June 15, 2013 10:49:43 PM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
OMAHA, Neb. -- Cole McCollum has always tried to find time to spend with his father Tom on Father's Day.
It is a safe bet the 2013 Father's Day may be long remembered as the best one.
The duo left Friday on a 14-hour drive that brought them to their first College World Series on Saturday morning. With a desire to see the nationally-ranked Mississippi State baseball team play, the duo's trip become worthwhile Saturday afternoon as MSU knocked off Oregon State, 5-4 ,before a crowd of 24,473 at TD Ameritrade Park.
It was the Bulldogs first appearance in the College World Series since 2007 and their first win in the championship tournament since 1998.
"We have wanted to take this trip for a real long time," Tom McCollum said. "It was a really a spur-of-the-moment thing. The team wins (the super regional) and you talk about it. We decided this was going to be the year.
The pair won't be able stick around for MSU's next game, which will be played Monday night.
"We can only stay for one game due to work commitments, but trust me, it has been worth it, Tom McCollum said. " We will remember this trip for the rest of our lives."
Tom McCollum lives in Madison. Cole McCollum lives in Starkville and is a manager for Mossy Oak in West Point. The decision to make the 800-plus mile trip to Omaha took place hours after MSU knocked off Virginia, 6-5, to win the Charlottesville Super Regional Monday afternoon in Charlottesville, Va.
"I am a big baseball fan and I am friends with some of the guys," Cole McCollum said. "I have known (first baseman) Wes Rea for a long time. This is a special season, so we wanted to be a part of it. The decision to go or not go didn't take real long. We knew if the team ever got back (to the College World Series), we wanted to go."
The McCollums were not the only ones making last-minute travel plans. Conservative estimates have as many as 4,000 Bulldog fans tucked away in Omaha hotels to watch the school battle in this event for a ninth time.
The challenge is even greater with last-minute flights costing close to $1,000 and most hotel rooms looking at a minimum of $100 a night. If MSU is able to win and advance, the Bulldogs' participation could last as long as 11 days.
"Bulldog nation has turned out in full force," MSU president Dr. Mark Keenum said. "We have a fan-base that is passionate about baseball. When the team does well and plays in the big events, we are going to pack the stands."
For the Maroon and White faithful, the tournament began early. Opening ceremonies included a fireworks show and concert Friday night. About 2,000 Bulldogs jammed into the CenturyLink Center for a pre-game pep rally Saturday morning.
"The City of Omaha does such a great a job with this event," said Starkville resident Bob Anderson, who is attending the CWS with wife, Judy, and son, Colton. "Every time you come here, you feel like you are coming home. The last four times that MSU has played here, some members of my family has been able to attend.
"I have also come over a couple of times to the old stadium (Rosenblatt Stadium), even when MSU was not playing. There are a lot of memories here. You see friends every time you come here."
After more than 50 years at Rosenblatt Stadium, the tournament moved across town to TD Ameritrade Park in 2011. The new ballpark offered an increase in seating, as well as more fan interaction opportunities, sky-boxes and other technological advances.
"The stadium is incredible," Cole McCollum said. "You think it is going to be one way. Then when you get here, it is ever better than you have expected. They thought about all of the little things when they built the stadium. They turned it into an incredible place to watch a ballgame."
The fans were treated to a nip-and-tuck game. The Bulldogs battled back from deficits of 2-0 and 4-3 to knock off the tournament's No. 3 seed. MSU will now face either Indiana or Louisville in a winner's bracket game at 7 p.m. Monday.
MSU's second game will be on ESPN2, which is good news for the McCollums. After getting into Omaha around 3 a.m. Saturday, the return drive home takes place on Father's Day, so the pair can go back to work on Monday.
"Every minute of this trip has been worth it," Tom McCollum said. "I have two daughters who are in nursing school and finishing up degrees, so they couldn't come. They are mad about it. So hopefully (MSU baseball) coach (John) Cohen can us get right back here next year or the year after that. That way, we can bring everybody."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter