As Fresno State recorded the final three outs of the 2008 College World Series, nearly 20,000 fans watched every pitch, foul, and catch as they waited to see the Underdogs rush the mound for the traditional Omaha dog pile. Pete Davis and Erica Austin were not two of those people. During the final pitches of Wednesday night's deciding game, they were buried in the bowels of Rosenblatt Stadium, sifting through two giant boxes of t-shirts and hats.
These two NCAA employees have one very important job—deliver the newly-crowned champs their newly-printed apparel. They do it at every Division I championship, from Omaha to the Final Four to a bunch of sports that you probably don't even know hold an NCAA championship. On Wednesday night, they were about ten feet behind the soon-to-be CWS titleists and being very careful not to, ahem, let the hats out of the bag.
Two outs before it all became official Davis ripped open the box and started delicately balancing the hats on his left arm, showing off the simple blue and red design to the security guards and NCAA officials who stood shoulder-to-shoulder to keep the Bulldogs from seeing the goods before they were good-to-go.
"It's always the best feeling in the world to hand the championship hat to the winners," Davis said as he helped his coworker drape a couple of dozen t-shirts over her shoulders.
And how about having to run past the losers to do it? "That … is not so fun. At least tonight Georgia is on the other side of the field. At the Final Four we had to run through all the Memphis guys as we went out onto the court to grab the Kansas players."
For the record, had Georgia managed to score six runs in the bottom of the ninth to pull off the upset, the NCAA was covered. A box of "Georgia: 2008 College World Series Champs" gear was also at The Blatt. But seeing as how it was a couple of hundred yards away—up two flights of stairs and at least a push each way through the crowd—had the Dawgs completed the comeback they would have had to wait a while for their stuff.
"I don't even want to think about that," Austin said without even the hint of a smile.
Alas, they did not. And within seemingly seconds, Fresno was posing for photos in their new threads. And the UGA gear was slapped with a shipping label, bound for one of the NCAA's charitable partners for distribution to those in need.
"I was watching a story about people who had lost everything in Hurricane Katrina and there were some of our old shirts that we never got to hand out," Austin said, scooping another armload of shirts. "That was pretty cool." then his head jerked to the side, his eyes lit up, and he looked at my and said, "Sorry … I gotta go."