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Georgia baseball a hit with family, fans.

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Gerogia baseball a hit with family, fans

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Published on: 06/20/08

Omaha, Neb. When it became obvious two weeks ago that Georgia was going to advance to the College World Series, Greg Massanari began to analyze how much it was going to cost his family to attend.

Massanari, father of Georgia catcher Bryce Massanari, immediately began to inquire about the number of frequent flyer points it would take to get from his home in Las Vegas to Omaha via Southwest Airlines.

The result would make consumer guru Clark Howard very happy. Massanari was able to cash in enough points to purchase six tickets to Omaha for $2.50 each. And those seats were in coach, not steerage.

"That was to get out here," said Massanari. "I'm not sure how we're getting home."

Maybe that's where Massanari's trade will come in handy. He's pastor of the Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Las Vegas and any good protestant minister knows how to pass an offering plate.

Omaha may be close to the geographical center of the country, but it's not the easiest or cheapest place to reach, especially in these challenging economic times. A direct flight from Atlanta to Omaha could cost as much as $1,200 although snack service is included. Driving wasn't a great option; Omaha is about 1,200 miles from Athens and the cost of gasoline alone would be $300-$400.

That hasn't kept the Georgia fans from attending. Most flew into the area, many opting for a cheaper flight to Kansas City, a two-hour drive away. Christopher Lakos, the director of communications for Georgia's baseball team, said every player on the team has a relative in attendance this week.

"This is the best following out here we've had," coach David Perno said. "I think the Tech games in the regional really started creating some momentum, because a lot of people were tuned into those games. They saw us come through the loser's bracket and we won a lot of respect.

"So the Tech games, the Super Regional, beating Miami ... all of that has culminated in there being a lot more interest in us than before."

There are even non-related Dog fans who made a special effort to show up. Michael Ellison, a high school coach from Houston, brought his family to a Bulldog practice. His wife, Bronze Ellison and Melaney Perno, wife of Georgia coach David Perno, have a mutual friend. And Tyler, their 13-year-old son, has become a Bulldog fan.

Francis Martinez and his son, Antonio, 13, made the trip from Dallas. Martinez became a Bulldog fan during the nine years he spent in Atlanta, where he worked for The Fan radio station. He took a job with a sports station in Texas two years ago, but remains aligned with Georgia.

"I really wanted to come," Martinez said. "And I got lucky that Georgia made it."

So the Martinezes flew up, along with friend Mike Brenchley and his sons Matt and Brian. Martinez arrived on Tuesday, but had to fly home Friday morning without seeing the Bulldogs play.

"It's disappointing, but that's the way it worked out," Martinez said. "The kids have gotten a chance to meet a lot of the players and they've got a lot of autographs. It's been fun. It's a very cool atmosphere."

And as the team continues to win, its legion of local fans continues to grow. Although many of the Omaha locals remain neutral, the Georgia base has definitely expanded.

"The people who come every year kind of sit back, watch the games and formulate their opinion about who they want to cheer for," Perno said. "I don't know if it's because we play the short games or the exciting games, but I've heard comments that we play the game the right way. You like to hear that as a coach."

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