Back Home In Omaha

LAFAYETTE, La. - That this trip to Omaha for Ole Miss went through a Super Regional in Lafayette, La., is appropriate in some regards.

One of the reasons always cited for not making the College World Series in 42 years was that it would come when you least expect it. Another was that when it happened, it would be under the most difficult of circumstances.

Maybe both of those apply here, now that Ole Miss is going to Omaha again.

The Rebels won 46 games en route to the College World Series, fighting through a tough Southeastern Conference regular season for 19 wins and a second place overall finish. They won the SEC West title and after a 1-2 showing in Hoover, claimed the Oxford Regional in major battles with Washington.

Mike Bianco's last game to coach before coming to Ole Miss was on Tigue Moore Field when his McNeese State team lost in a Lafayette Regional in 2000. He was hired at Ole Miss that same month.

In his second year, Bianco and staff brought in a player from this area, a transfer to Ole Miss baseball that became one of the early stars of his coaching tenure.

Charlie Babineaux was a team captain two years later when Ole Miss hosted its first NCAA Regional in 2004. The Rebels went 0-2 that June and Babineaux went pro. But the program had reached a new standard.

Babineaux waited for a long time for the Rebels to make it to Omaha, just like all of Rebel Nation did. That it came down to Ole Miss and Louisiana-Lafayette, two schools he played baseball for, made things even more interesting for the New Iberia, La., native and current resident of Lafayette.

He played for Bianco. He also played for current Louisiana-Lafayette head coach Tony Robichaux. Babineaux was at every game this weekend wearing an Ole Miss shirt. I saw him and his wife prior to the second game. They walked in through the gate where I was standing.

After the Rebels won, Charlie had a suggestion via text.

"We'll have to walk through that same gate again Monday."

So they did. I was standing there again.

Maybe after the Rebels have finally gotten there again for the first time since 1972, it wasn't about breaking down a door or busting through a barrier.

Maybe it was simply walking through the right gate.

Sam Smith's mother walked through that gate while I was standing there. She told me something I hadn't heard.

Smith, the Rebel starter on this night from nearby Lake Charles, pitched on this field before. It was against Denham Springs and Smith pitched a complete game for Barbe High, striking out 11 and only allowing one hit. This sounded like a place he could find some comfort zone.

And while he didn't go all that long, he got the Rebels, on this night, started on the road to victory.

What Ole Miss had this year was a team that believed from the beginning of the season, when few others did, that it could get there. We heard it all year.

We heard it in the fall. We saw the effort they put in to getting there.

We media looked at each other in a bit of disbelief in late March when a player said one of their goals – still – was 20 SEC wins. They fell one win short of that.

On Monday, June 9, 2014, in this town of diverse and unique culture, and with passionate people who embrace college baseball just like folks in Oxford and in Mississippi do, the Rebels are on their way to Nebraska later this week.

I first met Charlie Babineaux in 2002 in the hallway of the old coaches' offices, which they shared with athletics media relations back then.

I reminded Babineaux of that meeting this weekend. He remembered it.

This is a guy, the coaches collectively said, that's going to help Ole Miss get to Omaha again.

That was 12 years ago.

In Babineaux's home area, along with several of his teammates and former Rebel players from several different teams in attendance, they made it.

This one is, first and foremost, for the 2014 Rebel team and coaching staff, a program that deserved it and finally got it, built by a coach who had been there multiple times as a player and an assistant coach.

But this one is for everyone who had a part in this becoming a reality again.

Guys like Charlie Babineaux who were there to help build a program and patiently stay with it until this week, when Ole Miss made it back to the College World Series for the fifth time and first in 42 years.

The wait is over. The jokes from rivals can cease. You can even tip your cap, and this time to your own team.

Ole Miss is headed to Omaha.

"Ole Miss At Home Again" is indeed true. Back home in Omaha, that is.

The Rebels finally found the right gate and pushed it wide open.

Oh, yes. One last text postgame from Babineaux:

"Can we bring the lucky gate to Omaha????"


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