Spreading the word
Fathers, daughters enjoying experience at WCWS
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Chelsea (Lohan) Garcia remembers her one and only trip to the Women's College World Series as a player. It came in 2011 as a member of the Oklahoma State softball team.
The trip was short as the Pokes were swept out of the tournament after losing their only two games to Baylor and California.
A record 8,329 fans packed into ASA Hall of Fame Stadium on Monday for the first game of the championship series. It was the most for session six of the tournament. That includes the years Oklahoma was playing for the title. Since the tourney started last week, the total attendance is 62,144 heading into Tuesday's action.
Garcia was one of those who were on hand for at least one of the record-breaking sessions. However, she was not alone. Ten years after coming to her first WCWS with her father, Tanilo Garcia, she was with him once again.
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“I think it builds up a stronger relationship having to take her to games,” Tanilo Garcia said. “It was a joy to watch her play, but the bond was even stronger being able to come with her and watch. The bonding is more important than anything else.”
The Garcias were just one of the many father-daughter combinations who came to this year's tournament from all across the country. While some came to watch family members or their favorite teams play, others came just to enjoy the game with each other.
Andy Gravitt and his young daughter, Kaitlyn, traveled from Overland Park, Kansas to experience the WCWS.
“It's an amazing experience,” Andy said. “Kaitlyn loves softball and this is the epicenter of softball.
"My son and I are visiting all the major league baseball parks. So I told my daughter that she could have a special event and she chose the College World Series.”
Former Major League Baseball pitcher Curt Schilling also noticed the fathers and daughters taking in the game with each other. With him having an 18-year-old daughter himself, Schilling knows the significance of it.
“This is just like father-son,” Schilling said. “There is no difference there. There are a lot of dads out there who had just girls. As a coach, I saw a lot of parents who used softball as baby sitting. Then you see the parents who are here. It's not about driving them into the ground. It's about exposing them to the possibilities.”
This year the tournament is averaging a record 8,878 fans per session. That is just slightly more than 2013 when Oklahoma won the national championship in its own back yard. That same year the WCWS had the second-most total attendance on record with 70,683.
The record for largest attendance at the tournament is 75,960 in 2012. Once again, Oklahoma made it to the championship series that year before losing in three games to Alabama.
In order for this year to top those numbers, the championship series between Michigan and Florida will have to go three games.
Chelsea Garcia said she doesn't recognize the tournament anymore. In her estimation the WCWS has gotten dramatically bigger in the four short years since she played in it.
“I don't know why it has,” Garcia said. “Maybe it's being publicized more. Or maybe more girls are getting into the sport. But there is not an Oklahoma team here and it is packed day in and day out. I think it means the sport has gotten more popular. I think it's great.”
Yet, those stats mean little to Jeff Neeley and his daughter, Emma. They came from Hampstead, North Carolina.
“It's been phenomenal,” Jeff Neeley said. “A great opportunity for Emma's first time for her and me. We've had a great time. It's an experience we'll never forget. Now we're planning on trying to make it an every year thing. What has stood out is just the teams, the fans. This is a great facility to host this. There's not a bad seat in the house. It's just been a neat experience. Lived up to my expectations and then some.”
Kaitlyn Gravitt's explanation on why she wanted to be at the World Series with her father may have summed up everyone in the stadium.
“Because I love softball,” Kaitlyn said. “It's a really fun sport. I'm really excited.”