OMAHA – Today’s column, a synopsis: Another game, another Ole Miss victory, and another chapter in the Legend of Tim Elko.
Just when you think the Elko story can’t get any better and any more Bunyan-esque, something happens like happened in the second inning of Ole Miss’s 13-5 conquest of Arkansas in the College World Series Monday night.
To set the stage: Ole Miss, playing perhaps its most important baseball game in school history, led 2-1 with two outs in the second. The unseasonably hot and relentless Nebraska wind was howling in from centerfield. With Justin Bench on second base, Elko came to bat. The count went to two balls, two strikes, and Arkansas pitcher Evan Taylor was just one strike away from getting out of the inning.
Arkansas catcher Michael Turner signaled for the slider, and held his mitt low and inside. Taylor delivered a slider that never slid – high and outside – several inches off the plate.
Most batters would have taken the pitch for ball three. Instead, Elko took a mighty swing, reaching all the way across the plate and almost into the opposite batter’s box. Against that wind, Elko somehow launched a towering home run that landed far beyond the Arkansas bullpen and high up into the left field stands, 416 feet away from home plate. For what it’s worth, we are told the ball left Elko’s bat at 109 mph. It traveled 416 feet in a hurry – the longest home run of this College World Series.
Tuesday morning, prior to an off-day practice session, Elko smiled when asked about the clout.
“I didn’t really realize how far outside it was until I saw it on the video last night,” Elko said. “At first, I think partly because of the location of the pitch, I didn’t realize I got it that good. But then I saw it flying and knew I got it good enough.”
And then some…
Said Mike Bianco, “I haven’t seen many balls hit that far in this stadium, especially with that wind. It wasn’t a line drive that got under the wind. It was high, into the teeth of it. It just shows how strong and powerful Tim is.”
Elko’s shot had freshman pitcher Hunter Elliott, chief beneficiary, gushing a day later.
“It was awesome, that’s man strength right there,” Elliott said. “Crazy strength, crazy talent, crazy everything. The dude is a freak with a bat in his hand.”
The freakish dude with Superman shoulders and Popeye forearms has now hit 23 home runs this season and 45 in his storied career. Elko says he finds himself almost needing to pinch himself these days to realize the last three weeks aren’t a dream.
“I don’t know if it’s even sunk in yet and maybe that’s good, because we remain relaxed just going out there and playing ball,” Elko said. “We’ve had some really good teams here at Ole Miss. We’ve had some hot streaks before, but this is some of the best baseball I’ve ever seen. This is about as good as it gets.”
It’s not just Elko, mind you, although he is the captain and the unquestioned team leader. During this postseason run, the Rebels have hit well up and down the lineup. Monday night, Garrett Wood, the eight-hole hitter, was on base four of five times, while nine-hole hitter Calvin Harris slammed two doubles and a home run, scored twice and knocked in four runs.
In NCAA competition, against top-shelf teams, Ole Miss is 7-0 and has outscored the opposition 64-18, which looks like a misprint but isn’t.
Elko takes none of it for granted.
“There’s no place better to end your college career than Omaha,” Elko said. “There would be no better way to end it than by winning the national championship.”
Bianco says that one of the “neatest” aspects of the Legend of Elko is that Elko didn’t have to come back for this season. He could have taken them money and gone pro. He had already come back from a torn ACL – actually played with the ACL still torn – to lift the 2021 Rebels to a regional championship and to within one game of the College World Series.
Said Bianco, “He came back for one reason, which was to play in the College World Series, and here he is doing this.”
What more could Elko possibly do?
Bianco smiled, looked down and shook his head. “I don’t know,” Bianco. “He can invite us to his statue ceremony, I guess.”