Walking around downtown Omaha near TD Ameritrade Park, there are a bevy of colors massing the sidewalks, restaurants, and hotel lobbies. Maroon for Mississippi State. Reds for Stanford, NC State, and Arizona. Black for Vanderbilt. Three shades of orange, including those clad in Virginia gear.
It had been six years since the Cavaliers had been to the College World Series, and Virginia fans were clamoring to get back on the scene. Among those fans is Cricket Morris, a Wahoo fan from Richmond, VA. Cricket and her husband John, a former track and field athlete from Virginia, traveled to Nebraska with an extra good luck charm: a magic bean of sorts.
The story of Cricket’s bean dates back several decades to when she was just a girl in fifth grade. She isn’t sure what it would grow into if it had been planted rather than used as a talisman of sorts, but Mrs. Morris found comfort in holding the small bean between her thumb and forefinger. It used to be her go-to on test day, sneaking it into school under her clothing for emotional support for everything but math. “I used to take it on test days,” Cricket said in an interview at the UVA Club’s gathering before Virginia’s game on Tuesday night. “All except math where I really needed the help, but he was a mean guy. I knew if he take it, I’d never see it again.”
The bean survived multiple house-cleaning purges, and it became a mainstay in Cricket’s hand during the 2019 title run for men’s basketball. “When we were playing Gardner Webb, we weren’t doing very well,” she explained. “At a timeout, John disappeared to put on some kind of favorite shirt, and I went up to my jewelry box and got the bean. I sat there for about 10 minutes trying to remember how I held that bean so that the good luck would work. Then finally came back to me, and we started playing better.”
Throughout the tournament, Cricket kept the bean close, including when they made the trek to Minneapolis for the Final Four. No one else was allowed to touch the bean, including her grandson. “He said, ‘Can I hold it?’ and I just shut my hands, and I’m thinking grandmothers aren’t supposed to do that!” Cricket said with a laugh and a big smile across her face. “But everybody around me after he left said it was a good call.”
After returning from Minnesota, the bean got a new home in a small, jeweler-designed “cage” that she wears on a necklace. Her one rule for the jeweler was that she had to still be able to touch the bean in her familiar fashion.
She’s worn the necklace for various other games — including football and basketball — and she’s hoping it’ll work it’s magic here in Nebraska.
In Omaha, UVA Clubs has organized multiple pregame and local events to host all the Cavaliers that have come to town. That coordination is multi-faceted in non-COVID times, and even more so as we continue to fight the tail end of the coronavirus pandemic. Robin Stafford, the Associate Director for UVA Clubs and Global Engagement at the University of Virginia and Elizabeth Muse, the Global Engagement and Constituent Relations at the University of Virginia have put together these events not knowing how far Virginia will go in the tournament or how many people will be around.
“We figure there are a number of people who come at the beginning, then go home, and they will be replaced as the week goes on,” Stafford said. “We’re looking at all our numbers with like 150-200. We’ve got all the team families, they are an automatic 70 they come to everything.”
Player parents like John Newell — father of Virginia centerfielder Chris Newell — are enjoying what he calls a “once in a lifetime experience.” The parents of pitchers Blake Bales and Andrew Abbott traveled to Omaha from Schoolcraft, Michigan and Republican Grove, Virginia, respectively. Jeanette Abbott called the games nerve-wracking, saying, “It’s not Virginia baseball without some drama.”
The drama for Thursday night was already high, but a three-and-a-half hour rain delay has heightened the tension around the matchup. Cricket and the magic bean are ready, however. Dressed in head-to-toe orange and blue at Barry O’s — the bar Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor used to work — she smiled and touched the necklace. “I wanted to wear just this one tonight. Let the bean do its thing. Everything happens for a reason.”
Virginia and Texas is set for a late start at 10:45 ET.