OMAHA, Neb. • Thousands of Mississippians have made travel arrangements to attend this year’s College World Series.
Most of those working their way towards Omaha are Mississippi State fans. But mixed in that maroon and white caravan is a small group from Monroe County that will be pulling for the Bulldogs’ opponent on Sunday.
Those 10 to 12 people are the family of Auburn head coach Butch Thompson, who grew up near the Friendship House seafood restaurant off of Coontail Road in rural Monroe County and attended both Amory High School and Itawamba Community College.
“I’ve got so much family and I don’t know how they’re all getting out here,” Thompson said. “Most of them have never flown but they’re going to get in the car and find a way to get here because it’s special.”
One person Thompson wishes was among them is his father, David. Thompson lost his father last July and his head coaching debut at the College World Series will fall on his first Father’s Day without his dad.
“It’s been an emotional year,” Thompson said. “I wish I could’ve called him and said ‘Dad, we made it to Omaha!’ ... I hope he’s looking down. It was special when I made it as an assistant coach at Mississippi State but when you’re a head coach, it just adds another layer of special and I wish I could talk to him and wish he could be here.”
Many of Thompson’s surrogate family members are already in Omaha with MSU, where Thompson worked from 2009-15 as the Bulldogs’ pitching coach and associate head coach under John Cohen.
Thompson mentioned legendary radio announcer Jim Ellis, longtime bus driver Everett Kennard and former sports information director Joe Dier among the many MSU dignitaries he maintains a close relationship with.
“This is about relationships and I’ve got them and they’re deep and special,” Thompson said. “There are so many deep relationships but they’re all rooting against us on Sunday. I hear from Mississippi State folks when we have success because of sincere relationships.
“As you get to a good place, you figure out that this stuff is bigger than ball. Relationships at the end of the day are important and I cherish each and every one of those real deep relationships that I have at Mississippi State.”
Thompson’s relationships with MSU stretch further than his former co-workers. He also recruited several players on State’s roster to Starkville – including Ethan Small, who will start on the mound Sunday night.
On Thursday, Auburn’s bus arrived at TD Ameritrade Park at the same time as Mississippi State’s and many of the Bulldogs made their way over to say hello and give a hug or a handshake to Thompson.
“There’s a tremendous amount of respect,” said MSU coach Chris Lemonis. “They had to get off the bus and make a point to go see coach Butch, and I just thought it was a special piece in this game on the relationship side.”
Thompson can also find the irony and humor in who his opening opponent will be in Omaha.
“Out of 297 schools, of course we’re playing Mississippi State,” Thompson said. “Of course that’s who we’re playing ... I wouldn’t be the head coach and may not be sitting here if it weren’t for Mississippi State.”
This is Thompson’s seventh trip to the College World Series but first as a head coach. He has guided Auburn to a 38-26 record in his fourth season on the plains had possibly the toughest trek to Omaha, having to win on that road at the Atlanta Regional and Chapel Hill Super Regional to qualify.