OMAHA, Neb. — Over the coming weeks, months, years and decades, Tim Elko's name will be spoken in the same reverent tones as Archie Manning's, Johnny Vaught's, Coolidge Ball's and Peggie Gillom's.
A three-year team captain, Elko led Ole Miss baseball to its first national championship Sunday. He finishes his career with 46 home runs (second in Ole Miss history), 159 RBIs (eighth) and a .294 lifetime batting average with a .985 OPS. The first baseman's 24 home runs in 2022 set an Ole Miss single-season record. His 75 RBIs are the second-most in a season and his 43 walks are 10th-most in a season.
In the build-up to the College World Series and throughout the week, Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco has joked that a statue of Elko needs to be built outside Swayze Field. The consummate teammate, Elko has other ideas.
"I don't really want one," Elko said. "I kind of just want one of all of us holding the national championship trophy. That's all I want."
Elko's story is to Ole Miss baseball fans what Paul Bunyan's or Johnny Appleseed's is to Americana. He rarely played in 2018 and was a rotational piece in 2019. He put up huge numbers in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic took away his first season as team captain. He was off to an All-America caliber start in 2021 before tearing his ACL on April 5, only to return 25 days later and start mashing grand slams on one good knee.
He was the 2021 Oxford Regional MVP, the 2022 Coral Gables Regional MVP, a four-time SEC Academic Honor Roll honoree and the 2021 SEC Scholar Athlete of the Year and a three-time SEC Community Service Team honoree. Just about any award Elko could've won on or off the field, he got it, culminating in a spot on the 2022 College World Series all-tournament team.
More than anything, he was the rock that kept Ole Miss baseball steady during its much-publicized rough stretch in April. Elko batted .380 with seven home runs and 19 RBIs in April but the Rebels had a 7-11 record and fell below .500 in SEC play, making an NCAA Tournament appearance in his final season feel like a long shot.
"I remember after we lost to Mississippi State at home, I called my sister in the car, and she knew that obviously we were struggling, and it was kind of taking a little bit of a toll on me," Elko said.
"I remember talking to her, and she just said, you've got just to trust God. He didn't bring you back here for no reason. I remember hanging up the phone, and I was praying out loud, talking to God, and just asking Him, what's going on here? What did I come back here? This isn't going how I thought it was going to go.
"I remember just hearing one word that He was telling me in the back of my head, and it was 'Believe.' "
Elko kept believing. His teammates kept believing. The Rebels went 18-4 in their last 22 games, 10-1 in the NCAA Tournament and 5-1 in the College World Series. Elko was a big part of it, batting .372 with five home runs, 14 RBIs and 14 runs in the tournament run.
Maybe more importantly, he lit the fire in his teammates that helped lead to all their successes.
"He's like a mentor to me," junior pitcher and College World Series Most Outstanding Player Dylan DeLucia said. "The way he's just picked me up, kept me going, put my head on straight. I've never seen someone like that, and it's truly a blessing to have this team and these coaching staffs."
Contact Nick Suss at 601-408-2674 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @nicksuss on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Build the statue: What Tim Elko's legacy means for Ole Miss baseball