OXFORD – Aside from the result on the field, it was hard to find fault with the recent NCAA baseball super regional at Ole Miss.
Visiting Virginia rallied from a Game 1 loss to win Games 2 and 3 and advance to Omaha for the College World Series.
With almost 30,000 fans over the course of the weekend, a sparkling new stadium and great weather, the university was able to put its best foot forward for games broadcast on ESPN and ESPN2.
Success of the four-team Oxford Regional, which included Western Kentucky, Missouri and Monmouth May 29-June 1, and the super regional have been the impetus for even more expansion at newly renovated Swayze Field, as work will begin this summer on the right field section.
“There hasn’t been a better super regional in the country, I have no doubt about that, and I’ve seen some pretty good ones,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said.
The super regional drew 29,646 fans, the highest attendance of the eight super regional sites.
The Oxford super regional had an average daily attendance of 9,882, again the highest of all the 2009 super regionals. The Baton Rouge super regional, matching LSU and Rice, was second with an average attendance of 9,787 fans. That series was decided in two games.
The ESPN network broadcasts made the Oxford super regional available in more than 100 million homes, Ole Miss athletics director Pete Boone said.
“Those people were able to see the atmosphere of Ole Miss baseball. You can’t buy that sort of national public relations,” he said.
While the renovation at Swayze Field is not technically complete, the remaining work to be done is light and in the background, not something attending fans would notice. Boone said no problems were reported involving fans and stadium work.
Bianco said he received more than 100 e-mails in the days immediately following that talked about the atmosphere, the stadium and how far its come since the days of old Swayze Field when it sat adjacent the west side of the football stadium.
“It’s about how much it’s come since then but also how much it’s come in the last nine years,” said Bianco, whose only trip to Ole Miss as an LSU player was in 1989, the first season for Swazye Field at its present site off Old Taylor Road.
The university submitted bids to the NCAA of $150,000 to host the four-team Oxford Regional and $125,000 to host the Oxford Super Regional.
There was enough revenue generated by the regional and the super regional that Boone believes Ole Miss baseball will be self-supported financially for the first time once all figures are complete.
New and improved right field
In one of his last acts as chancellor, Robert Khayat has authorized work in the right field general admission seating area.
The work would affect the first two tennis courts that sit behind the present right field section. Construction would add room for another 1,000 fans with grills and other amenities and would give the stadium a consistent outfield look from the left field foul line to the right field foul line.
The area would remain the student seating section.
“That will be student seating, but that area has never been exclusively for students,” Boone said.
Impact in the community
Super regional benefits weren’t limited to the campus.
Oxford merchant Terry Warren, who owns Rebel Rags, which specializes in Ole Miss clothing and collectibles, compared the three days to a football-season atmosphere.
NCAA restrictions would not allow him to sell official super regional merchandise on site, but Warren’s store was crowded, and he estimated sales to be “four or five times what they would normally be” in an otherwise slow period.
“There are new faces in town for the weekend, the hotels, restaurants and stores are full,” Warren said. “Business picks up for the bigger SEC series. It steps up for a regional and steps up even more for a super regional. It brings excitement to a time that is normally dead when the students are gone.
“When Ole Miss is winning the city of Oxford and the community is winning. The excitement is big, and we can’t wait to get to the World Series. The community needs that and looks forward to it.”
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal