Alumni cheer on Flashes in Omaha

Marion Brenneman was the designated hitter for the Golden Flashes in 1954. Brenny, as many people call him, came to Omaha to support his old baseball team in the College World Series. . Photo by Philip Botta.

Matt Lofgren

OMAHA, Neb. — More than 800 miles from home, the Kent State fans in Omaha, Neb., found a home at The Old Mattress Factory for an Alumni Association pre-game party to celebrate the Flashes post-season success on Monday, June 18.

With Nancy Schippa and Lori Randorf running the event from the second floor of the restaurant, Kent State fans were welcomed to a sea of people wearing blue and gold with pride.


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“This is an incredibly fabulous experience for the whole Kent community, the Kent State University, the alumni, the students,” Randorf said. “Just coming to Omaha has been fabulous.”

Alumni ranging from recent graduates to all the way back to 1950s were on hand to celebrate Kent history. No fan was more proud of the team than Marion “Brenny” Brenneman, who played baseball for Kent in 1954.

Seeing the team’s series against the University of Akron about a month ago, Brenneman said he was very impressed with the players and coaches.

“Well, [coach Mike] Birkbeck is from my home town, Orrville, Ohio, and so we have a lot in common,” Brenneman said. “I never got to meet coach [Scott] Stricklin, but I get a lot of emails from him. So I thought I’d come out and see them, and that’s one of the best things I’ve done in a long time.”

A resident of Bend, Ore., Brenneman has been following the team’s historic run in his own back yard. Brenneman said he thinks this team has the right stuff to be champions.

Another alumnus on hand — who knows a thing or two about championships — agreed with Brenneman.

PGA golfer and 2000 Kent State grad Ben Curtis was on hand to join his fellow alumni as the team prepares for the biggest game of the season.

“It’s such a huge deal for the university, it just shows you how competitive Kent State is,” Curtis said. “Some people don’t realize what a great athletic program we have and the efficiency that we’ve had.”

Curtis said he has been following the team since the regional rounds of the NCAA post season. With an opportunity at greatness, Curtis said that it is a well-deserved chance for a school that has given him so much in return.

“It’s a great university, it’s done a lot for me,” Curtis said. “It’s just fun and I told my wife that I can’t pass this up.”

A mother’s words of encouragement

Sophomore Derek Toadvine may best be known for his sprint to home plate off Jimmy Rider’s hit in Oregon to send the Flashes to the College World Series.

But to his mother, Heather Toadvine, he’s still just a kid living the dream that every five year old had.

“Derek, ever since he was 5 years old, has dreamed about playing division I baseball and professional baseball, but never in a million years did he dream, or I dreamed, that we would be attending a College World Series game,” Heather said. “More times than not, it doesn’t seem real. You get here and to see him out on a big field in front of 20-some thousand people and watching on TV0 — it’s just the most surreal experience we’ve ever had.”

A proud mother, Heather watched the final Oregon game in the bar of a hotel in Columbus.

“I was so nervous and when that ball dropped and Derek rounded third and crossed home plate, I started screaming, I was crying, my phone was blowing up,” Heather said. “It was absolutely amazing.”

With all of the team practices and preparation sessions, Heather has seen her son on a limited basis and spent time with him over dinner. Heather said she understands the importance of this game and just offered her son a few words of encouragement before the game:

“I just told him to play the game he knows how to play, and ‘I love you and wish you the best.’”

Follow @MLofgrenDKS for more updates from Omaha, and tweet at us using #FlashesCWS.

Contact Matt Lofgren at [email protected].