Ole Miss baseball’s opening day is today. That means yet another year of the greatest fan experience in college baseball at Swayze Field is upon us. There’s good baseball to be played—of course—just as there’s crawfish to be boiled, chicken wings to be grilled, beer to be drank, beer to be thrown skyward, and umpires to dog cuss at. There’s “The Love is Gone” and cup races. There’s dollar hot dog nights. There’s fireworks. There’s Thomas Dillard’s mustache. There’s beer.
All around, it’s a perfect baseball experience, one by which we around here have made a lot of fond memories. I myself have a few of them, but one that has left an indelible impression on me is Mark Wright’s 3-run home run during game one of the 2006 Oxford Super Regional against Miami.
This was during the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college. I, for some reason I cannot quite recall, was taking summer school classes at Holmes Community College (again, I dunno) and spent my weekends driving back and forth from Oxford and Jackson to visit folks. Until that point, I had only been a casual Ole Miss baseball fan, having attended maybe a few games my freshman year and making a point to attend the 2005 Super Regional against Texas. Those were great times, for sure, but it was not really until after that Super Regional that Ole Miss fans really began adopting baseball en masse. While we don’t typically speak of it in the same air, the 2006 Super Regional was every bit as electric as the celebrated 2005 one, and our fan expectations seemed to be much higher that season. In a way, in 2005 we were still convincing ourselves that we belonged among the great college baseball atmospheres and programs; in 2006, we had already fully accepted that as a fact.
That atmosphere came to a head during game one of that series. Ole Miss was down by three in the fifth inning, and with two outs and two on, Mark Wright confidently walked to the plate.
“He’s gonna knock the shit out of it,” my friend Adam said. He was right. On a 2-2 pitch, he knocked a moonshot over the right field wall. As soon as the ball left the bat, everyone knew it was gone. We lept to our feet, screamed literally in each others faces, threw anything we could get our hands on, shit talked some Miami fans (they deserve it and always have), and pumped up a baseball team that needed an injection of booze-fueled energy. Ole Miss would go on to win 11-9 that game and, wouldn’t you know it, they lost the dang Super Regional anyway.
But that weekend in Oxford, that game, that home run, that moment along the left field hill was truly great, and it cemented my love for college baseball.
Here are some other fine Swayze field memories.
I am not, as the elder statesmen like to say, a BASEBALL MAN. However, I have never had a bad time going to a baseball game. It’s the perfect storm of social interaction, alcohols, and delicious horrible food.
For these reasons, I found myself in right field on a Saturday afternoon at Swayze in the Year of Our Lord 2005 for a game against Purdue (if you recall, this is the same school that kicked the sugar-coated shit out of Ohio State in football this past season). I remember it was the first nice weekend of the spring, which meant it was packed.
Because this took place roughly around the time of the Truman administration, it was well before the Ole Miss put some order and money into the student section. The only rule at that time was there are no rules. Think Mad Max vibe, minus the shoulder pad spikes and murder. I don’t recall any murder.
Anyhow, I was in right field when some Purdue pitcher with an ERA probably north of 32 had the privilege of trying to get Stephen Head out. I recall talking with someone and then stopping mid-sentence because I heard a ping I’d never heard before.
I turned and realized everyone in the grandstand was on their feet, screaming OOOOHHHHHHHHHHH. I looked up, and by some miracle, spotted the ball and watched it sail over my head, right into the middle of the DAGGUM TENNIS COURTS.
Friends, I did not have a tape measure that day, but I assure you, that ball traveled somewhere around 731 feet (roughly). To this day, I have never heard a sound like that again or seen a ball go that far in person.
One Man To Beat
For me, it’s Matt Smith’s home run against UVA in the 2008 Oxford Super Regional. For a moment or even several moments, it was perfect, and our time had finally arrived. Our hulking 1B was trotting on the seemingly undefeatable UVA Cavaliers in game one of a Super Regional with a chance to go to Omaha hanging in the balance. Matt Smith hit a crapload of dingers in his time as a Rebel, but none of them were quite as poignant, timely and ecstasy inducing.
My favorite memory at Swayze was during the Oxford Super Regional against Miami where I brought a tupperware container of leftover gumbo to the game. This was before the expanded Swayze, when people would park along Taylor Road to watch games from their trucks, or prop up plastic lawn chairs with the back legs cut off up against the hill. I was there on that hill with some friends, including the author of this piece, who is a great friend and a very smart, handsome man. We were enjoying some beer and a few laughs when I reached into the cooler to offer some gumbo to everyone there. Gumbo is a common treat to enjoy at a baseball game. Unfortunately I spilled it all in the cooler and made a mess of everything. Ole Miss then lost the Super Regional.
I fell on my butt once trying to catch a home run ball in left field. Everybody saw it. It was on the jumbotron. Everyone pointed and laughed and called me “stupid” and “dumb” for it. Had a blast though.
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Thanks, God bless.