Long Story Short: Hardcore Commitment

Illustration by Jose Santana Firpo

It wasn’t supposed to be that kind of trip. It was supposed to be just a bonding of brothers—even of brothers not biologically related—in a sporting locale where the oldest brother knew most of the coaches, many of the players and even some of the security guards. It was a “bucket list” kind of trip with an insider at the helm. But it became something altogether different.

For seven days, my father sat behind home plate at the NCAA Men’s College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, with an LSU shirt and hat on, even though LSU didn’t make it to the field this year. His LSU memorabilia was displayed during every game, no matter the team at bat, and it was noted by local media happy for the LSU attention as well as national media curious who the men were wearing LSU gear behind home plate. The old men were my father and my two uncles.

They didn’t mind the attention.

My oldest uncle—George Whitfield—is not part of our family by birth but he is sealed into our family by spirit. He lived with my father’s parents all through high school in the 1950s after breaking out of boarding school, hitching a ride with a truck driver, and waiting on the steps of a high school with the desire to play basketball for my grandfather’s winning team in Kinston, North Carolina. George’s parents were dead. He quickly became glued into the fabric of my father’s family. George has gone on to win regional and national awards as a celebrated baseball coach in North Carolina, and George has had front row tickets at the series for more than 15 years.

So this year when my father, Ed Sexton, and his brother Don decided to accompany George to the games, it was a no-brainer that Dad would buy an LSU shirt for every day of the trip. Dad played LSU baseball back in the day (early 1970s) and he wasn’t afraid to don the purple and gold even though his team was never taking the field. But Dad didn’t know it would become anything of note.

After a couple of days on TV, my husband’s favorite deliverer of news (Tiger Droppings) started sporting threads about the “old men behind home plate wearing LSU gear.” If Tiger Droppings was discussing it, then it was getting real. 

Soon local radio and TV started calling to get the story, wanting to know how they got the tickets, what their relationship was with LSU, and how Omaha was treating them. Dad started wearing the purple shirt with gold lettering—all day, every day—because it showed up better on the camera. And, yes, he washed it every night. The three brothers became Omaha local celebrities. People were buying them drinks at the bar. Children were taking photos with them. Thanks to George and his connections, they didn’t even have to leave the stadium between games.

And everyone in Omaha loves LSU.

But the real attention should go to George Whitfield, who knows the security guards, the staff at the local Marriott hotel, and about every other Tom, Dick or Harry in the stadium. He is a fixture. After Texas A&M beat the University of Texas early in the series, Coach Jim Schlossnagle presented George with the game-winning ball—signed by him—as a token of his appreciation after coaching with George many years ago.

The excitement was on the LSU men behind home plate, but the respect was reserved for the 85-year-old man who had been warming the seats for decades. Dedication deserves respect. And this bucket-list week became even more spectacular because the three brothers were together.

George Whitfield still holds the seats behind home plate at the College World Series. And if the Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise, these three will be back at it next year. Especially if LSU is in the series (but probably even if they aren’t).

Batter up.