OKLAHOMA CITY – Brady Wilson and his West Virginia teammates have been in Oklahoma so long it only makes sense that they started acting like the locals.
This is Oklahoma, where disaster seems to happen, not as often as the sweeping winds come through, but often enough that people who are from here, live here and know the area, react accordingly.
So it only made sense Wilson and his team would do the same.
The West Virginia baseball team came to Oklahoma eight days ago. They came for a baseball series against Oklahoma State and then traveled about an hour back to the south to stay in Oklahoma City for this week’s Big 12 Conference baseball tournament.
They came for baseball, but they experienced another Oklahoma tragedy.
The National Weather Service said the path of Monday’s tornado was 17 miles long, 1.3 miles wide with winds over 200 miles per hour. It leveled houses and the Moore community, which is a suburb of Oklahoma City, just north of Norman and the University of Oklahoma and just minutes away from where Wilson and his team were staying in downtown Oklahoma City.
“We came down here with one thing on our mind, to play baseball,” said junior Ryan McBroom. “Monday, we saw what happened and we knew we needed to do as much as possible.”
That meant joining in. In Oklahoma there has been a bombing and a pair of devastating tornadoes which went along much of the same path as Monday’s monster. In each case, there’s been a rush to respond.
Within hours of the tornado passing through, the West Virginia baseball team, armed with a donation from the Friends of Mountaineer Baseball support group, was racing through the aisles of an Oklahoma City Wal-Mart, loading up supplies to help the victims.
“I was just glued to the TV,” said Wilson of watching the weather coverage. “After it hit, I texted coach and asked if there was anything we could do. Sitting here watching this disaster five miles from you is upsetting and you want to be able to do something about it.”
So they did. In part due to Wilson’s insistence, coach Randy Mazey organized the Wal-Mart shopping spree. And on Tuesday morning, the team, the coaches and everyone else associated with the program got in a bus and headed to Norman, Okla., where dormitories were set up to house those affected by the tornado.
“It was shocking seeing it all,” McBroom said. “People were in desperate need. Their cars were gone. Their animals were gone. Their houses were gone. We wanted to do as much as we could to help.”
The team spent more than $4,000 and loaded up the bus, delivered it in person and showed how even folks who had never seen a tornado outside of the movies can be right at home, even when they haven’t been in their own beds for a week.
“When we were passing out stuff it made us feel like we’re all the same,” Wilson said. “It doesn’t matter what school you’re at or who you root for, we just felt like we were at home. For us to go out there and help, it was the least we could do.”
On the way back, the team bus went through the heavily damaged area of Moore. They saw the piles and piles of debris. They saw houses in a heap. A bowling alley ground to dust. A giant theater with its roof ripped.
“I’m from the East coast, we don’t get tornadoes,” McBroom said. “Nothing like this at all. I couldn’t going to sleep knowing things like that are out there.”
So, while West Virginia’s season is likely over this weekend, barring a run to the Big 12 title, it’s not hard to cheer for the Mountaineers. West Virginia might as well have been the home team for the amount of good will the players built up, despite the fact Oklahoma City is just 20 minutes from Oklahoma’s campus and about an hour from Stillwater.
The Mountaineers had plenty of fans as they faced Kansas in the first game of the tournament Thursday. McBroom and Wilson were given T-shirts that had “Moore” on them and both said everyone has been so welcoming and grateful.
“Our goal wasn’t to get the publicity,” McBroom said. “Everywhere I’ve gone people have been thanking us, and that’s been great.”
Oklahomans help other Oklahomans when they are in need. It’s happened for years and it’s happened a lot.
It was the first time West Virginia players experienced it, though.
“I have had a lot of people tell us, ‘We’re your fans now,'” Wilson said. “I didn’t realize all of the attention and the support we’d get, though. It’s been a good experience down here, but it’s really sad to see what’s happened.” Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter @AndrewGilmanOK