As an ex-coach’s daughter, sports are something I grew up around. Coming from a mother who was a cheerleader & a father who played college ball, a love of football was bred into me from day one. Yet, it wasn’t until later in life that I developed my love for baseball-more on that to come.
An Ole Miss graduate herself, naturally my mother wanted me to follow in her footsteps. She began dressing me in UM cheerleading uniforms before I could walk. I started cheering for our local pee-wee teams & continued all the way through high school. Once I reached the eighth grade, we started traveling to Oxford for all the home Ole Miss football games. The goal was always to be an Ole Miss cheerleader, but due to some health concerns I decided to complete my freshman year at a smaller school closer to home. Never the less, I traveled to Oxford every home game weekend; & eventually I was able to transfer to & graduate from my dream university, the University of Mississippi.
Returning to my love of baseball, that came about in high school. My hometown was devastated by hurricane Katrina in 2005, & our house on the beach was destroyed. I was a sophomore in high school at the time, enjoying life without a care in the world. I have always been blessed & well provided for, but suddenly my life spiraled. I found myself without a home or an article of clothing to my name except for of course, the clothes I had on my back. I lived temporarily on a boat followed by a hotel without air conditioning or running water as we tried to make sense of the debris that now covered our lot.
After being out of school for a month, my parents decided it was time to make a decision. We heard our schools would not be reopening in the coming months & my mom, a previous teacher, was very adamant about me getting back into classes. We’ve always kept a place in Oxford, MS & my sister was a student at Ole Miss at the time so my parents made the call to send me to Oxford to enroll in school. It was at Oxford High School that I discovered my love of baseball. As I was starting school at the end of September, there was no hope of cheerleading. Tryouts had been held in the spring & all the routines had already been choreographed & taught. The closest I got to the field that year was tutoring the school’s senior quarterback in math.
I was crushed that I could no longer be on the field as I was used to & looked to the school’s cheerleading coach to find out about other options. She & I were close as she taught my favorite subject, & I later went on to receive the award for her Anatomy & Physiology student of the year. But back to the subject at hand… Her husband, who was also my algebra teacher, happened to be the assistant baseball coach at the time. She encouraged me to reach out to him about being a diamond girl for the baseball team. At that point in my life, I am ashamed to admit, I didn’t have a clue what that meant. However, I approached the coach & inquired about the process of becoming a diamond girl, even though I didn’t have a clue what was involved!
This part of my long story made short, I became an Oxford High School Baseball Diamond Girl. Through this experience I learned the sport, I made some friends, & I began to settle into my new life considering Oxford my second home. I did not finish high school in Oxford, by the next baseball season I had returned to the coast where we had begun to rebuild our house & I returned to my old routine, only with one difference. Now instead of caring about nothing other than football, I began to vaguely follow baseball as well.
Fast forward a few years, & I am a new transfer student at the University of Mississippi. By this point I have given up on my dream of cheerleading, & I am pretty depressed about not being a part of Ole Miss Athletics. Suddenly, I receive an unexpected email regarding upcoming tryouts for Ole Miss Diamond Girls. Instantly, I knew this was my destiny!
At the time the tryout was a two part process. First, there was a test on basic baseball knowledge, which was followed up by an interview. I remember calling my dad before the test frantic I would fail. I didn’t know what kind of questions would be asked, & I’m the type of person who likes to feel as though I know everything. We reviewed all the basics such as player positions, scoring, current & past players & staff. I took the test & was blown away at how easy I found it compared to how paranoid I had been about it. Next up was interview, which passed in such a blur I don’t remember much about it. All I know is, soon I found myself in a room full of girls at the baseball field & Brandon Hudspeth, our amazing organizer, was getting all our sizes for Diamond Girl uniforms.
That day changed things for me, suddenly I found myself a part of what is, in my opinion, the greatest athletics program in the nation. From that day forward I committed myself to the Ole Miss Baseball program. I have attended countless games, & traveled to damn near every SEC tournament, regional or super regional we have been a part of since.
The year I graduated from the University of Mississippi (2012) we didn’t make it past regionals. My dad & I drove to College Station, TX to sit in the blazing heat-with no shade-watching Ole Miss struggle through regionals. We started strong, winning the first two games, but eventually lost out.
In 2014 I returned to Oxford for regionals, which was won in three games. I then attended super regionals in Lafayette, LA as well, which was quite convenient because I was living in New Orleans, LA at the time. We won that super regional & headed to Omaha for the first time in my years as an Ole Miss Baseball super fan. Naturally, I had to go to that too. I watched every game, even in the rain, & bought all the Ole Miss CWS merchandise available when one of our games got delayed due to weather. While in Omaha I ran into some old UM Baseball players from my time & before. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to the championship finals. We just barely missed out though, we lost out only one game before if I’m not mistaken.
Skipping forward a few more years to the 2020 season… My dad had traveled to East Carolina with the team & gotten to befriend some of the players. He told me about their personalities & showed me videos of all the newcomers doing their initiation karaoke on the bus. This was the first time I had felt a true connection to any of the players in a long time. The team was dominating, but of course COVID had other plans for that year.
A stroke of luck hit the following spring, I broke my shoulder the first week of April 2021… Hey, there’s a silver lining to every story, & Ole Miss Baseball was mine. I was relieved of work for ten weeks, during which time I was able to attend every home game in Oxford. I sat front row behind home plate, & I didn’t miss a play! I met good ole Doug Nikhazy, a starting pitcher for Ole Miss at the time, who spoke highly to me of my dad, & chatted with me a bit about breaking yourself boarding. He told me he had broken his leg while skateboarding, & I had broken my shoulder snowboarding.
Once again I felt a stronger connection to these players. I watched every post-game interview & some interviews the boys had done on the side. I began to love not only the game, but the players involved. I stayed in Oxford for Regionals & followed the team to hot as Hades Tucson, AZ for Super Regionals. Their stadium was lackluster, & they didn’t even sell ice, despite the fact that it was over one hundred degrees at game time-7 & 8pm. We lost the first game, but fought back in the second beating Arizona a whopping 12-3. But Arizona came back with a vengeance & knocked us out of our place at the MCWS in game three.
Given that the 2022 team was comprised of many of the players from 2021, I didn’t have to put much effort into learning & loving the new team for this season. I continued to follow their story as a team, & of course their social media accounts, which by the way, if you don’t you should. This is an incredible group of God fearing men, who are great role models & will make you fall in love with them not just as players, or fellow Ole Miss family, but as individuals. Coach B stated that he believes people came to Omaha not just to see the team win, but also because they fell in love with their story. I know, for myself at least, this rings true!
A few weeks back I left Wyoming & flew to the other side of the country, Miami, to watch the boys compete in Regionals, which we won in three games. Unfortunately, the last game was delayed due to weather so I had to watch the game on my phone on the airplane home. I was also unable to attend Super Regionals in Hattiesburg, but you best believe I watched every play from my big screen at home! I said at Regionals that I predicted us to go all the way this year & I would positively be in Omaha when we made it there.
Therefore, while the celebrations ensued after our Super Regionals win, I went ahead & booked my flights. I booked my return flight for June 27th because I was confident we would make it to finals & we’d win it in two games. My parents booked one way tickets to Omaha & stayed for the entire duration, they saw every game. I, however, wasn’t able to make it to Omaha until Wednesday June 22nd. When I booked my flights my dad warned me we may have lost out by that point. He asked me if I would still be okay coming to Omaha even if our team was no longer playing. I said that’s not a problem, our boys will still be winning.
Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love to be right, & boy was I glad I was! I watched every single game of the MCWS-even games Ole Miss wasn’t a part of-until I was able to make it to “OleMaha,” at which point Ole Miss was in fact, obviously, still winning. The first game I attended in Omaha, on Wednesday evening, we lost. That was the first loss for the program in the post season. I selfishly blamed myself, thinking it was somehow my fault; maybe I didn’t cheer hard enough or I was just plain bad luck. I debated not going to Thursdays game, nervous they may lose again because of me. I eventually decided to flush these thoughts & show up for the game the next day. Clearly the boys did the same thing. They forgot about Wednesday night’s game & came ready to play Thursday, & can you believe it, we won, we were actually headed to the championship finals.
This is already a first in school history & everyone kept saying, this is farther than we ever expected to make it, anything else is just icing (on the cake). But I am greedy & I wanted that championship title, & I knew our boys did too. I said all along we were going to win it in two games, & it had to be two because I had to fly back Monday, so I wouldn’t be able to attend a Monday night game-I mentioned I’m greedy right? Naturally, I would have taken the national title in any form it came, even if that required three games & I was watching the last one on a plane again. But, I knew we could do it in two, & that was what I wanted because I wanted to be there for the win in person. I wanted to see it happen, I wanted to feel the energy in the stadium, I wanted to watch the presentation of the trophy.
The first championship game was a blast, there were plenty of great plays, but three back-to-back-to-back home runs? I mean come on, doesn’t get much better than that! The stadium was absolutely electric that night. We hung around for a while after the game just to soak it all in. I don’t know who slept worse that night, the players or the fans like me. How could anyone possible sleep soundly knowing we were just one win away from being national champions?
The final game was intense, there was no scoring until the sixth inning, which was by us so that was fine. My mom leaned over & said she was okay with us beating Oklahoma just by one point. Yet again, I was greedy, I wanted more runs. In the top of the following inning things took a turn for the worse & Oklahoma went ahead 2-1 after we walked in a run. People all around me were saying “we just walked in their winning run,” but I argued, “nah, this game ain’t over.” Just as the players had done all season, I continued to believe. After all, we still had nine more outs to work with. Spoiler alert: we didn’t need all nine outs, we won without even having to play the last three.
The rest is history, I practically blacked out when we got the final out. When I was shaken to with hugs & high fives & slaps on the back, I looked around & saw teary eyes. I heard hoarse voices & saw grown men crying while hugging each other. As a true Ole Miss fan I know what it’s like to have sports rip your heart out. I know the definition of a fair-weather fan & I know what it’s like when you can’t be one. Sometimes I wish I could let go of the pain felt by the a loss, but this time around, we don’t have to! This time we shed tears of joy. We fans might not have thrown & caught the balls on the field or batted them out of the stadium, but as fans we still feel, we are full of emotions & we cheer with our hearts. I was so tired after that game I slept like a baby, something my nerves had prevented the previous few nights.
In an interview a few months before the 2022 MCWS, Hayden Dunhurst discussed the subject of last years season ending loss & said that they, the team, didn’t want to go home with that feeling this year, that they wanted to “end on a win.” Well buddy, in the words of Elle Woods, “WE DID IT!”
I could never have imagined how good it would feel to be a part of a school & a program that is so proud. As I have watched the celebrations back in Oxford, I am truly amazed. Over a thousand people showed up at the airport in Tupelo to welcome our guys home, & there was sea of red & blue along the Walk of Champions when the boys pulled into town an hour later. Thousands upon thousands showed up for the parade & celebration at Swayze where even the mayor & the governor came to show support. What other school can honestly say that their teams get such a turnout from anyone?
Ole Miss fans band together through thick & thin, we showed up big time in Omaha & no one was ready for us. Our voices were louder, possibly due to all the jello shots we consumed at Roccos, but it worked. We supported our boys & got inside the other team’s head. Now we can hold our heads high as we shout HOTTY TODDY to everybody.
So thank you mom & dad, for dressing me in red & blue. Y’all made me a rebel through & through. Thank you Nicole & Bradley Roberson for introducing me to baseball, & to Brandon Hudspeth for allowing me to be a diamond girl on the field & a part of Ole Miss Athletics. Without y’all I wouldn’t know this feeling, one that truly cannot be described. I have a full heart. ❤ ~Kimily