What’s up everybody, welcome to a special holiday weekend edition of the Red Cup Rebellion Chronicles with your resident historian Grayson Weir. Happy Birthday America!
In our short time together, we’ve been on quite a few journeys back in time thus far. From a beatdown in Jackson, to drinking away the Egg Bowl, getting seasick while crossing the Gulf of Mexico, and pummeling Southwest Baptist, it’s truly been a pleasure showing you around.
For this adventure, grab yourself a hot dog (not a sandwich) and mix your finest summer bourbon cocktail. Might I recommend Alex McDaniel’s lemon-based aperitif?
It’s all about #WhiskeyAndMeat.
Where are we going?
We’re headed to the largest city in the state of Nebraska, located on the Missouri river. Visited first in 1804 by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, the land was inhabited by various Native American tribes, such as the Omaha, the Ponca, Pawnee, Otoe, Missouri and Ioway tribes. Shoutout to Lewis and Clark for getting in a canoe and absolutely sending it.
When the land opened for settlement with the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, the promoters wanted the capital of the newly-created Kanesville territory to be located across the Missouri River in hopes of influencing the builders of the transcontinental railroad to lay their tracks through the city. It worked and Omaha was born.
By the early 21st century, more than 50 percent of jobs in the city were in the service sector. Food processing, metal fabricating, steel casting, and manufacturing remain the primary employment of Omahites...? Omahans...? Omahucksters...? Definitely Omahucksters.
In addition to the blue-collar sector, many large corporations have headquartered themselves in the heart of the midwest. Warren Buffett, who is a super rich dude and could live literally wherever he wants, loves Omaha so much he decided to call it home and plant Berkshire Hathaway, a fortune 500 company, in the confines of the city. The major American insurer Mutual of Omaha Companies and broker TD Ameritrade are also located downtown.
On the outskirts of the skyline sits TD Ameritrade Park, the home baseball field of the Creighton University Bluejays, and the host venue of the College World Series and Big Ten Conference Tournaments.
Opened in 2011 to replace the historic Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium, TD Ameritrade has a seating capacity of 24,000, with the ability to expand to 35,000 spectators. The 2017 College World Series consisted of 16 games and had a stadium-high total of 357,646 fans, averaging 22,352 per game.
From home plate to center is 408 feet, with the foul poles sitting 335 feet down the lines.
The park is well known for its lack of home runs leading to the idea that teams must play small ball to win.
What brings us there?
Ironically, it is the long ball that is the inspiration for this trip.A few weeks after the College World Series in 2010, the NCAA decided to crown the top power hitter in college baseball with the first annual College Home Run Derby, where former winners include Aaron Judge.
In 2014, Ole Miss found itself competing in both events.
The 2014 Rebels won the SEC West, dominated the Oxford regional and won its first Super Regional since 1972 at Louisiana Lafayette, resulting in an epic dog pile in front of the Ragin’ Cajuns’ home crowd.
While Friday-night ace Chris Ellis led the way on the bump, Errol Robinson, Will Allen and J.B. Woodman were big factors at the dish. Perhaps the most memorable name, however, is the father of the #WhiskeyAndMeat movement himself, Sikes Orvis.
The no-undershirt-wearing RBI machine and his glorious mustache hit a lot of home runs.
To be specific, Orvis hit a Division I baseball’s third-most home runs as a senior in 2015. They were moonshots.
Though his 2014 performance was two short of his senior year, Orvis led the Rebels with 14 homers and a .540 slugging percentage. As a result, the 6-foot-3, 235-pound first baseman received an invite to compete in the dinger derby. He didn’t win, but he looked glorious on the anniversary weekend of our country’s birth.
Two years later, Orvis’ 2014 teammate Colby Bortles received the same invite. Through three years at Ole Miss, he belted 17 home runs, including three grand slams.
Bortles started all 62 games as a junior and led the Rebels in doubles, ranked second on the team with eight home runs and recorded 50 RBIs with a .475 slugging percentage. He was a hefty hitter, but did not win derby with 10 home runs. Bortles and his fellow competitors shattered the 2014 mark of 128 home runs by combining for 185 total homers on the eve of Independence Day 2016.
Colby, the Florida native brother of Blake Bortles, passed the torch to a Rebel we call Tank in 2018, marking the third participant in five years. A sophomore Thomas Dillard hit .310 with a team-high 13 home runs, 59 RBIs and 67 runs scored— the most runs produced by any player in the SEC.
He hit a large amount of home runs and they went a very long way. His furthest of the year came off the bat at 111.7 miles per hour and flew 435 feet. That is approximately 69.6 Graysons. Nice. Distance aside, the biggest home run of the switch-hitter’s season came as a series-winning three-run shot against LSU.
Dillard came out of the gates hot in the derby, sending 16 balls over the walls TD Ameritrade in the first four-minute round. He was on track to contend for the title if he didn’t start slow in the second round, hitting just one in the first minute-ish before calling a timeout.
Out of the break, he belted 14 bombs down the stretch and slobberknocked the two-point money ball for an overall total of 33 home runs, which put him in the mix.
The 6-foot, 230-pound slugger finished third in the competition, which was an Ole Miss best before the Krakken took that title the next year. Tyler Keenan, also a sophomore at the time, was invited to partake in the 2019 Derby after clubbing a team-high 15 home runs in 2019, which was the most since Orvis’ 16 in 2015.
With his pops throwing him BP, Keenan sent one 434 feet on his first swing. He hit five in the final 30 seconds of round two to total 25 home runs and advance to the finals.
The 6-foot-4, 240-pound heavy hitter smacked 15 taters in the final round to total 40 on the night, but fell short of Griffin Doersching’s final round of 20. Keenan finished second. More importantly, he had the best result in school history, rocking the most beautiful uniforms in college baseball, in front of 16,647 fans at TD Ameritrade on the most patriotic weekend of the year.
Keenan, drafted by Seattle in the fourth round of the 2020 MLB Draft, was announced to the Mariners 60-man ‘player pool’ roster last week and reported to the team’s ‘summer camp’ on July 1. For him to be considered as a viable option for call up during a 60-game season as a rookie is great, but one has to wonder which Fourth of July weekend is the better memory— reporting to the bigs or crushing the ball in Omaha. It has to be the latter.
There are few things more American than fireworks, home runs and Ole Miss baseball. The 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2019 Fourth of July weekends had it all, and left the door open for the Rebels’ next participant to be the first to win the College Home Run Derby.
Thanks for joining me, now go crack a cold one and put your feet up. Our tea-tossing forefathers worked hard for you to drink up, grill up and chill out. Cheers!