OMAHA, Neb. — Walt and Kylie Harrison didn’t even realize Mississippi State’s first game at the College World Series fell on Father’s Day.
The dad and daughter from New Albany drove 11 hours over two days to make their first trip to Omaha, Nebraska, to watch the Bulldogs play in their third straight CWS. Sitting in the right-field stands in Sunday’s matchup with No. 2 Texas, Kylie — a rising senior at MSU — was in fact taking in her first Bulldog baseball game.
And it was a “little surprise” that it happened to coincide with the holiday, she said.
“It’s just extra special,” Walt said. “First game she’s ever been to, and it’s on Father’s Day. That’s just great.”
The Harrisons were far from the only father and child to make the trip. At the Hilton Omaha on Sunday afternoon, just blocks away from the stadium where the Bulldogs went on to beat Texas 2-1 later that evening, maroon and white packed the second-floor ballroom.
It felt for all the world like Starkville had been picked up and brought to Omaha. Across the street at the CHI Health Center, the flag slapping against its pole in the wind even made a sound uncannily similar to a clanging cowbell.
When Lonnie and Lee Fortner of Port Gibson flew to Omaha from Jackson on Saturday, they didn’t see that atmosphere. But Sunday, sitting at one of the dozens of round tables soon to be filled with Bulldog faithful, it was all around them.
“The first day, I was a little concerned because there weren’t many around,” said Lee, a student at Southern Mississippi. “Today’s just been nothing but maroon and white, so it’s good to see.”
Lonnie and his son made the trip in 2013 and again in 2018, the year he was named the Swisher Sweets Sunbelt Expo Mississippi Farmer of the Year. But in 2019, flooding ran rampant, making for a bad year in the field. Omaha was off the table.
Still, the Bulldogs are here once again, giving the Fortners another chance.
“This thing don’t just happen every 10 years,” Lonnie said. “It’s crazy that it’s every year.”
He grew up in Mathiston in the 1980s, hooked on the Bulldogs — Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro in particular. In 1989, while he was still in school, Mississippi State put together a phenomenal season — and, typical of baseball, missed out on Omaha.
“To me, the ’89 team was probably top to bottom the best team we’ve ever had, and we didn’t make it,” Lonnie said.
Thomas Beam of New Albany knows about those missed opportunities. In 2013, the year before he graduated from MSU, he planned to go.
He never did.
But Beam and his father Mike made the trip this time, their first visit to TD Ameritrade Park. They sat down the third-base line Sunday in Section 123 as Mississippi State punched its ticket to the winners’ bracket.
“It’s been fun,” Mike said. “I thought about it before but never really made any effort.”
For the Fortners, it took considerable effort to get what they wanted. The second the final outs were recorded on the double play that clinched Game 3 of NCAA Super Regionals for the Bulldogs, they bought their tickets. Airfare and hotel purchases soon followed.
Mark and Chase Kramer of Jackson, Tennessee, took a different tack. After going to both Regionals and Super Regionals, the father and son reached a decision.
“Let’s go to Omaha,” they agreed. “Why not?”
Chase, who picked out tickets in Section 103 because of its proximity to the Bulldogs’ dugout, is a 2020 graduate from MSU, but his two sisters aren’t the biggest baseball fans. They stayed home while Chase and his father made the trip, staying the night in the Kansas City area — as did the Beams and Harrisons.
And hours before the contest, Mark issued a bold prediction that turned out to be correct, although a blowout wasn’t in the cards.
“Looking forward to spending Father’s Day up there sweating and watching Mississippi State whoop up on Texas,” he said.
The Kramers said they planned to stay in Omaha through Wednesday, meaning they’ll be able to watch the Bulldogs’ game against Virginia at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
But the Beams will drive back to New Albany on Monday, as will the Harrisons. The Fortners will fly back that day, too.
“The real world’s calling,” Lonnie said.
All of them agreed on one thing, though. If Mississippi State makes it to the championship series, they plan to fill Omaha with maroon and white once again.
“We’ll find a way to get back if we need to,” Lonnie said.
But whether or not they return, it’s the experience — and the company — that matters.
“It’s fun, and I get to do it with my dad, which is great,” Kylie Harrison said.
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.