Be True to Your School: The Unbeatable College Atmosphere
No professional sport can rival the fan loyalty of college sports. With the always irrepressible college students in the crowd, plus a healthy mix of avid alumni, mixed in with the usual bunch of local townies that have rooted for the hometown school since they were in diapers, the atmosphere at a college game of any type is electric.
College Baseball, while ignored by many college sports fans, is no different.
You'll find the same energy at Simmons Field during an evening game that you'll find in an East Campus neighborhood on any night when the weather's good enough to move the party outside.
I'm a really "old school" sort of fan, and I still value the ideals of amateur collegiate athletics from a time long past. While sports pundits debate the merits of actually paying college football and basketball players, the so-called Olympic sports come much closer to retaining some of what college athletics was once all about.
At a college baseball game you'll be much more likely to be watching many students who are playing the game for the sake of the athletic endeavour and competition and for the privilege of representing the university against its storied rivals.
And the lingering echoes of that bygone "Be True to Your School" attitude brings a different feel and energy to the experience of attending a baseball game on a college campus.
If you look in the archives of the local papers, you'll see there have been times in MU Baseball's history when students packed the stands were for every game, providing a raucous home field advantage. That sort of huge crowd is more of a rarity these days, for some reason.
I'm not sure what it would take to build a groundswell of interest among the student population at Mizzou. Better promotion and advertising on campus? An organized fan group like the Zou Crew?
Back in the late 90's there was a 4 or 5 person band made up of former Marching Mizzou members that showed up at games, sat in the top row above the third base line, and played semi-awful traditional Mizzou band music between innings. They led the heckling, got the fans to sing along with "Hey, Hey-ey Baby" and generally brought some flavor and character to the ballpark.
It doesn't take much to bring a unique feeling to a college ballpark. But we can't even get Truman the Tiger to show up at Taylor Stadium these days.
If the powers-that-be would take a look at what the college baseball atmosphere is like at several other universities, they might be motivated to put some effort and money behind developing a strong fanbase at MU. It could help generate revenue as well as helping the recruitment process.
ModernEraBaseball.com offers a list of the Top 25 NCAA Division I Ultimate College Baseball Experiences. Some excerpts:
Dudy Noble Field, Polk DeMent Stadium – Starkville, Miss. (Miss. State Bulldogs): Who says trends don’t get started in the South? Back in the 1980s, the ‘Dogs were the first in the SEC to expand their ballpark, and the “Left Field Lounge” is often imitated but can never be duplicated. A great ballpark with better fans and one unique atmosphere not to be missed.
. . .
M.L. Tigue Field – Lafayette, LA (University of Louisiana-Lafayette Rajin Cajuns): It really isn’t much of a ballpark, but it is one unique place to catch a ballgame because of the fans, mostly alumni – and the food and drink. Come to pig out and bark out, with the “top row guys,” Vic the Peanut Man, Louisiana barbecue and beer by the pitcher (yep, they sell brew by the pitcher). If this place ever drew more students, it would climb up the Top 20.
The college baseball experience captures the imagination of all sorts of people, including best-selling novelist John Grisham. Take time to read his 1992 piece, Take Me Out To the Ballpark. An excerpt:
It was quite a performance, really. He didn't hear a word. He ate his shrimp and watched the chefs at play in the fog. He studied the zany architecture of the trailers and trucks and vans packed together. He stared at the crowd of nine thousand rowdies who had gathered for a college baseball game. "Unbelievable," he said again. "I wish I played here."
Simmons Field used to have unique and tasty food for sale, back in the day when Johnny's Beanery ran the concessions. To draw the fans and build a reputation, the people putting out the bids for concessions ought to stipulate something beyond the usual MU concessions fare. Let's have some of the sort of food that makes Columbia unique. You may not be able to serve Shakespeare's pizza or Booche's cheeseburgers or Lee Street juicy burgers, but surely fans would appreciate something more than a non-descript hot dog.
Taylor Stadium may not have barbecue grills in the outfield or crawfish at the concession stand, but it's still a great place to root for the black & gold. The intimate setting lends itself to a relaxed atmosphere where friends are made and fun is had.