OXFORD – Ben Dobbs was at Swayze Field by 5:45 a.m. Saturday, and he wasn’t even the first in line.
The Ole Miss student, a junior from Amory, was just one of thousands eager to see if the Rebels could finish off Virginia in the NCAA Super Regionals and earn the school’s first College World Series berth since 1972. He was seated in the area behind the left field fence, where fans can bring their lawn chairs.
When the gates finally opened, “It was like a bunch of rats just trying to go get some food,” Dobbs said.
Alas, the Cavaliers won, 4-3, to force today’s decisive Game 3 at 2 p.m.
Dobbs will be back. As will his brother, Carter, and his wife Lyndi, and two other friends, Doug Minor and Clarence Webster, all of whom left Madison at 5 a.m. Saturday.
Attendance Saturday was 10,323, the most ever to witness a game at Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field. Friday’s attendance was 9,213, which now ranks seventh-best and, until Saturday, was the highest for an NCAA game in Oxford.
The record for a three-date series is 26,075, set against Texas during the 2005 Super Regional. A crowd of just 6,540 today would eclipse that mark.
“They’re into every pitch, into every play, and it’s a great college baseball atmosphere they’ve created here,” Virginia athletics director Craig Littlepage said.
That atmosphere was notable during the 2005 and ’06 Super Regionals, too, both of which Ole Miss lost. It’s gotten better since.
The seating areas beyond the right field and left field walls were expanded in 2007, with picnic tables and barbecue stands. Lyndi Dobbs likened it to The Grove.
Another Ole Miss fan, 27-year-old Derrick Darby of Oxford, actually compared it to the confines inhabited by arch-rival Mississippi State.
“It’s kind of got the Dudy Noble atmosphere now,” Darby said. “Of course, we’ve always had the fans, but now we’ve got places to put everybody.”
Also, the stadium underwent a multi-million dollar renovation this year that saw more seats added. Five of the all-time top-10 crowds at O-U Stadium have been recorded this season.
Such venues are not unusual in the SEC. In Virginia’s conference, the ACC, seats are harder to come by.
Virginia’s Davenport Field has a capacity of 2,000.
“We don’t have the crowds turn out for baseball games that y’all do,” said Cavaliers fan Donnie Foster, who hails from Charlottesville. “When you see 10,000 people show up to a baseball game, that’s a lot of people.”
It’s been a mostly hospitable atmosphere for the visitors – maybe not so much for Virginia’s right fielder, as the student section out there can get rowdy. Darby and his friends, who were tailgating along Old Taylor Road on Saturday morning, fed and visited with the parents of Virginia pitcher Tyler Wilson.
Wilson’s younger brother, who’s 13, was duly impressed.
“He’s already talking about this is one of the schools he’s going to be interested in,” Darby said.
It’s all quite different from what 73-year-old Don Leech, of Amory, remembers from his days as an Ole Miss student in the 1950s. The old facility, which was located next to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, wouldn’t have been fit for a rec league team by today’s standards.
Leech has watched Ole Miss baseball grow over the years, and the improved facilities are a reflection of the Rebels’ rise to national prominence.
“It’s here,” he said. “It’s happening now.”
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal