By Chris Kieffer
TUPELO – The Grist family had a long night on Monday.
As soon as they had finished watching their beloved University of Mississippi baseball team earn its first birth in the College World Series in 42 years, the Tupelo residents had work to do.
The Rebels were headed to Omaha, Nebraska, for their sport’s premium event, and Joey and K.C. Grist and their two boys – J.T., 11, and Jimmie, 8 – were going to be there. But first came the details – deciding how to go, finding a place to stay and securing tickets.
“We didn’t sleep much that night,” Joey Grist said.
They were not alone. As they viewed hotel websites, one had a message stating 350 others were currently looking at that hotel. While StubHub.com processed their ticket order, the Grists watched the list of available tickets for Ole Miss’s Sunday opener against the University of Virginia quickly drop.
“I’m looking forward to the experience of being there,” said K.C. Grist, noting the trip is especially meaningful for the boys.
Jennifer Eastland’s family of Oxford made a quick decision to cancel its annual trip to Destin, Florida, in favor of the drive to middle America.
“We figure if it took the Rebels 42 years to get to Omaha, it was worth canceling our beach trip to go out there and support them,” she said.
Whether they are flying or making the roughly 12-hour drive through Arkansas, Missouri and Nebraska, Ole Miss fans will be traveling with a pent-up enthusiasm for a long-awaited trip. “Omaha” has been a buzzword in Oxford since Mike Bianco began coaching the team in 2001. Fans saw the team come within a win of the CWS in 2005, 2006 and 2009.
“I think it will be a rush to see the team take the field,” said Charlie White, of Tupelo, who will make the trip with his wife, Madeline. “…Seeing the team take the field in Omaha, as baseball fans and fans of the school and the game, is something we’ve always talked about as long as I can remember. To see it will be awesome and maybe a little emotional.”
It is a big deal, said Susan Presley, of Tupelo, who also will make the trip.
“I was so excited, my daughter thought I had lost my mind,” she said. “I was screaming and running through the house.”
Meanwhile, for those who rarely miss Ole Miss home games, the trip is the culmination of many hours spent at Swayze Field hoping against hope it would finally be possible.
“We pretty much knew if they went, we were going to go,” said Angela Maloney of Oxford, adding that it seems “the whole world is going from Oxford.” “We had no idea how we were going to make it happen, but we knew we were going no matter what.”
Added Oxford’s Aaron Dewey: “We went out there, even in the rain and cold. When you put that much effort into seeing a team and they make it to Omaha, you have to go. It wasn’t a question. It was just how do we get tickets. There was no question we were going to Omaha.”
Brad Locke contributed to this story.