Omaha, NE — I took a late-night stroll around Charles Schwab Stadium, soaking in the aftermath of an Ole Miss National Championship. For some folks, the Omaha nights all blended into one, which included Sunday, as I was witnessing.
After ten days of watching their team fight through the tournament, some were soaking up the last few pints of beer or Jell-O shots, while others were soaking in the feeling of what they had just witnessed hours earlier.
Now, I don't have as many hours logged in Omaha compared to some of the folks I enjoyed the week with, but after consecutive trips to the tournament, I understand why folks continue coming back. It's all done right, whether it be the city itself or the people that are running it, there is a special feeling you get when arriving in this town.
Ole Miss fans took full advantage of the unwavering hospitality, just like their rivals Mississippi State did last season when they won it all.
I had one restaurant owner tell me he couldn't believe how many people from Mississippi had shown up over the past two years. The funny part about the 2022 finals was the number of people that showed up without tickets, just to experience the moment.
I relate it to fans showing up on a Saturday in October, but only for the tailgate parties. After seeing what looked to be a few thousand people roaming around outside the stadium during the game, it became apparent that folks just wanted to feel like they were a part of something special, which they did.
But one of the key parts of building a fan base is letting them get to know the players. It wasn't just about Ole Miss trying to win their first title, it was also about how much the fans fell in love with the team, with players like Tim Elko, who will never buy a drink again in Oxford.
When the fans are bought into the stories of players, they feel a connection to them, just as the players. Some schools have embraced it, while others are still sitting on their hands. Tennessee is a prime example, looking to build the program, but knowing they will only go as far as the support takes them.
This was the perfect environment for Ole Miss fans to bottle up all that energy and celebrate it through the night at the local bars around Omaha. It honestly felt like I was sitting at an Ole Miss football game and Oklahoma had the visitor's allotment, it was so loud and exhilarating to be a part of. There's a reason why Mike Bianco wasn't as shocked to see that many people in the stands and on the streets. The fans cared about the team and appreciated this special group of players.
"I think that's why you had 20,000-plus fans show up here, because this is a special group. They knew it was a special group. It wasn't just a national championship. I honestly believe that."
During the trophy presentation, when you look in the stands, the stadium holds 25,000, and it looked almost still packed," Bianco added. "That's how many fans we had here. This group of young men, I think people have fallen in love."
Whether it was my hotel at 2:30 in the morning or the local restaurant filled to the brim with fans, it was easy to point out the SEC fans in Omaha. Razorback fans 'Calling The Hogs' after midnight made that point very clear or the 'Hotty Toddy' chants that rang out through the night as some fans were finishing their alcohol consumption before a long drive back this morning.
As you witnessed during the past two weeks, this is a destination spot. It's not only for the players to think about before the start of every season, but for the fans to aspire to spend thousands of dollars in the month of June.
It's been a long five months for the sport, with so many different storylines to follow throughout the season that captured the national eye. The conversation was about one SEC team for the entire regular season and ended up being about another as the season ended.
Well done, college baseball. You exceeded my expectations again.