By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digital Media Director
Birmingham, Ala./Omaha, Neb. -- At just before midnight yesterday in Omaha, I along with the rest of the SEC staff that made the trip to TD Ameritrade Park were scurrying on a runway toward a plane that was packed and ready to take us back to Birmingham.
Walking alongside Commissioner Mike Slive, I joked with him, "What am I going to tell my mother tomorrow when she asks me what I did today?" He laughed, patted me on the back and answered my question with one of his own, "How would you describe it Eric?"
Well Commissioner, I'd only use one word.
14 hours, two cities and one National Championship later, I embarked on a journey that will go down as one of the most memorable of my career, a whirlwind of emotion and amazement that culminated in the SEC's seventh National Championship. What a ride.
The day began like many others for me, at the SEC's headquarters in Birmingham. The SEC Digital Network was firing on all cylinders, knowing that later that evening the NCAA could possibly crown a conference team as nation's best squad. The College World Series had turned into the finals of the SEC Tournament, with Florida and South Carolina left standing after a week of outstanding play in Omaha
Today would go even further than the normal preparation though, as through the graciousness of the conference we were permitted to ride shotgun, as many of the league's staff members were headed to the "Gateway of the West" to support the league's members in competition that night. We jumped at the opportunity, and began brainstorming the many ways we could cover this event, relaying the atmosphere for the legion of fans that couldn't make that trip.
With the prep work complete, we headed off to the airport at 1 pm Central Time, not sure of when we would return home. The beauty of this championship series scenario is that we had no idea how long our stay in Omaha was going to be. In his email to us that contained the itinerary for the trip, Commissioner Slive reminded us to pack an overnight bag, and prepare to return Wednesday night should Florida win. With the way game one of the series had gone, no one would be surprised should the Gators even things up, so you headed out the door with the uneasiness of not knowing exactly what the next 24 to 48 hours held in store.
We boarded the plane, ready to begin the trek of unknowns toward the Mecca of college baseball. I myself had never been to this event, and a trip to Omaha was always on my "Bucket List" of sports trips to make during my lifetime. Being able to take this journey, knowing a National Championship was waiting at the end of the ride made it all the more special as our plane took off from Birmingham.
The trip wasn't all blissful, as we were reminded of the city of Omaha's suffering as we got closer to our destination. With the rivers having flooded parts of the area, the view from up above left you aghast as you approached what looked like a group of lakes on the outskirts of the town. As you examined further, you found houses, roads and farms washed away, with the mountains of water encompassing what use to be a thriving development along the border between Nebraska and Iowa. A harrowing sight, and a painful reminder that real life continued to happen while we were trapped in the euphoria of an athletic event.
Nearly 50 feet from that devastation, we landed at the airport in Omaha. After quickly deplaning, our minds returned to the task at hand as we loaded vans and headed for the stadium. We were greeted by Chuck Dunlap, the SEC's public relations director for the sport of baseball, and he led the caravan into the city.
Downtown Omaha had transformed into the host of the College World Series, as scores of fans, signs and merchants took over the five block radius around the brand new TD Ameritrade Park. After a quick tour of the outside of the stadium (ok I'll admit we got lost), we made our way into the main gate and proceeded to catch our first glimpse of this historic event. What a sight it was, as 25,000 people of varying fandom moved about a state of the art location with a breathtaking view. The whole city was visible from this spot, from Qwest Arena in the rear to the bustling skyline off behind the right field scoreboard.
After a somewhat questionable route (we got lost again) we made it up to the press box and claimed our perch for tonight's contest. There was work to be done, and I hustled to set up for the live chat we were hosting
, and did my best to snap a few pictures of what the scene was like to describe for our fans
The game itself was the reason everyone was there, and first pitch was delivered as all eyes turned to the diamond. If you were among the many others that had watched game one of this series, you were glued to the field to see if the unthinkable could happen again. South Carolina and Florida wowed the sports world on Monday, and the stage was set for something special to possibly take place one more time.
I spent most of the game conversing with fans, cracking jokes on Twitter and comparing the feats of these players to famous major leaguers
. The "work" we did wasn't difficult at all, just a running dialogue of the action as it happened on site. South Carolina pitcher Michael Roth was dominant, Florida's Mike Zunino hit a towering home run, and the pace of the game moved along into the later third on the scoreboard.
As we got closer to the end of the game, South Carolina's resiliency was too much to overcome, and everyone got closer to the realization that the Gamecocks were going to win their second straight National Championship. A celebration was pending, and we hustled down to field level to capture the moment that USC would be crowned champion.
An epic video shot by Dunlap tells it all
, as fireworks exploded and fans erupted when the final out was made. A dejected yet classy Florida squad stood by, watching as their division rival dog piled on the mound as the scoreboard read "2011 National Champions -- South Carolina". I stood on the field trying to soak it all in, while feverishly snapping pictures that could do the scene justice. I'm not sure I succeeded. Those moments will stick in my mind forever. Whether it is USC's Scott Wingo holding the championship belt
, or the entire team crowding behind home plate to pose for the cameras
, the scene was remarkable. To be on site for the SEC's third straight National Championship is something I will never forget.
Our day wasn't quite over yet, as we all had a plane to catch. After I ran back upstairs to quickly finish my work, we all hurried out to the parking lot to begin the trip back. Some crafty driving along with help from Omaha's finest got us back to the airport in record time, as our bags were loaded before we even had a chance to fully comprehend what we had just saw.
Two hours later, at nearly 2 am, my day ended where it began, in the city of Birmingham. On the drive to my house I tried to contemplate what had just transpired in my life. I saw history, witnessed greatness and covered 934 miles in the span of 12 hours. So Commissioner Slive, how would I describe it?