STARKVILLE — On many college campuses, school officials are excited when Memorial Day rolls around.
That usually means graduation has concluded, final grades handed out and campus is a ghost town as students scatter for the summer.
That would not be the case this week at Mississippi State University where the campus is buzzing as the Bulldogs play host to the Starkville Regional, beginning Friday at Dudy Noble Field.
The four-team double-elimination event begins with two games Friday and could run through Monday. Many athletic department employees have worked overtime as the Bulldogs welcome their first regional tournament to campus since the 2003 season.
“It has been a demanding week but weeks like this are why you are in the business,” MSU Assistant Ticket Manager Jason Walker said. “When your programs have success, it is exciting. The buzz in our office has been incredible this week.”
Ticket sales began Sunday night shortly after MSU learned it would host one of 16 regional tournaments nationwide. Season ticket holders had until late Tuesday to renew regular season tickets. Renewals topped the 90 percent mark. Unclaimed chairback seating sold out in the first couple of hours of business Wednesday. General admission all-tournament passes are still available for $50.
“We have worked our way through long lines since opening up after the holiday,” Walker said. “We had a couple of issues with our on-line software system Wednesday morning. We worked our way through those issues and now everything is going well. The lines have moved fast. You can really sense a great deal of excitement among the fan base.”
Not only were the folks in the ticket office in a hurry-up mode, the same could be said for Athletic Media Relations. With a prestigious event comes a bigger demand for coverage.
“A baseball regional is a totally different animal,” said Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations Joe Galbraith, who will serve as this weekend’s media coordinator. “If you host a football bowl game, you have the whole season to prepare. In basketball, the regional rounds are assigned before the season starts. In baseball, you find out you are hosting and five days later, you are playing. It makes for an amazing turn-around. You just hope you can get everything done.”
Joe Dier handles media relations for the MSU baseball program. Gregg Ellis handles men’s basketball, while Brock Turnipseed handles women’s basketball. Kyle Niblett does softball and helps Galbraith with football. This quartet has helped Galbraith with all tournament preparations but that is simply the tip of the iceberg, as office associate Diane Keith, other athletic department employees and countless students have also pitched in.
“All of this would not be possible without the help of so many,” Galbraith said. “There are a consistent list of little things that have to be taken care of. There is a lot of prestige associated with the Mississippi State baseball program. That obviously means you are going to have a lot of interest.”
Turnipseed said 60 media credentials have been prepared for this weekend’s tournament. While MSU has remained nationally ranked throughout the entire season and hosted nationally-televised games earlier in the year, the regional has a unique calling card all of its own.
“We have requests that are about three times our press box size,” Galbraith said. “It is a logistical nightmare but we try to be accommodating. On a national level, Mississippi State baseball is considered to have one of the nation’s best atmospheres. If people want to come to your campus and tell your story, you make sure they have the opportunity to do that.”
Each game of the regional will be televised on one of the ESPN viewing platforms, with the first round being on ESPN3. Friday’s first round matches Mercer University and the University of South Alabama at 2 p.m., while Mississippi State University plays host to the University of Central Arkansas at 7 p.m. The press box will be embracing for the broadcast of three different afternoon drive-time programs Friday, ESPN, each school’s radio network, as well as dozens of writers, bloggers and photographers.
The drink machines will be filled and everything from scoreboard lights to computers to copiers will get one more test today. Each school will have an open practice at the stadium today as well.
A hard week or work comes to a close Friday and school attendance records will be challenged. Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin tweeted a ticket sales total of 6,000 around lunch hour Wednesday.
“With all of the chairbacks exhausted, that is just under 4,500 seats,” Walker said. “We should be pushing 7,000 by the end of the day Wednesday. The individual tickets will go on sale Friday. We expect a huge walk-up crowd for Friday night. Then those people will buy tickets for Saturday based on when MSU plays. It has been a while since we had a regional here, so the fans are really hungry. You will see them turn out in huge numbers.”
The all-time on-campus record for a college baseball game took place in 1989 when Mississippi State swept Florida in a regular-season doubleheader played before 14,991 at the stadium. A two-game Super Regional in 2007 – MSU’s last postseason play at home – drew a record 26,335.
Individual game tickets will be $10 for general admission seating. These tickets will be available Friday at 8 a.m. on-line and at 9 a.m. through the ticket office. School officials will sell 12,000 tickets (including the exhausted chairbacks), before then shifting to standing room only tickets.
“We will do everything in our power to make this a great experience for our fans,” Walker said. “We want the nation to see what Mississippi State baseball is all about. It is a lot of work but we would like to have this challenge every year.”
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.