It's currently all building toward this weekend. The veteran players said they weren't sure they'd ever seen as many chairs already in the right field student area this early. Tents, too. We were out there for an hour, and more were being set up all the time.
The team raced out to deep center field. It must have been Jordan Henry's fan club, which appeared to be six or eight female students, who let out a collective yell as they put up their own tent.
It was fairly simple but meaningful and went something like this: "We love you, Jordan!" The rest of the team let Jordan hear about it, too, getting on him pretty good, as you would expect.
That's the kind of atmosphere there is all around Oxford-University Stadium today and will be again tomorrow and through the weekend. The team is trying its best to remain low-key and actually appears to be doing a good job of it.
That's been a real key to a No. 11 ranking nationally, a 30-11 overall record to date and an 11-7 SEC mark. That means this weekend against No. 1 ranked Georgia, leading the league at 13-5, is huge. But the Rebels try to remain true to who they are.
Low-key. Level. Consistent. Not too high. Not too low. Always believing the game can be won, whether up or down, early or late.
"People are buying into the team concept," senior catcher Kyle Henson said. "If one of the guys is not playing, they're always rooting for the next one in front of them. You just have to come to the ballpark knowing that if you're not going to play, you still have to root your teammates on."
Henson did a lot of that last year. This year he's playing, actually seeing the field more than another senior catcher, Brett Basham, in recent weeks.
No two players likely know about being there for the team and rooting the other player on than those two.
Basham, who caught Tuesday night's 6-1 win over UALR, mentioned after that one the nice job that Henson has done. He said it's good to have depth like that with players who can step up to help a team win day in and day out.
From the top of the roster to the bottom, this team appears to be more motivated about winning and less about individual accomplishments than just about any I've been around here.
Some of it is simply who they are, and the type players and personalities the coaches recruited to this program. Another aspect is Brian Cain, a Peak Performance Coach, as he is called. Some might call him a sports psychologist, but that isn't necessarily the case.
Cain, from Vermont, came through here before the season at the request of Mike Bianco. The veteran Ole Miss head coach wanted to give his team an edge. This was one way.
We hear from the players often what Cain brought to them at that time. Cain is visiting, made the trip to Hattiesburg for the USM game, and will watch Ole Miss-Georgia this weekend. If the first 41 games are any indication, he should be pleased with the results of his work.
Tim Ferguson still had on glasses from his eye problem and could play this weekend. Kevin Mort's back appears to be fine, and he played Wednesday night in the 8-4 win at USM. The pitching rotation remains the same – Drew Pomeranz, Phillip Irwin, Scott Bittle.
Georgia is 32-9 overall and lost at Jacksonville State Wednesday night 9-7 (yes, that is indeed baseball). The Bulldogs will practice on Swayze Field tonight.
Georgian Matt Smith said he's trying to take everything in stride and focus on this one just like it's any ole series, however hard that may be.
"It means a lot for a lot of reasons," he said. "They're No. 1, and it can help us out to win two out of three or even sweeping. I try not to look at it as if it's a bigger deal just because it's Georgia. Even though Coach (Dave) Perno did have a few words for me my freshman year when I redshirted."
We had to ask. "So what did the Georgia head coach say?"
"I was helping our pitchers with the equipment," Smith said. "He was like, you know if you'd have come to Georgia, you wouldn't be in street clothes right now. You'd be dressing out. He was just picking at me, but I still remember it a little bit."
Indeed Perno, considered one of the league's classy coaches, was likely just picking at the all-star from his state.
So judging by the activity Thursday beyond the fences, this one is thought by many to be bigger than your average weekend.
"We haven't had a series this year where there've been that many chairs set up this early," Smith said. "That's even better when you know all the fans are going to be here, and they may be more anxious than we are."
There's that levelness, consistency, not too high, not too low approach coming through again.
It's what this team appears to be made of. So far, it's paid off handsomely.
Not Your Average Weekend
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