Flashback to Feb. 17, 2012.
It’s opening day for the Missouri baseball team, and it finds itself inside Samford Stadium in Auburn, Ala., facing its Southeastern Conference foe, Auburn.
The teams played in front of 3,577 people into the late afternoon, and Auburn walked away with the 5-2 win. Of the 44 games Missouri has played this season, most would view its first contest simply as one extra tally in the loss column. For Shawn Davis, the team’s sports information director, something else was taken from that game.
“They had a great student section,” he said. “They were loud. They had pom-poms and T-shirts, and they were cheering. The thing I noticed was that they really added to the overall feeling of the ballpark.”
Following the Tigers’ opening road stretch, the atmosphere changed when Davis and the team returned to Columbia. Soon after the trip, Taylor Stadium hosted a two-game set with Central Arkansas that attracted an average attendance of just 376.
“If you talk to people who are really attracted to collegiate sports, they come for the atmosphere,” Davis said.
He reached out to sophomore Brandon Weiss and freshman Gracie Duggan in an effort to fix the problem.
“We started with the idea of ‘Pack Taylor for Baylor’ and, when that didn't go over so well, we started talking about what we could do better,” Duggan said. “Then it all started. I got together with a group of four other guys and we came up with a name, a slogan and a goal.”
Missouri football has a student section with Tiger's Lair, and basketball has ZouCrew. Now, baseball can say it has a student section of its own: the newly-formed Tigers on Deck.
“Whenever you’re talking college sports, the whole atmosphere depends on the students,” Weiss said. “Whether it's football, basketball or baseball, if we’re going to get large crowds to Taylor Stadium, it all depends on the students.”
The new student section comes in the wake of Missouri’s switch to the SEC. The league offers perhaps the country’s premier baseball landscape, having recently set a conference record for the most attendance in a single season in 2011 with more than 2 million people. It’s a tradition that will largely come as a culture shock for Missouri baseball, Weiss said.
“SEC stadiums are basically minor league stadiums,” Weiss said. “They’re huge, three times the size of Taylor Stadium. They can seat 10,000-plus on any given day. Their atmosphere is a completely different ball game.”
The stark contrast in atmosphere is easy to see when looking at stadium capacity alone. With a capacity coming in at 3,031, Taylor Stadium comes into the SEC ranking near the bottom of the totem pole.
An SEC-type atmosphere is exactly what Tigers on Deck is striving for, Davis said.
“We want to start doing tailgates,” Davis said. “We want to encourage kids to come out to the games and tailgate, grill out, have a barbecue, play catch in the parking lot, play washers or play bags. We want to create a football Saturday type of atmosphere. That’s the way it is in the SEC.”
Duggan reiterated Davis’s thoughts, saying the growth of Tigers on Deck and the team as a whole depends largely on the fan base itself.
“Tigers on Deck is a step toward getting a similar atmosphere to the SEC,” Duggan said. “We realize we are starting from a very low fan base, but we know that there are students on this campus that love baseball and are interested in Mizzou baseball. We know that Taylor Stadium is not up to par with other SEC schools, but the stadium will only grow as the team and the fan base grows.”