Southern for almost four decades. Rube’s father – Lane’s grandfather – was also a train man.
“There was a long line of them,” Lane said. “I broke the cycle.”
According to Lane, his father had two great loves outside of his children: baseball and trains.
“It’s ironic that one runs past our field,” Burroughs said as he stared out the window, across the J.C. Love Field outfield and beyond the right field wall where – coincidentally enough – a railroad track runs. “(My dad) had passed away before I got this job. He would eat this up. This would be the greatest thing in the world to him. Baseball and trains at the same time.”
Growing up in Meridian, Mississippi, Lane learned to love trains at an early age. Decades later, his office is decorated with model trains. There are a number of photos of Rube with little Lane hanging from the walls, many of them with trains in the background.
“I love ’em,” Lane said. “I love ’em. I never complain when the train comes … that’s what put food on my table when I was little.”
One thing you learn about train folks, there is a pride – almost like the pride a fan base has in its team – attached to their railroad.
“Norfolk Southern,” Lane said when asked where his loyalty lies. “It was Southern Railroad and then it became Norfolk Southern. When you see the Norfolk (Southern run by the stadium), that’s what we call ‘The Rally Train.’ Not the Kansas City Southern.”
The Rally Train. Is it myth — or is its magic real?
“We were playing Arkansas my first year (at Tech),” Lane said. “A Tuesday night. This is a true story. That train came by. We were down 2-1.
“I guess they radioed the guy and said, ‘Hey, there are people on the tracks.’ So, (the engineer) stops. Literally stops. And as he stops, Chace Lunceford hits a two-run triple, put us up 3-2 and we never looked back. We went on to win the game. And that kind of started the legend.
“My wife claims that was my dad driving that train that night.”
Maybe it was just a coincidence. Or just good timing?
“We were playing Sam Houston in a midweek two years later,” Lane said. “It was nothing-nothing in the seventh. And here comes the Norfolk (Southern), and Seth White hits a bases loaded triple … literally as the train goes by.
“So the guys were like, ‘That’s it. It’s real.’ So if you ever hear the horn in the game … if it’s the Kansas City Southern the guys will be like, ‘Oh, that’s not it.’ It has to be Norfolk Southern. That’s the real ‘Rally Train.’”
In year No. 1 of the rebuilt J.C. Love Field at Pat Patterson Park, the Rally Train was working overtime during the Bulldogs 42-win season. Never was it more evident than the Saturday of the 2021 Conference USA Baseball Tournament hosted by the Bulldogs.
Tech had to fight its way out of the losers bracket. It was beat hated rival Southern Miss twice or watch the Golden Eagles play for the league title on the Bulldogs own field the following day.
Hollywood couldn’t have written the script any better.
Game 1: Tech trailed 8-0 in the fifth inning. The Bulldogs needed a miracle … or in this case … the Rally Train to force a second game. Eleven runs later, Steele Netterville’s walk-off double to right centerfield gave the Bulldogs new life and an 11-10 extra inning win.
Game 2: Tech trailed 5-3 in the ninth and was down to its last out. Here comes the Rally Train. And with it, more magic for the Bulldogs. A Cole McConnell single plated one and a Phil Matulia single scored two as once again the Rally Train proved to be more than a myth.
Tech had engineered two of the most miraculous comebacks on a day that Bulldog fans will remember for a lifetime.
And the train? Well, it did what the Rally Train is supposed to do.
“It’s unbelievable,” Lane said. “It really is.”