OMAHA, Neb. — The Mississippi State baseball team can consider itself the lucky one.
All eight squads that make it to the College World Series are assigned a sponsor or a local organization that makes their time in Omaha as smooth as possible. Seven teams are sponsored by local clubs, such as Rotary or Kiwanis.
This year, MSU is the odd man out and is sponsored by Offutt Air Force Base.
Every step of the way, Offutt Air Force Base has supported MSU in its chase for a national championship and done it best to add to the Bulldogs’ experience off the field. Along the way, the Bulldogs made new fans in the military.
“The overarching statement or compliment to the team is all the people that have interacted with them in the sponsorship program or the barbecue (when the team arrived), the overarching comment was, ‘Man, very nice and respectful young men,’ ” Colonel Michael Manion said. “Everybody’s pretty impressed with the culture and the sincerity of the Bulldogs.”
Manion is the commander of the 55th Wing at Offutt AFB, a position he has had for a year and earned by serving in Turkey, Afghanistan, and South Korea in the last decade.
Manion said Offutt AFB has been sponsoring a team in the College World Series for at least 30 years — that’s as long as their records go back — and people at the base enjoy it so much they have no plans on breaking that streak anytime soon.
Representatives from Offutt AFB greeted the Bulldogs at the airport when they arrived. From there, they took the team’s uniforms to get the College World Series patch sewn on and were with the players at opening ceremonies Friday night.
If the team can fit it into its schedule, the base likes to have the team it is hosting tour the facility, and MSU did that.
Manion said the team was on the base for 30-40 minutes and saw most of the facilities. The Bulldogs even watched a couple of working demonstrations. The rain at the time of the tour washed out a fire fighting demonstration, but members of the base were able to take the team to the field house and go through a military working dog demonstration and what they call a non-lethal protection force demonstration.
The translation from military jargon to civilian speak: “It’s a nice word for tasing somebody.”
“We gained a lot out of that,” MSU pitcher Jacob Billingsley said. “We had guys show us the dogs. They showed us how a taser works. They showed us the aircraft, their gym. They’ve got some really cool stuff there. It’s definitely something everyone needs to do if they get a chance.
“I had been to a few small ones before, but that was a real big one. To go into an airplane hangar like that was really cool.”
Manion’s favorite part is the players can see “men and women who are their age, what they’re doing for the United State Air Force, and this great country.”
The base has bonded with the teams it has played host to over the years. It had an abundance of time to build a rapport with Vanderbilt in 2014 when the Commodores won the national championship. Last year, the base was enamored with LSU and coach Paul Mainieri, who was the first civilian baseball coach in the history of the Air Force Academy.
MSU made sure they built that connection with the base by giving Manion a cowbell. The Bulldogs explained to Manion the history of the cowbell at MSU and the tradition that one’s first cowbell must be gifted to them. It was an odd sensation for Manion, a Missouri graduate, but later he found himself “ringing the tar out of it.”
“Coach Henderson and the team, we can’t thank them enough,” Manion said. “The young men were extremely grateful. They gave us a bell and we gave them hats, and I think we got a better deal out of the scenario.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson