Here’s my report from Day #1 of the WCWS (Women’s College World Series), the five-day NCAA college softball tournament held each year in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. To learn why I was here, check out News: June 1.
Above: The ASA Stadium, northeast of Oklahoma City. This was my home for several days in early June.
For those of you new to college softball, here's some background info. In the NCAA, guys play baseball while women play softball, and at the end of each year, they both play tournaments to determine the national champions in each sport. Both World Series are televised, but every year the women’s softball tournament trounces the guy’s baseball tournament in both television ratings and attendance. Yes, college softball is a big deal.
There are 295 teams that play Division 1 college softball and each May, similar to college basketball, the top 64 teams are invited by the NCAA to compete in the tournament, which lasts for several weeks. The final eight surviving teams travel to Oklahoma City each June to play in a double-elimination tournament (i.e., you have to lose twice to be eliminated). It's called the Women's College World Series (WCWS) and it lasts nearly a week. There are 16 games played in five days, or 17 in six days, depending on the results. Yep, that's a lotta softball!
During the first 30 years or so, starting in the 1980's and up until a few years ago, two teams dominated the world of college softball: UCLA and Arizona. But in the past few years, the power center has dramatically shifted to the southeast, especially to the SEC, including Alabama, Florida, LSU, etc.
My favorite team, the Oregon Ducks, was ranked #5 in the nation in 2016, so I figured they’d make it to the WCWS in Oklahoma City, but during the previous weekend in the qualification round, UCLA beat the Ducks 2 games to 1 and eliminated them. Oregon should’ve won because they took Game 1 and were two outs away from winning Game 2 and advancing to Oklahoma City but UCLA rallied. It was a heartbreaking loss and I was crushed, but my second-favorite team, the Michigan Wolverines, ranked #2 in the nation, had made it to Oklahoma City, so at least I had someone to root for. And lucky for me, the #1 rank Florida Gators also lost the previous week, opening the door for Michigan to win it all this year after being the nation's runner-up in 2015.
There were two brackets:
|Bracket 1||Bracket 2|
The qualification games run from Thursday through Sunday, then starting on Monday, the two teams that are left play a 2-out-of-3 championship series on successive nights. The first team to win two games in that series wins the national championship.
Unfortunately for me, six of the eight teams that made it to Oklahoma City (all the SEC teams and Oklahoma) were teams I cared nothing about. To me, all of those teams were basically the same. Being from Michigan, all my hopes were riding with the Michigan Wolverines, though I was ready to root for UCLA, too.
So with that in mind, here’s what happened at the WCWS:
Session One: Thursday Morning
There were four games today, two in the morning session and two in the evening session. The first pitch was at 10 a.m., so I got to the ASA Hall of Fame stadium at 8:30 a.m. and parked about a mile away. You can either park at the stadium and pay $20 or park a mile away at the Remington Park Racetrack for free and take the shuttle. I wisely chose the latter.
Above: Scenes from Opening Day of the 2016 Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City. (1:36)
As I mentioned before, I had bought two season tickets to the WCWS, one in left field and one in right field, figuring that for each session, I’d use one and sell the other. I decided to sit in right field during the morning session and sell my left field ticket, and sit in left field in the evening session and sell my right field ticket. I was able to get $50 for each ticket via the NCAA’s “Ticket Exchange” (i.e., their sanctioned “scalping” website), which nearly recouped the entire cost of the 17-game ticket, for which I paid $125, so I was happy.
In the opening game of the series, #20 Georgia from the SEC played one of the favorites, #8 Florida State from the ACC. I don’t typically root for SEC teams but I always go with the underdog, and whaddya know, Georgia upset Florida State. I sat in my right field seat next to a guy who apparently was the world’s leading authority on college softball and wanted everyone to know it. Between that and the really big (wide) guy in front of me wearing the really big (wide) hat, I was hoping that my left-field seat would be better. Over 8,000 fans attended the game, the most fans to ever watch a Session 1 game in the 35 years of the WCWS.
Georgia 5, Florida State 4. Florida State drops into the Loser’s Bracket.
The next game in the morning session, #4 Auburn versus #12 UCLA, started at 12:30. I was really hoping to watch the Oregon Ducks instead of UCLA, but UCLA eliminated Oregon the previous weekend. Nevertheless, I always root for the Pac-12, so I pulled for UCLA, even though they're the winningest team in WCWS history. UCLA didn’t play well, though, and Auburn crushed them. The whole time I sat there, I was thinking that Oregon should be here playing Auburn instead of UCLA.
Auburn 10, UCLA 3. UCLA drops into the Loser’s Bracket.
Session Two: Thursday Evening
The stadium is cleared between sessions, meaning all the fans have to exit the gates and line up to get back in for the next session. So after Auburn trounced UCLA, I walked back to my truck, which was parked a mile away at the Remington Park race track. I was hoping to run some errands before the evening games, which started at 6 p.m., but I checked my phone and it was already 4:15 and the gates opened at 5, so I walked back to the stadium and lined up.
This time I was using my left-field seat. The folks around me were pretty nice so I decided that, despite the nasty sun angle, I’d probably sit here for the rest of the World Series. Behind me was a young couple from Modesto, California who, like me, were making their first trip to the WCWS. The guy looked a lot like Johnny Depp, though I can’t say his wife looked much like Amber Heard. On my left was a middle-aged couple from Oklahoma City rooting for the Sooners, of course, and there was a family on my right. It was a pretty nice crowd and best of all, no one was sitting behind me, sticking their knees into my back.
The first game of the evening session featured the #3 Oklahoma Sooners vs. a perennial powerhouse, #6 Alabama. The stadium was buzzing with anticipation of these two powers. The game was tied 0-0 in the second inning and then the rain started to fall, so they called a rain delay. The stadium announcer said that it would “probably be a short delay,” so I covered myself with my jacket and poncho and, like most other folks, sat there in the drizzly rain for 45 minutes.
The rain started to let up and I thought they’d get the game going, but then they called a lightning delay. Apparently lightning had hit within 4 miles of the stadium, requiring a mandatory 30-minute delay, so everyone evacuated the stands and I milled about behind the left field bleachers. A half-hour later, they cancelled the lightning delay but it was still raining, so I went back up to the bleachers and stood there with my poncho on for the next hour, hoping the rain would stop.
By now it was 9 p.m. and I did a mental calculation and figured that even if the rain stopped right now and they immediately started the Oklahoma-Alabama game, the Michigan-LSU game wouldn’t start until after midnight, so I decided to pack it in. The stadium was still half-full when I left, but when I drove back past the stadium 20 minutes later, I saw fans streaming out so I figured they’d called the game, which they had.
Oklahoma vs. Alabama: Rain Delay, to be rescheduled
The 2016 Women's College World Series (WCWS): Day #1 (Thursday)