BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Kobe's won an NBA title. Lord Stanley's Cup is back in Steel City. And Tiger is ready to defend his remarkable U.S. Open championship. Yet, the one sports story that has captured my undivided attention is in Omaha, Nebraska.
How Omaha became "the" destination for college baseball fans is a mystery that would take way too long to explain. Yet for more than a half century, fans have flocked to Rosenblatt Stadium and watched the NCAA crown its national champion. As a matter of fact, on Monday night, the College World Series will pass the seven million mark in attendance.
Supporters of teams like LSU, Texas, Arizona State and Cal State Fullerton know all about the traditions of the CWS. Their teams regularly qualify for this tournament. So for them, making it to Omaha is no big deal. They know the best places to eat, the cheapest places to stay, and the most enjoyable places to celebrate after a win.
This year, two teams have qualified for their inaugural trip to the College World Series - the Virginia Cavaliers (who upset Ole Miss), and the University of Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles.
That's right. The boys from Hattiesburg are in the CWS. A month ago, their season was teetering on the brink of disaster. Corky Palmer announced he was retiring after the season. And poor play made a trip to the tournament seem highly unlikely. Things were so bad, the administration was probably planning Palmer's retirement celebration, trying to come up with the right words to say thanks for the memories.
Now look at USM. A second place finish in the C-USA tournament propelled the Golden Eagles into the tournament. An upset of top seed Georgia Tech (in Atlanta) earned them a berth in the Florida Super Regional. And two come from behind wins over the Gators sent the team, and their delirious fans to the College World Series.
Friends tell me USM fans are parading around Omaha like they own the place. They may not know where to eat. They may not be staying at the best hotels. But, from what I've heard, the Golden Eagles sure know how to make their voices heard. Instead of retirement parties, the administration is organizing black and gold pep rallies at college baseball's biggest tailgate party.
You can bet I'll be glued to my TV to watch every pitch involving the Golden Eagles.
The last chapter of Corky Palmer's coaching career is about to be written. Palmer retires from coaching once this unforgettable trip to Omaha is over. No matter how the Golden Eagles fare in the College World Series, one thing is certain. Palmer will be remembered for being the first coach who took USM baseball "to the top."