Locals among flock of Ole Miss fans that migrated to Omaha for CWS
Published 3:00 pm Thursday, June 30, 2022
Just like last year when scores of fans from across the area headed to Omaha, Nebraska to watch Mississippi State play in the College World Series, there was a similar rush of Ole Miss faithful last week who made the trip to see their Rebels play for and win the first baseball national championship in school history.
“Whether your team is in it or not, I’d recommend everybody go to the CWS once.”
On Friday nights in the fall, you can hear Mark Lewis, Rob Fisher and Jeff Richardson broadcasting every snap of Brookhaven High football on the radio.
The trio along with Shannon Aker and David Culpepper have ridden together over untold miles of Mississippi highways as they physically follow along with Ole Brook football so that the fans back home can keep up via their radios.
On Thursday evening, after Ole Miss clinched a berth in the finals with a 2-0 win over Arkansas, Richardson let his buddies know that he was ready for a longer road trip.
“I texted them and said, ‘I’m going, who wants to go along with me,’” said Richardson. “I had a meeting on Monday at work that I couldn’t miss, but at the same time I felt like this was a once in a lifetime chance that I couldn’t pass up — even if I was only able to be there for one game.”
The three friends didn’t hit the road until late on Friday and stopped around midnight at a hotel before finishing the trek on Saturday to Nebraska.
“The plan had been for me to come on back home after the game on Saturday while Mark and Rob would stay and watch,” said Richardson. “The thought was to get them a rental car they could drive back to Brookhaven, but once we got there the plan changed to me flying back and them bringing my car back.”
Richardson follows his Rebs closely in all sports, but baseball holds a special spot in his fandom.
“I just always find myself really looking forward to baseball coming back every February,” said Richardson. “I’ve been an Ole Miss fan for over 50 years now and this was greater than my wildest dreams.”
Saturday, Ole Miss hit back-to-back-to-back home runs in an eventual 10-3 win over Oklahoma in the first game of the championship series.
“We were in left field, not far from where the third homerun landed,” said Richardson. “The atmosphere was just unbelievable. From the first pitch, the fans were cheering for every strike and every hit. Coach Bianco said something to the effect of it was more like a football crowd with the noise that was generated, and I’d agree with that.”
Ole Miss began the season as a Top 10 team in every national poll of substance prior to the 2022 campaign. The team finished 13-3 in the pre-SEC portion of their schedule and began league play by winning two of three at Auburn in the first conference series of the season.
A swoon began in late March though as the University of Tennessee swept Ole Miss. The Rebels soon lost four in a row after dropping a midweek game against Southern Miss and then losing three in a row against Alabama in conference play.
By all accounts, Ole Miss was the last team in the NCAA tournament field as an at-large field.
“When I saw the region that they got put in, I felt like they’d have a good chance of winning that one,” said Richardson of the draw that had Ole Miss playing the University of Arizona and Miami in the Coral Gables regional.
The Rebels blasted through their opponents in Miami and then shut down the Southern Miss bats in a two-game sweep of the Golden Eagles in the Super Regionals.
“You knew they had the talent all year,” said Richardson. “They just had to put it all together at the right time.”
That’s exactly what happened for Ole Miss to cap off head coach Mike Bianco’s 22 season in Oxford.
“As a fan, it feels kind of surreal to see your team do something that you’ve been hoping and wishing to see for so long,” said Richardson. “Now you kind of sit back and wonder what’s next. I’ll say this though, if you’re a fan of sports, you need to see Omaha for yourself. “Whether your team is in it or not, I’d recommend everybody to the College World Series once.”
“I grew up going to the CWS, but this was a whole different experience.”
Nic Ricceri lives in Brookhaven now, but he grew up in Omaha.
How he got here is a kind of winding tale that involves time spent as wakeboard instructor at a camp in Texas, which led him to playing soccer at Mississippi College, which led him to working in Brookhaven after graduating from MC.
Ricceri might have blown into town like a dried cornhusk on the wind, but when he met and later married his wife Jillian Sicks Ricceri, he put down roots with a family of Ole Miss fans and alums.
Going back home to Omaha around the same time as the CWS has been something fun that Nic and Jillian have done together over the years, but with their son Thomas midway between his first and second birthdays, travel wasn’t initially in their plans for 2022.
“We’d actually said before the tournament ever started that we weren’t going to go this year,” said Nic. “Then when Ole Miss kept winning, we started realizing those plans would change.”
On Thursday, the family of three got up at 3 a.m. and started making the trek towards Omaha via Southwest Airlines. They were able to see Ole Miss beat Arkansas later that night and then had tickets for the win on Saturday against Oklahoma.
“We didn’t fly back until Sunday and we thought about going to part of the game and then leaving for the airport, but we didn’t want to risk it since we were traveling with a toddler,” said Nic. “It was really cool though because in between seeing those two wins at the stadium, we were able to spend a ton of time with my family in the area. We were either at the ballpark watching Ole Miss or at my Meme’s house hanging with our family.”
Jillian and Nic both say the Ole Miss presence in the city between Thursday and Saturday was like a tidal wave of red and blue that washed over Omaha.
“The crowd on Thursday had some Ole Miss fans in it, but nothing like what came through over the weekend,” said Jillian. “A local actually stopped us on Saturday and asked, ‘where did you all come from?’ It was really cool to look on social media and see so many others from Brookhaven and the surrounding area that were there too.”
Nic believes that the Ole Miss presence in the city and the way that the Rebel fans opened their wallets — local bar Rocco’s sold almost $100,000 worth of jello-shots to UM fans alone during the week — has endeared the fan base to the people of Omaha.
“When I was growing up, people in Omaha loved to talk about when LSU would come to town with a good team,” said Nic. “That was kind of the standard for when a fanbase would overtake the city. I think that the fans from Ole Miss made a pretty memorable impact last week. I grew up going to the College World Series, but this was a whole different experience.”
“Is everybody from Mississippi here?”
Brookhaven attorney Will Allen was resigned to watching the championship series from home with his family.
He’d looked at travel options and didn’t think he’d be able to pull together a trip for him and his college age son, Sam.
Then, a client reached out to Allen and let him know that his traveling party had two spots available and asked if he wanted them.
“It just felt like something that we had to do,” said Allen. “It was kind of last minute, but there was no way that I could pass up a chance to see Ole Miss play for a national championship. I just thought back to my Dad and how if he were here, you wouldn’t be able to stop him from being there. Going just felt like a no-brainer at that point.”
Sam and Will were there to see both wins for the Rebels on Saturday and Sunday. They were part of an Ole Miss contingent that Will estimates took up 95 percent of the seats At Charles Schwab Field.
“I think the crowd definitely gave Ole Miss an advantage,” said Allen. “Standing out in the concourse at one point, I counted 20 fans from Ole Miss for every fan from Oklahoma. The atmosphere was truly incredible.”
Huge crowds meant long waits for rides via Uber and for tables at local restaurants, but Allen says the vibes were too high for anyone to care.
“The Uber driver we had on one ride asked us, ‘is everybody from Mississippi here,’” said Allen. “It was definitely a bucket-list trip for us, and I think that would be true for lots of people there too. How often are you going to get to see your alma-mater play for a national championship?”
Allen is an honest Ole Miss fan though and even with the big win 10-3 win by OM on Saturday, he admits that nerves were present on Sunday.
“As an Ole Miss fan, you sometimes spend your life waiting for the Rebels to somehow snatch defeat from the jaws of victory,” Allen says with a laugh. “This wasn’t that though. The way things played out in the eighth inning on Sunday when they took the lead, it felt inevitable that Ole Miss was going to win. The leadership that this team had internally, you just knew that this group wasn’t going to lose.”