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The official colors of Ole Miss are cardinal red and navy blue. That made the sights of Charles Schwab Field on Saturday night and Sunday a little more ingestible for OU baseball.
But colors did nothing for the sound.
Crimson and cardinal are close enough to make discernment difficult, but the roars from Rebel fans during the two championship series games of NCAA baseball gave the Sooners a sobering education on the culture they’ve chosen to join.
OU is headed to the SEC, probably in 2025, and the Sooners will be an outlier in baseball fervor in their new neighborhood.
Some estimates suggested 20,000 Mississippi fans were in Omaha, Nebraska, for the series, won by the Rebel with a two-game sweep. That estimate might be a little high, considering the announced attendance for the clincher Sunday was 25,972. But Ole Miss seemed to clearly have about a 10-to-1 edge in fan support.
“It felt like Swayze Field,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said, referring to the Rebels’ home park back in Oxford. “Because how partisan maybe it was. Man, it felt like a football game out there.
“On the field, it was that loud. Swayze has been pretty loud. I don't know if Swayze has ever been that loud.”
Let’s not get carried away. SEC baseball doesn’t rival SEC football in frenzy.
But SEC baseball does rival SEC basketball. Here’s the stat of the day: four SEC baseball teams in 2022 outdrew their men's basketball teams in average attendance.
Mississippi State averaged 10,201 in baseball, 6,352 in basketball.
Louisiana State averaged 10,159 in baseball, 9,879 in basketball.
Ole Miss averaged 9,948 in baseball, 6,201 in basketball.
Texas A&M averaged 5,112 in baseball, 4,880 in basketball.
Arkansas led the nation in baseball attendance, averaging 10,207, but the Razorbacks draw bonkers for basketball, too. Nationally, South Carolina (6,665) and Florida (5,393) ranked sixth and seventh, respectively, in baseball attendance.
OK, maybe some of those numbers are padded. Everyone pads their attendance numbers. But anyone who was in Omaha or even watched the championship series on ESPN knows that Ole Miss’ baseball passion is legit.
“When they played ‘Sweet Caroline,’ whatever inning it was, I have never heard anything like that,” Bianco said after Game 1. “Just impressive. Thankful. I think as a coach, it's really neat to sit back. And you don't do it too much in the game, but it was so loud that a couple of times you did. You look up and go, wow, all these people showed up here.”
Think about it. It’s 719 miles from Oxford to Omaha. If you’re in Mississippi and you want to fly, you drive to Memphis or New Orleans or the capital city of Jackson, then catch a flight for a connection that gets you to Nebraska.
The Rebels didn’t secure a spot in the championship series until Thursday evening. Yet there they were Saturday night, in droves.
Of course, Ole Miss fans came from everywhere. Wisconsin, Maryland, California. Just like if OU football makes the College Football Playoff, it’s not just Oklahomans scrambling to get flights and tickets.
But this was baseball.
“A lot of people, it meant the world for them to be here this weekend,” Bianco said. “They're passionate, aren't they?”
And let’s be honest. This was rare opportunity. OU won two NCAA championships this spring, in softball and women’s gymnastics. Until Sunday night, Ole Miss had won one NCAA championship in its entire history, and that came a year ago, when the Rebels beat OSU in the women’s golf national finals.
You can’t blame Ole Miss fans for being excited.
Perhaps Mississippi’s response in Omaha was an outlier. When OU went to Gainesville, Florida, the first week of June for an NCAA regional, it played three games against the homestanding Gators. Those games drew 5,000; 3,439 and 3,933. All three were below Florida’s average attendance.
And of the top five SEC baseball teams in attendance this season, only LSU is among the football bluebloods of the conference. So there’s probably some redirected passions there. Enjoy your success where you can find it.
Still, the Omaha experience is a reminder to OU what it’s up against in the SEC.
SEC average baseball attendance: 5,561.
Big 12 average baseball attendance: 2,998. And the Big 12 ranked second nationally, so that’s not an embarrassing figure at all. It’s actually quite impressive. It’s just that the SEC baseball is a runaway enterprise.
OU averaged 1,597 in baseball this year, a figure that bests only Missouri from the SEC. But that 1,597 includes neutral-site games that were designated Sooner home games. The actual average attendance at on-campus Mitchell Park was 816.
OU – and others – have proven over the years that massive crowds and huge stadiums are not necessary for baseball success. Skip Johnson’s Sooners Exhibit A. A blocked pitch here, a replay reversal there, and OU might be flying the NCAA flag instead of the Rebels.
But it’s easier to build a program when energy and excitement flow through the ballpark. And energy and excitement are all SEC baseball.
Colorado travelblog: Creede
You vacation in Colorado because you know what you’re going to see. It’s a place of known adventure. Not too many surprises. Then comes a day like Saturday.
We drove through a cattle drive. A literal cattle drive.
I represented Norman nobility and saluted Prince John in the Nottingham Castle. (Norman of Merry Ol’ England; not Norman of 21st-century Oklahoma).
I walked through a mine shaft, where the temperature was a never-changing 50 degrees.
So much for sitting hard by the Rio Grande River and smelling the sweet pine trees of the San Juan Mountains.
Our Saturday was dedicated to Creede, the eclectic town once known for mining but now known for the arts. Creede, which sits at an elevation of 8,852 feet above sea level, is 21 miles northwest of South Fork, on State Highway 149, known as the Silver Thread, which also goes on up to Lake City.
Creede is home to the Creede Repertory Theatre, a company that for 57 years has produced a variety of musicals and plays by professionals and students. And Creede’s natural beauty – its historic downtown sits at the base of a huge mountain, which was a silver mine from the 19th century – draws visitors by the tens of thousands every summer.
Creede was a Colorado boomtown – its population rose from 600 in 1889 to 10,000 in four years – and among its residents were Bat Masterson and Jesse James-killer Robert Ford. The boom soon ended and Creede’s population declined, though mining continued into at least the 1950s.
The official population of Creede today is less than 500, but that swells to about 4,000 in the summer. Hundreds of homes inhabit the valleys and mountains outside Creede. And tourists come to walk the historic streets.
Trish the Dish and our daughter, Haley, like Creede for some of its shopping, though that seems to be declining, perhaps due to COVID.
And we all like the theater.
The Wall Street Journal called Creede “one of the most isolated places you can catch a play in the United States … but well worth the trip.”
We’ve gone to a variety of shows over the last 20 years, and we saw a beaut Saturday night.
“Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood” was staged in the company’s little theater, which opened in 2011 and seats just 120 and provides an intimate experience much like Oklahoma City’s venerable Jewel Box Theatre. The theater-in-the-round concept means every seat is right on top of the action, and Robin Hood was a fabulous story for the venue.
I’m a sucker for Robin Hood. The 1938 film version with Errol Flynn, filmed in technicolor, is one of Hollywood’s greatest artistic achievements. Later Robin Hood movies were dark and ominous. This stage version, which premiered in 2017, harkens back to the lighter, more adventurous Robin Hood.
There’s even some audience interaction. I can say this. My 11-year-old granddaughter, Tinley, sat mesmerized on the edge of her seat the entire two-hour production. That’s the best endorsement I can give.
This was opening night for the production. The cast included just eight actors, each playing a variety of roles, and the show’s director, John DiAntonio, introduced the play, before taking a seat not far from us. At intermission, as he was scribbling a variety of notes, I walked right past him and told him how much we were enjoying it. Everyone involved seemed thrilled to be back in business, after two straight summers of Covid shutdown.
We arrived in Creede a little after noon, drove through town, then headed on towards Lake City, because we wanted to see the majestic North Clear Creek Falls.
North Clear Creek is billed as the most famous waterfall in Colorado. Sitting within the Rio Grande National Forest, the falls come from North Clear Creek, a tributary of the Rio Grande River. The water flows over a deck of solidified ash that the geologists say was formed by a volcano that erupted 27 million years ago.
The drop is about 200 feet, and the view is spectacular. The crazy part is how close it all sits to Highway 149; less than a half mile. The gorge sits in a wide meadow amid the mountains.
Alas, we took the long way to get there. North Clear Creek Road is a gravel route that takes you to the falls, but North Clear Creek Road continues on another four miles through the mountains and actually comes out on Highway 149 farther south. And THAT is the North Clear Creek Road we first encountered Saturday. We remembered the name, turned off and away we went.
We soon realized we had taken the wrong entry but knew it would eventually get us back to the waterfall. North Clear Creek Road took us high into the mountains, over some paths that were a little sketchy, and at one point, we saw some cows in a pond, maybe 20 feet below us.
Soon enough, a cowboy on horseback came our way, which we didn’t expect.
And around the next turn came a bunch of cows crossing the road. Twenty or 30 cows were milling along at cowspeed; then here came more. Some lumbered out of our way, some we had to drive around, and then here came four more horses, with three cowboys and a cowgirl riding herd.
We literally were in the middle of a cattle drive. I don’t know what the cows were doing that high up, in the middle of the mountains. I never expected to see cattle in the meadows of the San Juan Mountains, but I sure didn’t expect to see them in the heavily-forested areas. That can’t be good for the cows, and it can’t be good for the horses that must corral them.
Yet, I’m told that cattle herds are common in the mountains, as ranchers move them seeking grazing lands. Who knew?
Anyway, it’s not often you can upstage the waterfall on North Clear Creek Road, but the cattle drive did it.
Back in Creede, Tinley and Sadie, 12, joined me for a tour of the Creede Mining Museum. I’d never toured it, for reasons I don’t understand, but it was well worth our time and money ($24 total for the three of us).
In an abandoned silver mine, Creede has constructed the museum and the town’s community center. The museum is a 600-foot walking tour through the mountain, complete with 21 stations that explain the history of mining. The tour comes with an audio headset.
I won’t bore you with details, but rest assured, miners more than earned their money. It was dangerous, debilitating, exhausting work. Creede’s mines didn’t get much silver after that 1889-93 boom, relying instead on lead and zinc, and the work required to extract such minerals was expansive.
We had dinner at a local place – it wasn’t great; Creede’s not a hot spot for great food – and then waited for the show to start.
We got back to the cabin around 10 p.m. Colorado time, and I watched a replay of the OU-Ole Miss baseball game. Colorado and Nebraska share a state line, but it’s 777 miles from Wolf Creek Ranch to Omaha. Lots of adventures at the College World Series, but lots of adventures in Colorado, too.
NBA free agency: Lu Dort agrees to long-term contract with OKC Thunder
The List: Thunder players from France
France has become a major contributor to NBA rosters, with such difference-makers as Rudy Gobert, Tony Parker, Nic Batum and Joakim Noah. But the Thunder still waits on its first French star.
OKC traded for Ousmane Dieng last week, moments after he was picked 11th overall by the Knickerbockers in the NBA Draft. Dieng, a 6-foot-10 GUARD, hasn’t found a shooting touch, but otherwise seems like a swell prospect.
Here are the six Frenchmen who have played for the Thunder, ranked by their OKC success:
1. Theo Maledon, 2020-22: Has averaged 8.8 points a game over two seasons and has made 56 starts.
2. Joffrey Lauvergne, 2016-17: Center who played in 208 NBA games over four seasons. In Lauvergne’s lone Thunder season, he played in 50 games and averaged 5.7 points and 3.7 rebounds before being traded to the Bulls, along with Anthony Morrow and Cameron Payne, for Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott and a second-round draft pick.
3. Jaylen Hoard, 2020-22: The power forward has finished up each of the last two seasons with the tanking Thunder. In 26 OKC games, Hoard has averaged 8.4 points and 5.7 rebounds. But he had two monster games in the final week of last season – 24 points/21 rebounds against Portland and 27/17 against the Lakers.
4. Johan Petro, 2008-09: The original Thunder starting center. Petro played in 22 OKC games, starting 12 and averaging 4.6 points and 4.3 rebounds, before he was traded to Denver in a deal that brought a first-round draft pick, which was used to trade for Thabo Sefolosha. Petro lasted eight NBA seasons and averaged 4.7 points and 3.9 rebounds.
5. Olivier Sarr, 2021-22: The 7-foot center was called up from the G League Blue late in the year and played 22 games, starting two. He averaged 7.0 points and 4.2 rebounds.
6. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, 2018-19: A solid NBA wing who found the doghouse early with the Thunder in the final Russell Westbrook-Paul George year, playing just 123 minutes in 21 Thunder games before he was given away to the Bulls.
Mailbag: Justin Bean
NBA post-draft free-agent signings often are interesting.
Rod: “I may have missed something, but I think all y’all missed a great story of local interest. Justin Bean, son of Dr. Gordon Bean and Shauna Bean, graduated from Southmoore High School. He had an outstanding career at Utah State University. Justin started his career as a walk-on at USU but earned a scholarship and a starting role through hard work. Although he was not drafted, he was signed as a free agent by the Los Angeles Clippers right after the draft.”
Tramel: The Thunder signed Luguentz Dort three years ago at this time. So never dismiss a signing. Sometimes they pan out.
Some teams sign undrafted free agents for marketing purposes. The Lakers just signed Shareef O’Neal, son of Shaq, and Scotty Pippen Jr.
Pippen Jr. is at least a prospect – he averaged 17.5 points a game as a three-year starter at Vanderbilt. Shareef O’Neal played one year at UCLA and two seasons at LSU; he averaged 11.0 minutes and 2.6 points over his college career.
Meanwhile, Bean is a 6-foot-7 forward who had a fine career at Utah State – then blossomed as a senior, when he averaged 17.4 points and 9.9 rebounds per game, plus shooting 46.5 percent from 3-point range.
Bean is a longshot to make the Clippers roster. But you never know. Best of luck to the Southmoore Sabercat.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: As OU learned at College World Series, SEC baseball fervor is real