Another Day at the Office

HOOVER, Ala. – The moment of the contest was obviously the last out, when Bittle got Liddle to strike out to end the 8-7 Ole Miss victory over Vanderbilt that meant winner move on and loser go home. But just before that was another.

It was the moment when team co-captain Evan Button, dressed in shorts, a t-shirt, and a baseball cap turned backward, walked through the stands and down the stairs, jumped on top of the Rebels dugout and motioned for Ole Miss fans to get up.

The moment, in the bottom of the ninth, didn't last long. Rebel fans were sitting almost quietly, nervously waiting for something to happen, as Vandy fans were into their team's rally on the other side.

So Button decided to make something happen.

The Rebel junior shortstop, injured most of the season, was doing his part. That he was even here, knowing he wasn't going to play, says something about him.

The fans responded. The team responded.

It was a short stroll by Button the length of the dugout. And an effective one for sure.

The day as a whole was anything but short. Two games in late May southern heat, even if one was mostly after dark. Two premier programs in SEC baseball. Teams that want to win and hate to lose. Teams that battle each other every year – Ole Miss and Vanderbilt.

Days like this one can take a toll on everybody. It takes guts, really. That includes players, coaches, fans, all concerned.

A sweaty, tired, junior catcher for the Rebels attested to all that and more.

Brett Basham had a rough day at the plate, going 0-for-6 combined in the two games. He wasn't about to make any excuses for it. He did say his swing wasn't what he wanted it to be right now.

"I don't like to give excuses, but I have no legs back there. I'm just swinging all arms. You can't do that at the plate. Strikeout the first time and it just snowballs after that."

But he tries to flush it before getting back out to his usual position between batter and umpire, crouched down, squatting for hours, up and down in the heat of a late spring day – and night.

"On days like this, I'm looking not to carry that into the field," Basham said of his plate performances. "I've worked on that this year. That got me in trouble some last year."

The mental aspect is as important as the physical, according to Basham, who caught six different, unique UM pitchers on Saturday.

"A lot of mental preparation," he said. "Seeing yourself finish the game. Lots of concentration. I'm as much exhausted mentally as physically. Just keeping in the games. A heightened awareness, as Coach (Mike) Bianco likes to call it, especially with runners on base.

"Getting your fluids, making sure you eat a lot, just making sure you do everything you can to prepare. I visualize a lot of different situations before the game, too. And as the game goes on, a lot of continual mental preparation."

Basham has worked much of his life for days and tournaments like this. And so he relishes the opportunity and downplays the struggles that come with being an all day, every game catcher.

"It's no big deal. It's what I'm back there for. The team puts their trust and faith in me. I'm not going to let ‘em down."

But there are times when it can get as tough as anyone can imagine. And in those times, Basham searches for more.

"You have to dig down deep and find whatever energy you've got left and somehow do your job," he said.

The Rebels are in the championship game for the third time in four years, winning it all in 2006. Ole Miss, the first eight seed to ever make the final, and LSU, the second seed, meet at 3 p.m. Sunday. Basham says he's pleased the game isn't earlier.

"I'll take 3 o'clock," he said, smiling, still wiping sweat from his brow, uniform dirty, fans and family waiting to congratulate him on a job well done.

A long day at the office, no doubt.

A day even an injured co-captain could appreciate and be a part of, in whatever capacity was needed.


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