Baseball interest continues as draft nears

In the spring of 1997, not all that long ago, Ole Miss went 6-24 in SEC play and 22-31 overall. Not much was said by many after that horrific season. Now with back to back Sunday runs in Hoover and Coral Gables, baseball's the talk of the board.

And coffee shops and living rooms and on campus, too. Ole Miss baseball, for a couple of decades not much more than an afterthought, has become front page news.

It appears most aren't happy the Rebels won 39 games and were one of the last two teams standing at the SEC Tournament and the NCAA Regional. I consider that a good thing, if it's approached in a healthy way.

It means fans care, that they have invested in the program, and that baseball has become a big deal here. It wasn't in 1997.

It had been in the past with four College World Series teams, the last one in 1972 under Jake Gibbs. It was in 1995 when Don Kessinger led Ole Miss to a Sunday Regional final day at Florida State. It was to a lesser extent by the time Pat Harrison took the Rebs to a Regional at Texas A&M in 1999 but didn't advance, going 1-2.

Until the start of the new century it was hit and miss, mostly miss, for the Diamond Rebs. Just getting to the SEC Tournament was a huge accomplishment. Now it's a given, although this year getting in did come down to the final day of the regular season.

Sunday reminded me a lot of 1995 at FSU. The format then was eight six-team tournaments, and the entire field was just 48 teams. Win the Regional and you were Omaha bound.

The Rebels had put themselves in a hole on day one, losing to Old Dominion, but beat Troy State on day two to survive. On day three, the Rebels beat Central Florida and Old Dominion to advance to Sunday. But they had to beat the Seminoles twice to move on to the CWS.

FSU won the first and only game 13-1. As I said, Sunday vs. Miami reminded me of that day in Tallahassee.

The Rebels were creating some baseball excitement and interest back then, but nothing like now. The ballpark home of the Rebs will seat twice as many next year. Construction is coming along and will increase at a rapid pace now that the season is officially over.

There are still a few club seats for sale out of the nearly 900 available. But less than a hundred remain.

The 3,000-seat grandstand sold out the past three seasons. With 6,000 seats next season, there should be room for all who want to purchase them at this point.

The Rebs aren't heading into their expanded, renovated, upgraded stadium on a rocket. They‘ve leveled off a bit, but every program goes through years some might consider down.

If this year's Hoover and Coral Gables finalist team was in that category, then Ole Miss baseball is certainly healthy, and the future will be fun for fans to be a part of.

Thursday will begin to clear up some of what next year's team might look like. Of course not many players selected later this week in the MLB draft will make their decisions at that time.

The questions this time of year are always about who will leave or stay and which incoming players will be drafted.

Ole Miss has had an unusual amount of success this era in keeping drafted recruits in the fold. It was something Bianco's immediate predecessors had difficulty with, often losing at least two or three key recruits before they ever put on a Rebel uniform.

So with another season in the books, we begin to sort out next season as early as later this week. And fans will surely be keeping up in record numbers.


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