"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

'Covers the campus like the magnolias'
"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

Is this heaven? No, it’s Nebraska

A Wake Forest student’s account of the Men’s College World Series
Tyler Hines (center) poses with friends at the Men’s College World Series. (Courtesy of Tyler Hines)

OMAHA, NEB. — Home of the Men’s College World Series (MCWS), starring multiple top college baseball programs, including our very own No. 1 seed Demon Deacons. I was lucky enough to snag tickets to Wake Forest’s first two games in the Cornhusker State. Though this meant I could only be there for two of the most Rolling-the-Quad-worthy victories of the past decade, I experienced the most in those matches against Stanford and LSU.

On June 17, you could feel the anticipation and excitement of every Stanford and Wake Forest fan as soon as you got near the stadium. Even after a six-hour flight from Washington D.C., a conversation with the hotel receptionist about how I’m “such a Cancer-Taurus,” a lack of food and water up until that point and a 2 a.m. arrival on game day, I was pumped to watch our boys in pinstripes put on a show against the Trees. Roccos, home of the MCWS Jello-Shot Challenge, was buzzing, and the local club, Blatts, was packed to the brim. As we walked to our seats, the Demon Deacon faithful chanted, and Stanford fans chirped.

 While waiting in the concession line, we ran into a childhood friend of graduate RHP Cole Roland. Though Roland didn’t make an appearance until later on in the week, being surrounded by such a small, close-knit community of Wake Forest students, alumni and even childhood friends made our fan noise feel twice as loud and the prospect of coming out of the MCWS as champions twice as important. This much was evident when Wake Forest fans of all ages clapped and cheered like their own flesh and blood were on the field as the Demon Deacons trotted onto the diamond for their first Omaha appearance in 68 years.

Knowing now that Wake Forest would not win the title does nothing to take away from the feeling of being part of the Demon Deacon crowd reacting to their team leaving it all in that ballpark.

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There was the moment all of “Rake Forest” quieted down when Brock “Brocket” Wilken stepped up to the plate before driving his 31st home run of the season into the stands. Wake Forest fans leapt to their feet in a craze similar to the Swifties’ own in MetLife Stadium when Taylor Swift had started singing “Getaway Car.” 

There was the tension of a rain delay being called when Stanford was up 2-1 going into the seventh inning. Lightning had touched down one state over, and the umpire, with his hawk-like vision, was able to spot the storm and save the crowd from imminent danger. After one of the most unnecessary hour-long weather delays and a genuine 10 seconds of rain, the game resumed, and my friends and I returned to… well, we never actually left the stadium. Fans of both squads were anxiously perched on their seats, wondering which team would break the ice first. My friends and I even took up a team-first mentality and began chirping at the next pitcher Stanford put on the mound, freshman Nick Dugan. 

At last, in the eighth inning, with runners on second and third, Danny “It’s Corona Time” Corona stepped up to the plate and smashed the ball right back at the mound and through the middle of the field. I can’t express enough how surreal that moment felt — my memory of it tinged with yellow hues highlighting fan expressions of complete disbelief and extreme joy. Spectators shot to their feet as a wave of excitement echoed through the stadium, for Wake Forest had earned the go-ahead run.

With the win secured, Wake Forest fans stormed to the front of the stands, and the players came out of the dugout to celebrate with them. Strangers became friends as people who had never met each other were brought together under a collective love for the team and this moment that it had created. A father leaving with his son told me that he had enjoyed our chirping. One fan rocking Rhett Lowder’s hairstyle complete with a hat spoke to me about how he doesn’t go to Wake Forest but lives around the corner from the school and supports all of its sports teams. While enjoying what else Omaha had to offer for the night, I received an average of three compliments on my Wilken jersey at each place that my friends and I visited. 

Some of the coolest interactions involved Stanford fans graciously congratulating our team left and right wherever the night took us. While the good sportsmanship was more than appreciated, I think it made me too comfortable going into the environment LSU fans were creating for the Demon Deacons’ next game. 

That second game brought a completely different ball atmosphere from a fan standpoint, most likely due to LSU being about 10 times the size of Wake Forest. The Tiger fans were out in full force on June 19. This time, our seats were not in the Wake Forest section, so we didn’t have the friendly dugout right in front of us anymore. We were behind enemy lines, in a sea of purple and yellow, screaming and shouting for a mediocre striped mascot. Out by third base without a Wake Forest fan in sight, we were positively scattered. Worst of all, I was too intimidated to continuously scream at the LSU lineup, so for this game, Wake Forest would have to win without their star chirper.

Despite how far they could’ve gone, and despite injuries and little mistakes, our team hasn’t been to an MCWS in more than half a century and still managed to give one of the best baseball programs in the country a run for its money. I’m not upset — I’m excited. If they were motivated this season, I can’t imagine what next season is going to look like.

The 2-0 deficit that the Demon Deacons faced by the end of the third made the purple and gold around me seem all the louder. 

This effect shed once Wake Forest loaded the bases in the sixth inning. Fans held their breath as Wilken came up to bat and then roared once he popped a single down center field. The sound only grew as Justin Johnson followed suit and brought in another run. LSU was shaken. Fans around us were muttering to each other instead of chanting at us. 

Then came the eighth inning. 

After some scary hits from LSU and one phenomenal throw home from Wilken to home base, catcher Bennett Lee tagged a runner out at home to keep the game tied. Lee’s acrobatic tag off the bounce felt so unreal to the bare eye that Wake Forest fans were looking at each other in desperate awe, mouthing to strangers, “He got him, right?”

But Lee wasn’t done — he said hold my mitt and slipped a gorgeous single through LSU’s disaster class coverage at third. It breached left field, and Corona slid home to put Wake Forest ahead 3-2. 

As Nick Kurtz caught the final out of the ninth at first base, fans went nuts, and a booming roar of excitement and disbelief filled the air. Our small group of eight Wake Forest diehards out in right field jumped, shouted and celebrated in the face of thousands of LSU fans, including Livvy Dunne. 

Watching the games on TV was difficult after having been in Omaha, whether or not I was watching wins or losses transpire. That last game we played against LSU was one of the most nerve-wracking games of baseball I’ve ever seen. As the game went into the bottom of the 11th inning, I sat and watched as LSU hit a home run to win the game, and my heart sank, but only for a moment.

Despite how far they could’ve gone, and despite injuries and little mistakes, our team hasn’t been to an MCWS in more than half a century and still managed to give one of the best baseball programs in the country a run for its money. I’m not upset — I’m excited. If they were motivated this season, I can’t imagine what next season is going to look like.

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  • K

    Karen HutchersonJul 29, 2023 at 11:04 am

    Excellent article. So glad you enjoyed your visit and appreciated your team’s efforts!

  • L

    Luke HJul 29, 2023 at 10:53 am

    Very unique writing style. Do they have a Master class in chirping at Wake?

  • H

    HelenJul 22, 2023 at 7:54 pm

    Glad you enjoyed visiting Omaha!! Many fans enf up coming back every year, even if their school isn’t in the series. It is such a great event.

  • D

    Dean NeesenJul 22, 2023 at 12:57 pm

    Congrats to all the teams that came to Omaha this year. Every player, fan and local were on their best behavour and we love to see the friendships made here that will last a lifetime. Go Omaha