While waiting out the weather delay during the Notre Dame vs. Texas Tech game many Georgia Southern fans and alumni gathered together at a tailgate in front of Hanner Fieldhouse.
Many of the alumni were former Eagle players who came back to town to watch Georgia Southern host their first ever NCAA Regional, and while they never got the chance, they were happy for this year’s group to finally break through.
“I have been paying close attention to college baseball this year with what our team has been doing,” said former Eagle pitcher Will Middour. “I really felt like they deserved to host this year and it is so special and we are all so proud of these guys. The excitement for all us former players, but also for the University and the city of Statesboro is just incredible. I know there are a lot of people who would have loved to come but it was such a quick turnaround. This may be the first but we all hope it’s not the last.”
Rodney Hennon took over the Eagle baseball team in 1999 and one of his goals was to increase the capacity of J.I. Clements Stadium in order for Georgia Southern to possibly host an NCAA Regional. The stadium renovations finished in 2005 gave them the opportunity and it finally paid off this season.
“I can remember years before I got to Georgia Southern about them deciding to build the stadium,” said former Eagle outfielder Stryker Brown. “Possibly hosting a regional was always Rodney’s goal and dream. Knowing that is what this stadium was built for and finally getting to host one is a really cool feeling. It’s such a great experience getting to see our guys in our program finally make it there. I feel like anybody who has had a hand in the program from the 70’s until now are either coming this week or really wish they could be here.”
Former players set up text threads in order to keep up with whether or not the Eagles received a bid, and then to coordinate plans to come to Statesboro for the games.
“We have a text thread with about 25 former players in it and we have been paying attention most of the year because their RPI was so good,” said former Eagle shortstop Evan McDonald. “I was supposed to be moving this weekend but I had to put it off because of this. My dad flew down from Missouri because we know this is so historic and you never know when it may happen again. We played in the 2014 Regional in Florida State and I know how much that meant to us. This is something these guys will remember the rest of their lives.”
If anyone can understand how special, it would be to host a Regional it's those who played in one on the road during their playing days.
“All of us that have played at Georgia Southern this is just something you can’t miss,” said former Eagle shortstop Dalton Busby. “Being able to host a Regional is going to have such a positive impact on recruiting and we are so happy to see the program continue to grow like this. To sell out the tickets that quickly also says a lot for our fan base.”
Another common theme among the former players was how happy they are for their former head coach Rodney Hennon.
“I feel like almost every single player who played here since 2000 is happy because of how special this is for coach Hennon,” said former Eagle catcher C.J. Brazil. “He has run this program for over 20 years and run it the right way and he deserves to host a regional. He is such a special guy who can pull the best out of you. He takes guys that come here as kids and helps to turn them into men.”
From a former player’s standpoint hosting a regional site should be a big advantage for the players.
“Mentally they have to be in the best spot possible,” said former Eagle pitcher Conner Simmons. “They are in a comfortable environment and will definitely have the majority of fans on their side. Those fifth-year seniors have had more reps at J.I. Clements Stadium than anyone in school history. We have such special fans here and I just can’t wait to get out there and pull them on and get onto those other teams.”