OMAHA — The feel good carnival that is the College World Series got a little crazier Sunday when long-frustrated Ole Miss Rebel fans took the town by storm with dazed smiles on their faces.
Tossing off 42 years of CWS drought, they streamed into town in buses, RV’s, and caravans of cars. They arrived in commercial airlines, on charters and on private jets. They packed the hotels from Omaha to Lincoln, plunked down thousands to rent condos, bummed rooms from friendly locals and pitched tents. Yes, tents.
Ask Ole Miss students Kevin Phillips and Jackson Pannell, both 18 from Greenwood, standing in line to grab general admission outfield seats amid of sea of red outside TD Ameritrade Park, a place so beautiful you quickly understand why they call it a ballpark.
“We got here yesterday and pitched a tent for $10 a night at the campground,” Phillips said as he and his buddies high-fived, fist-bumped and Hotty Toddyed their way along the line into the ballpark.
It seemed like a great idea until around 11:30 Saturday night when a storm threw 40-mile-an-hour winds and rain at them, along with the usual thunder and lightning show. “We were having to hold onto to the top of tent,” said Pannell.
Their friends, Ole Miss sophomores Wic Smith and Colby Walters of Jackson, opted for the safer, comfier confines of a hotel 20 minutes from downtown.
“We had to come,” said Smith. “My dad was 13 the last time we were here. We’re here to win a national championship.”
“Walters nodded his head
Meanwhile, droves of Ole Miss fans were flocking to the Dugout, a T-shirt shop across the street from Ameritrade Park, searching for souvenirs. The place quickly sold out of the Olemaha t-shirts.
Never fear. There were all manner of Ole Miss t-shirts, caps, visors, cup holders, baseballs and bats ranging from $14 up to $30.
Others hawked their wares from the parking lots, where Rebel tailgate tents sprouted like cotton in the spring. One tent offered FINZ UP t-shirts.
One of the oddest sights was the crowd of fans in Ole Miss and Mississippi State shirts chowing down in a four MSU tents. It was a remarkable détente and Paul Maloney, the tailgate host and State fan from Jackson, had an explanation for this curious mix. “This is neutral ground, the Camp David of college baseball,” he grinned.
Turns out Maloney and friends came to watch their Bulldogs in the College World Series in 2007 and got hooked. Now they come every year, whether State is here or not. They store their tailgate gear in Omaha and show up two days before to get ready. And they invite fans from all schools.
Soon he was serving up a feast to all comers — duck poppers, venison sausage balls, pig wings (yes, you read it right), brats, lamb chops, ribeye steaks.
“Y’all come back and eat,” he insists. We usually get the crew from ESPN. They come to shoot some footage, but they’re really here to eat.”
The sea of red-shirted Rebel fans streamed out of the shops and bars and parking lots an hour before game time, washing past the juggler and the ticket scalpers into a stadium that looked so red you would have though Ole Miss was playing at home.
That would have been fine with a group of former Rebels baseball stars getting ready to go inside. Pitchers Scott Biddle and Craig Rodriguez and former manager Zack Leech had a score to settle. They suffered through the heartbreaks of super regionals from 2007 to 2009, getting oh so close but not quite making it to the Omaha. Now they’re here and they’re making the most of it.
“I’m really happy for Coach Bianco,” said Biddle. “We didn’t make it, but I’m glad to watch this team do it.”
Ralph Roberson, just had his second knee replacement. It didn’t keep him from Omaha. He limped about as best he could, but he never stopped smiling. “I brought my grandson. I would have come if I had been on my death bed,” he said. “You have to understand. This is our Team of Destiny. Look around at all these fans in red. We want it. And when you want something this bad, you go all the way.”
Here are a few more photos to capture the excitement that is the CWS:
Bill Rose teaches depth reporting at the Meek School of Journalism & New Media. A graduate of Ole Miss, he held numerous writing and editing jobs at The Miami Herald, Palm Beach Post and Delta Democrat-Times. He and his wife Susan have lived in Oxford since 2009. email@example.com
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