A single Missouri flag flew high in the air on Friday afternoon. Its pole led down to a red truck parked in a lot down the hill from Taylor Stadium. Usually, this is a prime location for fans gearing up for Saturday morning tailgating before Missouri football games.
These tailgaters were eating and drinking in preparation for the MU baseball team’s first home regional since 1965. With blaring music, empty beers around the truck and the tailgaters singing the fight song, the revelry could be heard from the press box at Taylor Stadium.
Needless to say, the tailgaters are all die-hard Missouri baseball fans.
“I’ve been to eight regionals,” said Lance Edwards, Missouri class of 2007 and the host of the tailgate. “This is kind of a dream come true, to graduate and in your last year here, to have a regional hosted at Mizzou.”
Edwards is admittedly the biggest baseball fan at his tailgate. He says he’s been to regionals in Lubbock, Tex., Baton Rouge, La., and Houston, his hometown.
He said he’s been to every home game at Taylor Stadium, and more than 40 road games.
“I’m the loud guy in the stadium,” Edwards said. “I try to get people into the game. I try to get mid-Missouri to understand that they need to come in and support this team.
“That’s what college baseball is about, trying to get the local fans’ support and trying to get communities involved. I think this weekend is an excellent example of that happening.”
He quickly jumped to another story to prove his point.
“I was just sitting there at that Miami-Louisville game, and I saw all these Little League teams,” Edwards said. “You can see all these kids wearing the exact same hat and white T-shirts. It’s like their coaches said, ‘Hey, I’ll take Friday off. You kids are out of school, and we’ll bring you to the ballpark. It’ll be a tough ticket to get to the Mizzou game, but we’ll take you to the Miami-Louisville game because Miami is a historic program and we’ll take you kids out there to watch the game.’”
“I guarantee you,” he began, “fourth graders in the mid-Missouri area who know baseball don’t know who John McKee, Jacob Priday, Evan Frey, Aaron Crow, Rick Zagone … they don’t know who they are. Those are big name ballplayers, guys who are all going to get drafted and make careers of it.”
The first step, Edwards said, is to place more emphasis on the stars of the baseball team.
“Just like Ben Askren is the poster child of Mizzou athletics,” he said, “and Brad Smith was, and maybe Chase Daniel and Tony Temple are becoming. They need to make some of these baseball players poster children, because they’re kicking it right now. They’ve been to five straight regionals and have one of the most consistent programs on campus.”
Up the hill, another tailgate was going on, albeit of a different nature. In the shade of a gravel parking lot, just to the left of Taylor Stadium, sat Dawn and Gayle Johnson. The Johnsons are always quick to offer a sandwich, a can of soda and a seat out of the hot June sun.
“I would give you some cookies,” Dawn Johnson laughed, “if I baked any today.”
Once the Johnsons began talking, their love of college baseball shines through.
“We lived in Omaha for 37 years,” said Gayle Johnson, Missouri class of 1957. “We would buy single-game tickets for the College World Series for a while, but for the last 20 years we bought series tickets.”
“We sat right behind home plate,” his wife quickly added.
“They keep us young, they keep us fun,” her husband added, making his wife of 51 years this September laugh.
“We already have our bags packed for the super regional,” Dawn Johnson said. “And if they go to Omaha, we’ll be there too.”