After leaving Dudy Noble North, Mississippi State baseball fans celebrate Bulldogs at Dudy Noble Field
STARKVILLE, Miss — Mark Blake and Rob Hammons have been following Mississippi State baseball since the "Thunder and Lightning" era featuring Rafael Palmeiro and Will Clark in the mid-1980s.
Blake, 53, from Grenada, and Hammons, 48, from Greenwood, have witnessed the Bulldogs reach the College World Series nine times during that stretch.
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“The home-field advantage is not just here," said Blake, an MSU football letter winner in 1987, "it was in Omaha (Nebraska), too."
Blake and Hammons were among the MSU fans who made the 12-hour trek to Omaha and helped turn TD Ameritrade Stadium into Dudy Noble North as the Bulldogs won their first national championship Wednesday. They also were among the thousands who returned to Starkville on Friday to celebrate MSU with a victory parade that began on University Drive and ended at Dudy Noble Field.
“When the Bulldogs beat Virginia (earlier in the CWS on June 22) we went to the hotel across the street and the lady at the front desk said she never heard that stadium that loud — and that was before everyone got there,” Hammons said.
By 2 p.m. Friday, 100 or so fans were already were waiting outside the ballpark, three-and-a-half hours before the parade was scheduled to begin.
Hammons, a former agriculture pilot, was paralyzed from the waist down after a helicopter crash in late 2009. But nothing was going to stop him from celebrating history.
“The national championship is the biggest thing for the state in my mind,” Hammons said.
This season's championship run marked the 12th College World Series in program history. Despite having such juggernauts as Palmeiro and Clark in the past, it was only the second finals appearance for the Bulldogs.
“Mississippi State has been so close so many times in baseball, that it is always in the back of your mind, ‘Are things going to fall apart at the end?’" Blake said. "But by the time we got to the sixth inning (of Game 3) I felt pretty confident, I did not want to jinx it, but I felt confident we were going to win the national championship."
After falling in Game 1 to Vanderbilt in the finals, MSU bounced back with dominant wins in Games 2 and 3. The win staged a party in Omaha that carried over to Starkville on Friday. In many ways, it was a victory for generations of MSU fans.
Patricia Cooper, 70, is among them. Originally from Mississippi, she has been a Mississippi State fan since she was 12, even after moving to Highland, Texas.
"My husband and I have been watching every game of every College World Series for the last 15 to 20 years, even when Mississippi State was not contending,” Cooper said. “We are very proud of them and are happy to have that monkey off of our back.”