Opening ceremonies at the College World Series are about introducing the teams, enjoying the festive atmosphere, reacquainting with old friends, and getting fired up for the games that will lead to the eventual crowning of a national champion.
On Friday, thousands of baseball fans showed their appreciation for the eight teams that have reached the tournament. Titan fans were no exception. Throughout the stands at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha and roaming the Omaha Baseball Village outside the stadium, it was easy to spot the orange and blue jerseys and T-shirts and the F-adorned baseball caps that express one thing — Titan Pride.
Taylor Ebner was sporting a Fullerton baseball cap, a classic CSUF sweatshirt and the best souvenir of all — her boyfriend, Titan infielder Dustin Vaught.
“I think we are going to take it all,” Ebner said while soaking in the atmosphere just outside the stadium, where team members were signing autographs and posing for selfies with fans from around the country.
Vaught, a junior at CSUF, was simply taking it all in.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “It’s definitely a different atmosphere and 10 times better, especially when 30,000 people are rooting for you.”
This is a big change from early in the season. The team opened the regular season by losing three of its first four games and dropped seven of nine from March 10-25. They gained momentum and ended capturing the Big West title, defeating Pepperdine in the regionals final game and winning the super regionals in Louisville. An 11th-inning home run by David Olmedo-Barrera in the third and decisive game in Louisville served as an exclamation point on the season. The team is now making its 17th College World Series appearance.
Athletics Director Jim Donovan had no doubt this group was special. He said he told Coach Rick Vanderhook throughout the season how impressed he was with how the team played and how the coaches and players stayed focused on the goal.
“They have earned their accolades,” Donovan said while waiting with the team before entering the stadium for the ceremonies.
The team and their fans are enjoying the moment. The players had a one-hour practice session on a cloudy and drizzly Friday before signing autographs for their fans old and new.
Then they took a break. Team members and coaches listened to live country music in the village, hung out with parents and friends, watched a spectacular fireworks show, and were treated to an inspiring keynote speech by Hall of Famer David Winfield.
Friday was a day to have fun before the work begins on Sunday against defending national champion Vanderbilt.
Longtime Titan fan Jim Venuto, who had lived most of his life in Omaha until he moved to Murrieta five months ago, said he has been to more than 450 College World Series games. A friend of his, Tom Elliott of Fullerton, introduced him to the Titans, and the team has been his favorite ever since.
“I just fell in love with the Fullerton Way,” Venuto said.
Elliot, who owns a sports memorabilia store in Fullerton, is an admitted college baseball fan. “When they [Titans] are here it just adds so much more to the tournament,” he said. “It would be terrific if they win.”
Fans closer to home were also in the stands.
Provost José Luis Cruz and Vice President for Student Affairs Berenecea Johnson Eanes were in the stands with their families. Both echoed the pride that many are feeling about this team. “They are an excellent example of Titans reaching higher,” Cruz said. “They are making us all very proud.”
Eanes summed up the experience of the team making the College World Series: “This is simply priceless,” she said.
Assistant Director of Media Relations/Social Media Michael Mahi is with the team in Omaha writing about CSUF’s College World Series experience via social media and the University’s news site. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Storify and Instagram.