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College baseball is a passion for many. In some cases, it is a life saver.

#6 National Seed Mississippi State is hosting a trio of talented baseball programs as part of the Starkville Regional in the 2016 NCAA College Baseball tournament. The event gives fans from all over the country the chance to visit locales and venues that are in most cases once in a lifetime moments. One Cal State Fullerton fan, is treating his trip to Mississippi as a "bucket list" experience.

Orange County, California resident Keith Franklin made the trip to Starkville, Mississippi to support his favorite college baseball team, the Titans of Cal State Fullerton. How Franklin became a 'State' fan is a bit of a surprise.

A long time UC-Irvine fan, Franklin was essentially forced to change allegiances after some associated with the Anteaters' baseball program tired of his spirited support.

"I was an Irvine fan for a long time, but they are real conservative," Franklin explained. "My brand of fanship was loved by just about one and all, but some who made decisions there basically pushed me out of there.

"In 2014, I followed my boys all the way out to Omaha and then once the season was over. I just let them be.

"I love college baseball and I still needed a team. I went to a fall (Cal State Fullerton) scrimmage, Coach Hook (Vanderhook) and the boys gave me a shirt. They told me that I was welcome there anytime. We stated a bond there."

For many college baseball is a hobby, for others a passion and still others the biggest part of their lives. For Franklin, following college baseball provided him a healthy outlet with which to make a positive change in his life. The former punk rocker got caught up in the music scene and the trappings of the rock life. As a result of that style of living, Franklin spent some time away from those he loved the most. 

Once a free man again, Franklin was determined to use his deep seeded passion for more constructive pursuits. Once he found the college game, things changed in a big way.

"I love baseball as a way to just sort of escape life," Franklin said. "You can have a bad day or a long day of work and you can go to the ball game and it just melts off. I used to watch a lot of major league games, but it's just not as intimate. 

"I got a flyer at my house when Irvine started their program back up. They had been on hiatus for like ten years. They invited us out to watch a ball game that February. At that point in my life, I was like this is really what I need right now."

The Eaters were hosting a north Texas baseball powerhouse, but the crowd was a bit subdued. Franklin let his instincts take over and a new persona was born.

"I went out there on a Friday night and Dallas Baptist was in town," Franklin said. "It was quiet and the first pitch went out. Once that happened, both dugouts just started chirping. I was sitting behind home plate and I just felt like this was pure baseball. It caught me right there.

"I just kept coming and I fell in love with the purity of it. The more you go the more you just fall in love with it again every single time."

As Franklin became a college baseball enthusiast, his interest in other programs and the NCAA tournament experience grew. 

"What else is going to give me this type of opportunity," Franklin said. "I was in Memphis, Tennessee last night and today I am standing here in the stadium of one of the greatest college baseball teams in all of college baseball. 

"I am getting to hang out with these amazing people here. These are some of the best fans in the world and they're inviting me to visit with them up on these contraptions in the outfield. All of this just brings me to life and I am having a great time here."

In addition to his unique brand of baseball fan support, Franklin looks like he would feel at home just about anywhere from Starkville to the Sunset Strip of West Hollywood. A former regular in the California music haunts, the personable super fan reports that his time spent chasing the rock star life came at a price.

"I followed the punk scene in the late '70s and early '80s and then I followed the Death Metal scene avidly," Franklin shared. "A lot of that took my life in a bad direction. I got into drugs and my neighborhood in Santa Ana got infested with drugs. I got swept up in all of that and did a couple of prison terms.

"When I got out. I didn't want to do it anymore. That part of my life had to be over."

Looking to rebuild his life, Franklin went to work as an unskilled laborer and eventually became his own man and learned a new way to live.

"I went to work moving furniture and driving trucks at the time," Franklin shared. "The only way to get away from all of that was for me to just go to baseball games. I would have a long run or a tough day ahead of me, but I could go to a game. When that first pitch would be thrown, it would just all go away.

"You just start counting balls and strikes and you can escape from whatever is wrong in your life. It helped me during that transition in my life and eventually I became more successful. I started my own moving company and I was able to make some money and then go to more baseball games.

"I started going to more college games, more major league games and some minor league games. College baseball just became a big part of things for me. It was just a natural progression for me."

Finding kinship with the fans, coaches and players of college baseball helped Franklin find joy in life. Some things that were once missing were now in place.

"My wife and I have been together for 20 years and for whatever reason we never had kids," Franklin said. "Being around all of this has helped me. It's been positive for me. I feel like if a man doesn't have something positive in his life to look forward to that he leads a negative life. 

"College baseball is my new rock and roll. I was in bands before and trouble happened. This is now the new face of rock and roll for me. I get to travel and see the shows and I know the band members, but they're baseball players."

Having the chance to visit Dudy Noble Field has already proven to be a memorable experience for Franklin. The California native has already made some connections with some Bulldog fans that have made the trip worthwhile.

"I spent the day in the (left field) lounge and I talked with a lot of fans just out in the parking lot," Franklin said. "It's just out of this world and I don't even think I've touched the iceberg yet.  I am just trying to take it all in. It's like a big bowl of food that you just can't take in during one seating. 

"You have to be here and be a part of it to really enjoy it. I'm loving it. I love the south I just love listening to these guys talk. I just love it. They talk about hunting and fishing and stuff we don't talk about in Orange County.

"We are blessed to see other cultures like this and be a part of it. If you can ever get over the we're rivals and not supposed to be friends thing, then we can all be family because we love college baseball. We can just have a great time together."


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