June 19, 2013 10:29:45 AM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
OMAHA, Neb. -- Mississippi State University baseball broadcaster Bart Gregory had a brief conversation with his father, Larry, early Tuesday morning.
"I told him to pack his bags because he was coming here," Bart Gregory said. "This is simply too great of an experience and I don't want him to miss it. I told him I would arrange for his flight and we would find a way to get him home. But I wanted him here."
The Gregorys were busy putting together last-minute travel plans Tuesday but they were not alone. Many supporters of MSU are now booking last-minute flights and trying to nail down limited hotel vacancies in Omaha.
The Bulldogs are just three wins away from securing Mississippi's first Division 1 NCAA championship in a team sport. In eight previous appearances at the College World Series, MSU's best finish was a tie for third in 1985. The Bulldogs, who with UCLA are the only unbeaten teams left among the six remaining teams, plays either Oregon State or Indiana at 2 p.m. Friday. MSU sent both of those teams into the loser's bracket with identical 5-4 victories.
The excitement surrounding the Bulldogs' success has been building.
"You always want to win but I didn't expect anything like this," said Starkville resident Brad Andrews as he manned a grill outside TD Ameritrade Park Tuesday afternoon. "It is not always about the best team in a tournament like this. It is about the hottest team. Certainly, the Bulldogs have played very well.
"I am fortunate in that I own my own business. So, really, this week has just turned into a mini-vacation."
The College World Series format awards teams for victories. The Bulldogs played in the tournament's opening game on Saturday and then played again on Monday. By winning twice, MSU earned three days off before playing again Friday.
Some fans are taking this time to visit the University of Nebraska, which is less than an hour away. The Henry Doorly Zoo is another popular destination. The MSU baseball team is scheduled to visit the zoo Wednesday. Both Omaha malls seemed to be another popular destination as well. For most visitors, the concern is not where to spend the time but how to find the money to extend the stay.
Since MSU has only won two games one other time in nine College World Series appearances, it stands to reason that a week-long stay in Omaha could stretch the budget.
"Really, we are in a situation where we have to go home after the first couple of days," MSU educational assistant Gabby Reynolds said. "It would be different if the team was playing every day. However, we are already looking at coming back next week if they make it (to the championship series). The best-of-three championship series starts Monday.
"We have a group of us that are going to get together and carpool over here for the championship series, so it won't be that difficult. If they are playing for the championship, we certainly want to be here."
The logistical nightmares of the tournament -- 14 hours from Starkville with the possibility of it lasting 13 days -- have even been a burden on local media. Campus radio station WMSV-FM scrapped its original plan of covering the first four days of the tournament and will now cover the Bulldogs to the end. WFCA-FM is swapping out personnel, as Jason Crowder covered the first four days of the event but left town due to previous commitments. Jonathan Holmes is en route to Omaha now and will be on the air when the Bulldogs play again on Friday.
"It has been a balancing act," said Anthony Craven, who co-hosted WMSV's Southeastern Drive Time from the stadium Monday and Tuesday and will now do so for the remainder of the week. "This is history, though. I am already working on getting other members of my family out here (for a possible national championship series)."
Former MSU Student Association president Rhett Hobart works in the marketing department for the school and took to Twitter Tuesday to encourage last-minute travelers to take the financial plunge and come see the Bulldogs play. Twitter messages noted that the Doubletree Hotel is housing the MSU team and does have rooms available for the weekend.
The ticket demand has been lessened since one of the tournament's top draws and fellow Southeastern Conference rival -- Louisiana State University -- was eliminated by a 4-2 loss to the University of North Carolina Tuesday.
"This has been a special season, no doubt about it," said MSU supporter Alicia Woods, who walked downtown Omaha with her husband, Mike, and twin sons, Cole and Eric, late Tuesday night. "We were planning a vacation in July. Now this is our vacation instead. Really, though, I am good with that. This team has played well and they deserve all the support they can get."
The good news for MSU fans is that several local hotels have a lower rate next week since a large majority of the tournament teams and supporters will be long gone by then. Tickets are available through a number of officially licensed sites sponsored by the NCAA. The university is also bending over backwards to make sure any special needs are met.
Bart Gregory was attending to some of those special needs Tuesday morning. He was apprehensive that his dad would not be willing to hop on a plane last minute to take the trip. Those fears were quickly alleviated and the convincing took less than a minute.
"It was like, 'I am ready to come,'," Bart Gregory said. "I was real excited. There is no one I had rather share a special moment like this with. The weekend is going to be fun."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter