An eight-ish-year-old kid in Ole Miss cap and T-shirt precociously walks over to a table of four Huskies players. He shows a straw, a long toothpick that came out of his po’ boy — and local wisdom.
The boy expertly blows the toothpick through the straw up into the ceiling tiles, sticking it where hundreds already are. The Huskies roar — then join in the local tradition, gleefully firing toothpicks skyward at the Ajax Cafe on Courthouse Square in the center of Oxford, Miss.
That’s how Washington’s baseball team spent the afternoon before its first NCAA regional tournament game in 10 years. At a fun, soul-filled lunch of po’ boys, red beans and rice, chicken and dumplings, sweet tea and more at the Ajax.
Near the end of the meal a local dad approached the seated players and asked them to sing “Happy Birthday” to what appeared to be his college-aged daughter, or at least a relative. The Huskies obliged — and U-turned Kaylee’s initial mortification into a big (albeit red-faced) smile.
Leading hitter Brian Wolfe has proof of the fun.
Relief pitcher Will Ballowe told me the story today of a mother and her daughter in town for Ole Miss’ freshmen summer orientation — school got out the first week of May here — greeting him in the Huskies’ hotel. The natives asked him all about Washington, its beautiful places, its baseball. Before they parted they ended with what Ballowe saw as an earnest wish of good luck and good time in the regional.
"It’s been incredible," he said. "I mean, the people…"
These people are indeed into college baseball.
Each of Ole Miss’ home baseball games are listed among art walks, theater productions and gardening socials on Oxford’s spring city events calendars posted around town in restaurants and tourist publications. The Rebels’ home park where this regional will start with Washington-Georgia Tech Friday at 1 p.m. Pacific time (on espn3.com and gohuskies.com with the live game chat and live stats) has its own Twitter page (@Swayze_CrazyBSB).
There’s even a new handle @RFHater, spewing Tweets that poke fun at the visiting teams’ right fielders and squads that are coming into Swayze Field to play Mississippi. The terraced grass behind the right-field wall at Swayze is the Ole Miss students’ section where (in)famous “Beer Sprays” happen after home runs.
Wolfe, along with the right fielders for Georgia Tech and Jacksonville State, are the prime targets of @RFHater and his Rebels pals. @RFHater and friends posted a picture they found online of Wolfe’s girlfriend eating at Seattle’s iconic Dick’s hamburgers. They kindly posted online the phone number of one of Jacksonville State’s outfielders.
Wolfe, by the way, thinks it’s a hoot. He’s been sharing and even favoriting the tweets.
This morning’s rain — rain is in the forecast for much of the weekend for this regional — prevented the Huskies from practicing on Swayze Field, which is grass. Officially Oxford-University Stadium, it holds 8,500, has those terraced, grass seats with picnic areas beyond left and right fields and is nicer than many Triple-A professional parks in which I’ve been.
After they hit inside Ole Miss’ nice batting cages under the stadium many Huskies walked into the stadium’s lower seating area.
It was cool to see that they thought the whole scene was cool.
"Absolutely," said Meggs, who brought his Indiana State team in here to play a series against Ole Miss in 2008, in his job before taking over at UW. "I told our guys, if we aren’t going to be playing at home and I was a player, knowing what I know and I got to choose where I could go, this is the place I would want to play. These fans are unbelievable, and they are good baseball people. There is a lot of energy.
"It’s like a minor-league baseball town. They really appreciate their baseball. They are really good people.
"The hospitality is off the charts."