By now most readers of this blog have probably come to learn that I have had a life-long passion for my favorite baseball team, the Baltimore Orioles.
My close friends and family know that later in life I developed a passion for a college baseball team, the Florida State Seminoles.
For two seasons, in 2005 and 2006, I was the radio play-by-play broadcaster for FSU baseball. It didn’t take me long to learn of the program’s amazing history and many remarkable traditions along with its extremely loyal and passionate fans.
Duke has the Cameron Crazies and FSU baseball has a group known as the Animals of Section B. Their chants and cheers and traditions make every game at Dick Howser Stadium in Tallahassee special and every game there can feel like the World Series.
In the college baseball world, they are nationally known as probably the best fans anywhere. They love their team, but also have been known to give an opposing player a standing ovation for an outstanding effort on the field.
The leader of that fan group, Drew Hankin, was someone I met for the first time when I was flown to Florida to interview for that job in October 2004.
We became fast friends and Drew provided me with amazing knowledge of FSU baseball, past and present. He embraced me when I took over the job as announcer after the Noles’ legendary and longtime baseball broadcaster, Lee Bowen, tragically died in his sleep.
I was stepping into a tough situation, following a legend who was now suddenly and sadly gone. But so many people there treated me like one of their own and Drew topped that list.
In addition to his great work in the park as a fan and Animal leader - they called him the zookeeper - Drew produced an amazing Web site devoted to Seminole baseball, sectionb.com. Section B is where the Animals are housed at the stadium in Tallahassee.
Anyway, Drew let the fans know this new radio guy might work out OK and keep the tradition in the booth that Lee established. When Drew signed off on my hiring, others quickly jumped onboard because they respected him and loved him so much.
Early Thursday morning, while checking Facebook, I saw the news that has me still stunned.
Drew, known to many as “Madcow, ” his online moniker to many FSU fans, had died at 38. He had some health problems in recent years, but officials say he died of natural causes.
I don’t completely understand all this, but the part that is sinking in is that I lost a friend and FSU baseball will never be the same.
There will be a memorial service for Drew on Sunday. Not at a church, but at Dick Howser Stadium, where he was so well-known and where he loved to cheer on his Seminoles.
FSU baseball has produced many greats like J. D. Drew and Buster Posey. But fans of that program know Drew as well as any player. The Seminoles baseball community, of which I am a proud member, was rocked by this week’s news.
It wasn’t that long ago that Tallahassee Democrat writer Steve Ellis died too soon. Two guys I couldn’t wait to get to the park to swap stories with, Steve and Drew, are now gone.
The FSU baseball family will go on and they are sure to honor Drew in some special ways. Games there will still be amazing spectator experiences and, as always, FSU will have a top team and probably a national contender.
But Drew can’t be replaced and no one there would even dare try.
If you are ever anywhere near Dick Howser Stadium and the Seminoles are playing, by all means, go and enjoy a special college baseball experience.
You will marvel at the atmosphere several thousand fans can create.
Take time to go by section B and watch the Animals at work.
Be sure to ask some of them about Madcow. Then be prepared to spend an hour or two laughing some and crying some. It will probably be a ballgame experience you will never forget.
Click here to see an amazing story that Drew wrote about what happened when Providence College dropped its baseball program and played its last game in Tallahassee.
I may have actually taken this picture of Drew when we went off sightseeing one morning during the Seminoles’ trip to Hawaii in March 2005.
Here is another Animals’ tradition. They sing “O Canada” in the bottom of the fifth at every home game. Why? Click here, on this blog and click on the You Tube post and you will see and hear Drew explain the tradition and then hear and see the Animals singing.
Here is a release on Drew on the official FSU athletic website.