Mississippi State baseball and a national championship celebration for the ages
Everyone’s ears rang of maroon cowbells and bodies were drenched in summer sweat.
Thousands upon thousands of people shuffled as a horde through the gates of Dudy Noble Field, moving like ants descending upon a morsel of food that fell onto the ground. And for good reason.
Mississippi State fans had never tasted a team national championship. Until now.
The long-starved school, which entered this past week as one of three Power 5 schools to not have a team national championship to its name, finally got one on Wednesday. The Bulldogs baseball team defeated Vanderbilt in the College World Series in Omaha.
They had made 12 trips to the CWS, but none could finish the deal. Not until Wednesday.
And Mississippi State fans celebrated as such Friday with a parade through Starkville and a ceremony inside Dudy Noble Field.
The parade didn’t start until 5:30 p.m., and the ceremony began at 6:15. But the first Bulldogs fans showed up outside the gates of the baseball stadium at 11:30 a.m. Yes, in the morning.
They didn’t want to risk losing out on a good seat in the stadium for the ceremony once the gates opened at 2:30 p.m.
From the moment the gates opened, cowbells rang. And they didn’t stop ringing through most of the afternoon and evening.
Those who secured seats early behind home plate had a chance to watch replays of the championship-clinching game. They waited until the stadium filled to standing-room only by 6 p.m.
By the time the ceremony had begun, there wasn’t much room for standing as they celebrated each member of the team, heard speeches from the likes of athletic director John Cohen and coach Chris Lemonis and watched the unveiling of the national championship No. 1 on the right field wall.
This came after the parade that brought the team and thousands of fans into the stadium. Police cars, motorcycles, fire trucks and a trolley car traveled the 1.3-mile route to the stadium.
Charlotte Todd Leonard, who has lived in Starkville with her husband, Terry, since 1987 stood toward the end of the route, and you couldn’t miss her. She constantly waved a colossal white flag back and forth. As someone who has been making banners professionally for 17 years, she made the flag over a couple hours early Friday.
Her flag featured one word: Champions.
A word that, for the first time ever, belongs in Starkville.