“Have you even thrown a baseball before?” the Dive Doctor inquired “deadpan” after I just two-hopped the ball to the right fielder. Other members of “The Roost” were chuckling and telling me stories of some of their errant throws. “The Right Fielder might cut you some slack this time and throw it back to you, but if you short hop him again he will short hop you the next time” someone added. I was at a Southern Miss baseball game and out in “The Right Field Roost”. Now, it’s just “The Roost”. This tradition of throwing the warm-up ball to the Southern Miss right fielder started five or six years ago by Todd Maddux. His brother was on the team as well as some other friends and he wanted more fan interaction, so they came up with this. The first year the coach didn’t even know it was happening until the end of the year when someone inquired about its origins. When the coach found out he went along with it but wanted to make sure that no one got hurt. So, Todd was the only one that threw it out the first year. The tradition has evolved over the years and others have taken over the responsibilities. They were gracious enough to let me throw it out for a few innings. As I was told, the right fielder did short hop me two times when I short hopped him. I pointed to him to acknowledge my error and he tipped his cap to let me know we had an understanding going forward.
I was floored by the “Southern” hospitality I was shown at Southern Miss. The stop was one I wanted to make. I knew Brett Favre (Southern Miss Alum) was a baseball fan and showed up at the games. Since I am I huge fan of his, I was hoping I would see him. It was Easter and he wasn’t at this game. He had been there for the Friday and Saturday games. My buddy, Roger Wilson, has been sending out information to all the Media outlets and teams where I will be stopping. Southern Miss was the first team and school that asked me to come out I was shown around the park, and they even gave me a Media pass and “rock star” parking. As I was touring their facility, they pointed out “The Roost” and told me some stories about it. I told them that is where I wanted to spend the game, I was not disappointed.
“The Roost” consists of 40 assigned areas behind and down the right field foul line. These spots are very hard to get and there is a waiting list. Someone said, “Just like in Green Bay”. Todd told me that it is an unwritten rule that you are suppose to have a pick-up truck or van but that is no longer enforced. In these areas everyone has barques they keep in their spots year round along with lockers which holds their tailgating equipment in. Everyone told me I wasn’t at a great party day since it was Easter. That didn’t matter to me, I was having a great time. In addition to the throwing out the ball to the right fielder, another tradition that they do in “The Roost” is that of “The Boot”. When the opposing team commits an error or “boots the ball”, two of “The Roost” members grab these large poles that have these sheet metal cowboy boots on them and wave them over the outfield wall. This tradition has also evolved over time and has been around since the 1980’s. Originally they had a cowboy boot tied to a rope which they would fling it onto the field and drag it back. Unfortunately, they had to stop this practice when a Florida State pitcher who was warming up in the bull pen got hit with it.
Most of “The Roost” members have been coming to games for years. One member is Hall of Fame (Class of 2014) punter Ray Guy of the Oakland Raiders. I got to meet and talk with him. Besides punting for Southern Miss he played baseball for the university, too. He was gracious enough to autograph my media guide. I asked him about Brett Favre, but unfortunately he didn’t know who he is, “Brett who?” he asked and laughed. I was excited to meet Ray. He is a player I remember from my childhood. To me some of my sports idols that I had as a kid I view as fictional characters. He no longer is. I loved those Raiders teams back in the day! Ray was into the game, when the second baseman “booted” a ball I heard him yell, “you aren’t Robinson Cano, now.” I laughed at this, it was great to see. The second baseman was the coach’s kid for Louisiana Tech and that didn’t go unnoticed when that error happened. I also heard a “Hey coach got any more sons!”
Terry Bethea, one of the original “The Roost” members, explained that it is the atmosphere that brings the fans. With the tailgating while the game is going on, the food, the socializing, etc. “What could be better”, he said as he raised his arms and looked around. I agreed with him. Charles “Dive Doctor” Burchell. He got the “name” because he started the scuba program at the school 40 years ago. Charles told me of a time when “The Roost” would supply hamburgers to the opposing teams bullpen. They would put one on the fence and then it would just disappear. The opposing coaches put a stop to that when they found out! “It is all about the comradery” Charles said, as he was crushing some cans. They collect all the aluminum cans throughout the season and donate the proceeds to the Dug Out Club, “all of this is a type of fan recruiting” Charles made sure to point out this out. He was preaching to the choir now, I already wanted to get my name on the waiting list!
Calan McWilliams came out to “The Roost” a couple of times during the game. She is a “Diamond Darling”. Her mother and her boyfriend’s parents were with the group I was talking with. Calan’s boyfriend plays on the team. I inquired as to what a “Diamond Darling” did for the baseball team. She explained that they are responsible for getting the bats after a player hits, making sure the umpire has enough balls and water. They do the 7th inning stretch by singing “Take me out to the ball game”, take care of the t-shirt toss, etc. Each “Diamond Darling” is assigned a player at the beginning of the year. They send their assigned player encouraging notes and gift baskets through out the season. I asked Calan how much she gets paid to do all this. She said with a big smile, “I just love baseball.” This is her fourth year and now Team Captain. She told me that it is a big commitment, but went on to say, “All the Diamond Darlings love it.” They have two squads so they all don’t have to show up at every game.
I wish I could share more because I feel I haven’t done this story justice. I talked with so many of the fans out on “The Roost” and had so much fun. The game and the day went by too fast. But, I’ll return one day. “The Roost” is one of the best ‘fan experiences’ I have been apart of so far on this journey. I thank all for their warm Southern welcome and letting me be apart of “The Roost”! Southern Miss baseball will now be on top of my “must” watch list!
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