BY DAVID COLLIER
Ole Miss baseball isn’t what it was a few years ago. The stadium has been updated, and the team has more uniform options to choose from, but the Ole Miss baseball experience isn’t the same.
Things have changed, and it isn’t for the better.
This past weekend’s loss to William and Mary that resulted in the Rebels’ elimination in the Raleigh Regional not only ended their season, but it also was the breaking point for a lot of the Ole Miss faithful who are tired of the direction the program has been heading the past few seasons.
Before head coach Mike Bianco took over the program, baseball was an afterthought at Ole Miss, but he made it the second most popular sport on campus with four Super Regional appearances in five years (2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009) and five hosted regionals in six years (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009).
There’s no denying what Bianco has done for the program, but since that remarkable run, the program has stalled.
Yes, the Rebels still reached NCAA Tournament play in 2010, 2012 and 2013, but they’ve hosted a regional just once since the renovation and expansion of Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field.
For a program that has shown it has the ability to be one of the nation’s elite, that isn’t good enough.
Baseball is the only program on the Ole Miss campus that has expectations to be one of the country’s best, and fans should have those expectations. The Rebels consistently rank in the top five in attendance, have top facilities to recruit with and put a lot of money into the program.
So what’s the problem?
There are several opinions among the fan base. Is it the new bats that were implemented into college baseball a few years ago? Was it former assistant Dan McDonnell who was responsible for the influx of talent before he was hired as the head coach at Louisville? The reasons go on and on, but what is it?
No one may know for sure, but to me, the talent level that was on those Super Regional teams is not the same that it is today. Nothing against the guys that are doing their best to take Ole Miss to its ultimate goal of reaching the College World Series, but the lineup that has taken the field for the Rebels the past four seasons just doesn’t compare to a lineup with Stephen Head, Chris Coghlan and Zack Cozart.
Those players made Ole Miss baseball one of the best programs in the country and made the environment in Swayze Field one regarded as one of the best college baseball atmospheres in the nation. However, the past couple of years that environment has not been the same.
Fans don’t constantly make it difficult on opposing pitchers anymore. In fact, the only times I can remember the crowd making an impact this season was when Ole Miss was making a comeback attempt in the ninth inning.
Why is that? The fans are frustrated. They want something to cheer for, but the level of play is not what it once was.
Sometimes players just don’t pan out, but it’s hard to believe that’s been the case for the past four years. For whatever reason,Ole Miss just doesn’t have the level of talent that it used to.
The fun surrounding the stadium on game days seems to be involved around drinking in right field, doing the hand motions to “Love Is Gone” and watching the solo cup races instead of what is happening on the field.
A change is needed, and it’s needed now.
Ole Miss baseball is a sleeping giant waiting to take off. The sooner everyone from the coaches to the players to the administration to the fans realize this, the sooner the Rebels can get back to being a team people hate to play. The sooner that happens, the sooner Ole Miss will get back to making it nearly impossible for anyone to come into Swayze and win a series.
Fans can debate all they want about what should happen, but that’s not my decision to make.
But it is clear that something has to change, or Ole Miss baseball will continue in the downward path it has been on for four years.
For continuing coverage of Ole Miss baseball, follow @DavidLCollier and @thedm_sports on Twitter.