Home is where the Diamond Dogs are

By Anna Kate Semmes, Sadie Gormanous, Andrew McClure, and Leilani Celestine

This story was written by students in the Honors 389 course, Sports Literature, taught by Michelle Jimmerson at Louisiana Tech University.


To describe the atmosphere, culture, and all that encompasses Louisiana Tech baseball is no easy feat. Since the program was first established, the game has touched countless people in many distinct ways, providing something special and unique to each participant–from student, to player, to fan. In the many years since its establishment, the small-town Ruston team has accomplished far more than many could have ever dreamt it would.

Much of that is rightfully accredited to the various baseball talents that have made their way to the town, some whose playing careers surpassed even the college level. However, the true makeup of Louisiana Tech baseball consists of much more than just the players and coaches; rather, it is the fanbase that may be the single most consistent aspect of the program throughout the years.

Looking around the J.C. Love Field, lovingly nicknamed the “Love Shack,” the wave of red and blue is made up of incredibly–almost inexplicably–dedicated fans, many of them longtime season ticket holders. Candidly, Ruston’s beloved “Diamond Dawgs” are not always able to gift their fans a token of gratitude with a blemish-free winning season or a championship trophy by the spring’s end. But, fortunately, an underwhelming season has never stopped devoted fans from coming in droves to faithfully cheer for their Dawgs, passing along the tradition for generations. Being a faithful Bulldog fan runs in their blood.

Of course, the intrinsic truth of any sports aficionado is simple: Everyone loves to win. Naturally, a winning streak pumps up students and fans, filling the entire campus and town with adrenaline–as seen when Louisiana Tech hosted a regional in 2021 and won the conference-USA championship just this past 2022 season. Plenty of victories, comeback wins, and underdog triumphs decorate the history of Tech baseball, but this is not every game or every season. So, what keeps these Tech fans–who are anything but fair-weather fans–showing up and showing out season after season, rain or shine, loss or win, homerun or strikeout?

In recent years, it may have much to do with the coaching staff and the head coach, Lane Burroughs. In 2016, when he first accepted the position, Burroughs was granted the ultimate confirmation that Ruston, Louisiana, was the place he was meant to be. On that fateful night, the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (hosting the Arkansas Razorbacks) drew a particularly passionate and competitive crowd. Towards the end of a tough game, the Dawgs were down 2-1, and Chase Lunceford was up to bat. Everyone in the stadium held their breath. At that moment, the infamous railroad tracks that lie behind the stadium roared to life as a honking Norfolk Southern train shattered the night’s stillness. Noticing the immense crowd of fans, the train came to a screeching halt on the tracks, just in time for Lunceford to hit a two-run triple and secure a 4-2 win for the underdog Tech team. Bulldog fans went berserk. Tech coaches and players leapt with joy, fists pumping wildly in the air.

What most fans did not know, however, is that Coach Burroughs was simultaneously celebrating a second kind of victory at that moment. His father, who had passed two years prior, had worked for the Norfolk Southern train company–the same company whose train sat stopped on those tracks right at the turning point of one of Coach Burroughs’s first big wins. From then on, Burroughs felt certain of his position here in Ruston, and he commemorates that moment with a framed picture in his office of that exact night: the train idling behind the field as the diamond sprang to life at the game’s close. 

Beyond the thrilling wins, Burroughs is a coach who truly cares about the young men on his team in a way that far exceeds the game at surface level. He seeks to invest in his team, not just as talented athletes, but also as adults–the husbands, fathers, and leaders they will grow to be long after the sun sets on their time as Tech baseball players.

Teri Netterville, a dedicated baseball mom of two Tech players—one who just finished a successful last season and one who is close to wrapping up his second year as a team member—is devoted to the team far beyond her boys, describes each player with the same knowledge and enthusiasm for their accomplishments. With her distinguished family history (her father is in the Louisiana Tech Hall of Fame for football) and her passion for the baseball program, if anyone has insight on what it means to be a faithful fan, it is Netterville.

“He tells it like it is,” she explains, confidently describing Burroughs. “He shoots it straight, and the boys respect him for it…[All the] coaches believe in [the players] and encourage them.”

Burroughs, she further outlines, does not simply evaluate players by what they look like on paper, but instead seeks players whose characters match their skills. He wants players who truly crave the game, and who play for the benefit of the whole team. Because of this, the brotherhood amongst the members is one unlike any other.

Will Safford, a third-year infielder and LSU transfer, speaks of his time on the team thus far:

“I [now] play the game more freely,” said Safford. “It’s easier to play for the people here because they have your back. I’ve learned a lot about how you play the game the right way and how to play for your coaches, teammates and community because they have your back, and that’s kind of like the vibe of the whole team.”

Burroughs’ coaching style is not lost on the fans, either, as many speak highly of his coaching and character. Rafe Semmes, an alumni and avid Tech sports fan claims that the culture of Louisiana Tech baseball harks back to “the leadership from a head coach who demands excellence and effort, but in a way that is empowering for the players rather than crippling.”

However, a successful team does not rely solely on staff. Team loyalty must go deeper than just those on the field; it must bleed into those who fill the stands. 

Loyalty is ingrained into the hearts of many Tech fans. This devotion to the university, the players, and the game itself helps explain the considerable turnout and support for each baseball game, season after season. Teri Netterville reveals that the players often claim the fans helped pull them up in the midst of crucial points of the game.

“Have you ever been in a place where the energy around you is so high, so heightened, that you felt like your heart was about to leap out of your chest?” said Netterville. “It was like that. It almost had a party atmosphere, and the guys could feel that energy on the field.”

While Louisiana Tech is not the biggest university in the state, clearly something could be said for the enduring school pride flourishing here. The alumni genuinely support the school and students long after their graduation, many raising their children alongside football games in the fall, basketball in the winter, and baseball in the spring–children who cannot help but dream of attending the university themselves one day. However, loyalty alone does not solely account for the lively, congenial culture and atmosphere present at the games. To look into the crowd is to see an accurate depiction of a community and college intertwined, thread together by their unity as a fanbase.

To numerous fans, the impact of Tech baseball extends much further than winning. Louisiana Tech baseball is about community, family, and support. Lifelong fans form bonds with the young men on the field and unconditionally support them, as though each player is their own child. No loss can disrupt this kind of bond. Season ticket holder Gary Green, who has been a faithful attendee of the games since 1991, illustrates his extensive devotion to the fandom, going as far as to say he “hunger[s] for [the team] to do well and succeed.”

Linda Wallace, another season ticket holder who attends these games as routine and religiously as church service on Sunday morning, explains this phenomenon: “It’s almost like a family–a family tradition.”

For both Green and Wallace, their attendance is quite literally a family tradition, as they both habitually enjoy the games with their spouses–not a rare occurrence by any means. Tech baseball games are often a family excursion, a fun outing with something for every member of the family to enjoy, whether that be delicious baseball food, the welcoming atmosphere, or exciting plays. 

A night at the recently rebuilt J.C. Love Field exudes character and enjoyment. The smell of hotdogs and popcorn lingers above the heads of boisterous families and laughing friends, giddy with anticipation of another fun-filled game. Excitement defrosts fans frozen from the frigid winter. Stadium-goers have a perfect view of the field, the on-campus apartments (holding balconies speckled with student spectators), and the setting sun overlooking the train tracks.

Devoted fans recognize each player by his walk-on song, even endearingly calling out designated nicknames as a player steps up to bat. Some yell at the exasperated umpire, some hum to the upbeat songs, and some simply chatter to their seat neighbors. The stadium is only truly quiet during pivotal plays. People cross their fingers, mumble prayers to themselves, and shut their eyes–the suspense either climaxing in an outburst of energy or a uniform sigh of defeat.

At the game’s inevitable end, win or lose, the alumni will gather to sing the alma mater with a single finger in the air, earnestly pledging their loyalty to the university. Then, as one season ends, another will take its place–gone, but never forgotten. And then, yet again, traffic will flood the corner of Tech Drive.

People will come decked out in all things Tech blue. Young married couples with giddy toddlers, teenagers from the local high schools, spouses married over half a century, rowdy college students, proud baseball parents, dedicated alumni, and everyone in between will be unified once more to watch a ballgame. There is really nothing quite like this shared experience, exclusive to the tight-knit Ruston community and college students.

For that, we will “Ever Loyal Be.”