Finally, Showtime at Swayze!
OXFORD, Miss. — We need this.
Today, for the first time since last March 8, there will be a real baseball game at Swayze Field.
We need this.
We need to hear the magic “ting” of the bat. We need to smell the manicured outfield grass. We need to see those familiar faces of our friends in the stands.
We need this.
After a year of social distancing, of masks, of illness and death, we need a semblance of normalcy.
Ole Miss baseball is a great first step. And it is a great team.
Not only did the Rebels sweep their first three games at the State Farm College Baseball Showdown this weekend, but when Ole Miss takes the field against Arkansas State today, it will do so as the top-ranked team in the country. That is just a bonus.
We get to watch baseball.
We need this.
Unlike any other sport, baseball binds us together as one. As one fan base, as one country, even as one species. Every single one of us has picked up a bat in our lives. Every one of us has tried to throw a curveball. Every one of us has seen a baseball movie.
Ah, those movies. Like the game itself, there are no sports movies like baseball movies. They are great because we all relate to them. And they have the best lines ever put in a script.
In Bull Durham, the catcher Crash Davis tells his pitcher, “Don’t think, Meat, just throw.”
That is what Ole Miss starter Derek Diamond did Monday night against Texas in an 8-1 victory, striking out eight Longhorns and giving up just four hits in six innings on the mound. Diamond threw. And threw. And threw.
So did Gunnar Hoglund. The Rebels’ starting pitcher threw 11 strikes in 5.1 innings against No. 4 Texas Tech Sunday in Arlington.
After giving up a home run, Davis tells his pitcher, “That ball got out of here in a hurry. Anything that travels that far ought to have a damn stewardess on it.”
Ole Crash could have been talking about the bomb of a dinger Rebels’ first baseman Trey LaFleur hit Monday against Texas.
— Ole Miss Baseball (@OleMissBSB) February 23, 2021
In Major League, Harry Doyle — the fictional broadcaster played by Bob Uecker — described an especially wild pitcher’s fastball as “Juuuuuuust a bit outside. He tried the corner and missed.”
That certainly ain’t the Rebels pitching staff so far! Ole Miss pitchers have fanned 42 batters while walking only 13 in three games.
In The Natural, the New York Knights’ best hitter breaks his prized bat in a pennant-clinching game. Instead of showing dejection, Roy Hobbs looks at the batboy and simply says, “Pick me out a winner, Bobby.”
Naturally, Hobbs hit the next pitch out of the ballpark, so Bobby indeed picked a winner.
Winners is a word that is coming natural to Ole Miss. After the three victories in Arlington, Texas to start the season, the Rebels have won 19 straight dating back to last year’s shortened season.
In Eight Men Out, Buck Weaver tells his Chicago White Sox manager:
“I still get such a bang out of it, playing ball. Same as I did when I first come up. You get out there and the stands are full and everybody is cheering. It is like everybody in the world (has) come to see you. Inside that, there are the players in there and they’re yakking it up and the pitcher throws and you’re looking for that pill, and suddenly there is nothing else in the ballpark — you and it — and sometimes when you’re feeling right and there is a groove there, the bat just eases into it and meets that ball. When the bat meets that ball you can feel that ball just give, and you know it is going to go a long way. Damn, if you don’t feel like you’re going to live forever.”
Buck Weaver, Eight Men Out
This year’s Rebel squad is young. There are only nine seniors on the roster, and I am willing to bet each has had the feeling Weaver is describing. I hope they all get to continue that feeling in professional ball after this season.
Of course, there is always the classic line from Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.”
This Swayze Field is much different from the one I visited when I was a student at Ole Miss. The university built it and the Swayze Crazies continue to come.
Dennis Quaid in The Rookie tells a teammate, “Do you know what we get to do today, Brooks? We get to play baseball.”
Can you imagine the kids on this team not being able to play baseball in front of a home crowd in 11 months? It must have been agonizing.
That ends today, February 24, at 4:00 p.m. when head coach Mike Bianco’s team takes on Arkansas State.
Our boys get to play baseball and when they take the field, they might steal a line from Lou Gehrig in Pride of the Yankees, “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
I have a feeling the Rebels know how lucky they are.
Finally, there is one of the most famous baseball movie lines that comes from A League of Their Own.
Tom Hanks manages a women’s baseball team during World War II. While being berated by Hanks, one of his players begins to sob to which Hanks replies, “Are you crying? Are you crying? There’s no crying in baseball!”
Actually, a few fans might have a few tears in their eyes as they settle in their seats at Swayze to watch our Rebels play baseball.
But that is okay. They will be tears of joy.
It is okay because we need this. We all need this.
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss)