College baseball is perhaps the one sport among the three major American pastimes that rivals its professional counterpart in terms of sheer watchability. That sentence holds increased truth value come NCAA tournament time, when many games are played on short rest over the course of four weeks, forcing club skippers to fiddle around with lineups, pitching rotations, unforeseen injuries, weather delays, and calls to the bullpen.
The college game also introduces itself as a worthy competitor to MLB because the college game uses every millimeter of the ballpark. Situational bunting, big-ball power hitting, base-running and stealing, absurdly hilarious errors, dugout shenanigans, weather delay shenanigans, and spectacular outfield plays all combine for a fast-paced and at times chaotic style of game that can turn on a millisecond’s notice. That big guy scorching balls all season long from a team’s three-hole? His bat just might fall dead asleep in the postseason. This is cowboy baseball, and it’s spectacularly fun.
All of this is true because college baseball demands that 18-22 year olds perform very specific tasks at a very high level within the parameters of a game that lends itself to the unexpected. The irony here is that this fact is pretty unsurprising, because so much of the game hinges on the mathematical coefficient of pi, which is literally an irrational number.
The Oxford regional in the first round of the 2018 NCAA baseball tournament will showcase all of these eccentricities. Here’s why.
Fans tuning in or attending the Oxford regional this weekend are in for a real treat.
“Welcome to Ole Miss baseball, motherfucker” greeted our very hungover managing editor Jeff Gray back in 2014’s opening round weekend, and it’s a punchy introduction to the fan — and, more specifically, student fan — experience of baseball at Swayze Field. A recent game against LSU drew in excess of 12,000 fans to stuff the ballpark, an all-time Swayze Field record. Not 30 hours before Ole Miss’ first pitch on Friday evening, here’s what the parking lot setup looked like in the carpark behind the left field terrace, which is the alumni section, mind.
That’s not even close to the whole story, though.
The Right Field stands are home to college baseball’s wildest party.
Audiences tuning in to the televised or streaming broadcast of Ole Miss’ opener against Saint Louis will undoubtedly learn from the play-call team about the Right Field student section’s singular obsession: the beer shower that accompanies and celebrates every single home run mashed over the right field fence. Here are just a couple of representative examples.
Indeed, for every dinger out to right, students — who are all drinking beer out of red solo cups — gleefully hurl their beverage into the air as the ball sails over their heads, regardless of how much suds remain in their vessel. A few years back, we here at Red Cup Rebellion calculated with a high degree of accuracy how much beer had been tossed in celebration of Rebel cult hero Sikes Orvis’ home runs to right over the course of his career. To be sure, Orvis was responsible for the wastement of nearly 84 kegs worth of beer in his time at Ole Miss. EIGHTY FOUR KEGS.
An added nuance regarding Ole Miss’ stands in right concerns the specific space that juts into the stands at the dead-right wall: the visitor club’s bullpen. Uncovered, open-air, directly beneath approximately 2,000 drunk students, one can imagine it’s not a fun environment to have to warm up in, especially if your starter or middle reliever is having a very bad day out on the mound.
There have naturally been incidents in the past of students chucking beers or other such items into the visitor pen at Swayze (don’t do that, people), and stadium security will immediately clear the section when that happens. It’s probably only a matter of time before they throw a net over it, to be frank, but that doesn’t keep the inebriated heckling out.
The Oxford regional should fascinate the casual baseball fan, but especially those who find baseball “boring.”
If the length of MLB games and the MLB season wearies the American sports watcher, the Oxford regional — replete with rowdiness in the stands and a host of funky participant clubs — is appointment viewing. This regional tilt includes Saint Louis, which commands an impressive pitching staff and a solid lineup from top to bottom, but this regional tilt also includes Tennessee Tech, a tournament team from a year ago that made a lot of noise in the Tallahassee regional. The Golden Eagles can skewer baseballs with abandon, and if the Friday games go chalk, they may very well pull a fast one on their regional hosts.
So. Regional tilt at Swayze. Four of the zaniest college baseball teams in the field of 64. Beer showers. Thomas Dillard’s large adult mustache. This weekend will not be boring. It will be fun as all hell.