When you step into Oxford University Stadium/ Swayze Field you can almost immediately tell that there is something different about this place. The first time I was able to walk through the stadium was in 2003, as a student manager. For two years I came to work everyday at Swayze field. I was lucky enough to come back to Ole Miss Athletics in 2008 and see that Swayze had not only grown in popularity, but also in size. As a manager, I remember the detail Coach Bianco always showed when it came to aspects of the program, a characteristic he still has today. Even though the field is named after legendary coach Tom Swayze I believe the case could be made that Coach Bianco is the legal guardian. As a manager you begin to meet all types of people that love Ole Miss and in particular Ole Miss baseball. I remember the first time I met the late Ernie LaBarge, founder and long-time operator of the bullpen club. His love for Ole Miss baseball was unparalleled. The things he did for the baseball program are still shining through today. As the program continues to grow, so does the luster and aura of Swayze field.
It starts on Thursday nights as students spend hours setting up chairs and heckling the opposing team as they practice. Coach Bianco and selected players meet with the loyal supporters of the bullpen club in the club level to give them some added information that only an insider would know. The people are a huge part of what make this place so special. Mrs. Donna, the president of the bullpen club, who spends countless hours making sure that members are getting every ounce of Ole Miss baseball they can get.
James Taylor, more affectionately know as JT, going through ticket requests for players and families and making sure no one is left off. Alex, Alex, and Anna Kate the captains of the diamond girl squads making sure they have planned out the crews for each day. As Thursday turns to Friday, it's almost like you can feel baseball in the air. Silence of the day is broken by the hustle and bustle of Darren and the concessions crew making sure each stand has enough water and hot dogs. You can spot Brian Russell, also known as BR, director of event management who will not, under any circumstances, let anyone set up in left field early. This list includes his close friends and family. I respect him for that. Rules are rules. You hear "Judge," the long time city judge in Oxford, who now takes tickets and directs fans to their seats as they begin to form a line outside his entrance. Kathryn and Catherine, the always smiling and bubbly hostesses of the diamond club who are double and triple checking locker numbers, codes, keys, chairs, food, and anything else that deals with the diamond club. Mr. Preston and Tyler, the Andy Frain ushers who make sure that traffic stops in front of the stadium so people can cross safely and an orderly manner.
As gates open you can always count on Carl and Juanita Skinner to be first in line. That is unless the men's tennis, women's tennis, basketball, football, track, rifle, or golf's teams are playing in which case they split up to cover more ground. As both teams finish up batting practice you can always bet the house that Mr. Floyd, from Water Valley, will be arriving shortly. He started buying season tickets when "there was only a hand full of people and a few mice" in the stands. Rain, sleet, snow, extreme heat, and even rising prices will not keep him out of his seats right above the first base dugout. It was once so hot I sat next to him for about ten minutes and got sunburned. He sat there through an extra innings Rebel victory. Impressive. As game time approaches people file in like ants to see their beloved Rebels face another SEC foe. Meanwhile Barry Arrington and his crew prep the field for the 1,956,876th time. Clock work at this point I'm sure. Sheila Padgett, student-athlete advisor, waits patiently at the gate hoping that she can meet up with the faculty coach for that game and that they are there on time to be recognized. Fuller Smith, director of operations for Ole Miss baseball, is going through his mental checklist of autographed balls, first pitch catchers, post game meals, hotel accommodations for the next series, why the flag is stuck on the pole, how many students are actually under that blue tent, and all of the above. Jessica Payne, the usher in the club level, tries to make staff laugh as they enter from pre-game meetings. Finally it's time for first pitch and my only worry in the world at that moment is that the microphone is working and not popping, running out of battery, losing signal, and/or being snatched up by an eagle and taken far away from the stadium.
The roar of the crowd as the Rebels take the field still gives me chills. Fans sit and wait for the first strikeout, double play, or close call. As the Rebels come to bat Jacob and the "Dancers" always entertain as Andrew Mistone comes to the plate. When the Rebels score first, you hear an organ rendition of "Happy and you know it" played by Suave Taylor who has been the DJ at Swayze for the last six years. As Mike Mayers takes the mound you see his counter part Mike Myers (or if you sit next to him, "Matt") take his position as a stoic and scary figure in left field. As Rachel, theemcee of Swayze, describes another game the Rebels actually get 3 up 3 down and we have a winner! Matt Snyder comes to the plate for what seems like his 3,000th at bat. He is the embodiment of Swayze. Injured but never out, an easy fan favorite, always coming back for more and waiting for that big moment. That moment arrives by way of an 11th inning walk off home run. Thousands of drinks fly into the air as the best student section in America celebrates with another home run shower. Something we have become quite well known for.
The visiting teams head coach makes the slow walk to the pitchers mound. In an instant you can hear people digging through their bags to find their maracas. David Dillard the long time video director of the video board is cuing up everyone's favorite video clip. (FYI, It frustrates David when people don't kiss on the kiss cam.) It's peanut butter jelly time and Ryan Hutcheson grabs his patented red maracas to dance out more hits for the Rebels. For years he was the lone soldier when it came to PBJ time but steam has picked up and now he has an entire section joining in on the fun. As the innings go by the Rebels get another victory. Players huddle in left field to listen to Coach Bianco's post game comments and praise, pausing each time to let players tip their hats to fans chanting Hotty Toddy. As players stop for autographs and interviews, a little boy asks his mom if this is Alex's (Yarbrough) last game to which she responds, "We will have to wait and see." I'm hoping it's not too.
The game is long over and the only noise you can hear in the seats of Swayze are that of the blowers from Trey and Nicole Kamman's cleaning crew who work tirelessly trying to get every peanut hull and crushed nacho off Swayze's floor for the next game. The stadium lights turn off and there is one light still shining bright. That is the light in the press box where Bill Bunting, Sports Information Director, is finishing up his story, adding photos, sending tweets, and posting video so that all of Rebel Nation will know the story of that day. At last we can rest and prepare for tomorrow, as Swayze will be waiting.