Fans welcome back national champions with epic downtown celebration

By Ken Lay

Tennessee baseball fans braved the heat and humidity to welcome home some of their favorite athletes early Tuesday night in Downtown Knoxville.

The fans made one more salute to the 2024 NCAA College World Series Champion Volunteers and Gay Street and Market Square were packed with Tennessee baseball fans, most clad in newly released College World Series Championship attire. Most others who hadn’t purchased their championship swag were clad in Orange and White.

The parade, which proceeded down Gay Street, was slated to begin shortly after 6 p.m. Festivities got underway a bit late because the Vols’ flight from Omaha was slightly delayed.

But none of that mattered to a crowd of nearly 50,000.

Fans began packing Market Square in the early afternoon and by the time coach Tony Vitello and the national champion Vols entered Market Square, things had reached a fever pitch as fans paid homage to the newly crowned national baseball champions.

Vitello said the championship was for everyone in Tennessee.

“This state is about unity and nowhere is that better exhibited than with this team,” he said. “This championship is for you.”

Vitello drew the loudest cheers from the frenzied crowd but there were plenty of cheers to go around as leadoff hitter and second baseman Christian Moore led the Vols onto the stage.

Moore, a fan favorite, made his own College World Series history when he became just the second player in history to hit for the cycle, pulling off that feat in the Big Orange’s series-opening comeback win over Florida State. He was one of many contributors in the Vols’ 12-11 comeback walk-off win over Florida State.

Moore joins Minnesota’s Jerry Kindall as the only players to hit for the cycle in the College World Series. Kindall did it in 1956.

Moore said the joy of bringing a national title back to Knoxville was a once in a lifetime feeling.

“I mean, that feeling of joy, I’ll probably never get again. Just being able to hug my brothers and be in that moment,” Moore said. “It’s definitely a beautiful moment, and I’m so glad I got to do it with this group of guys.”

Making Tuesday night’s celebration more special for Moore was the fact that he was snubbed by the SEC coaches in the league’s postseason awards, despite earing the triple crown in conference games (leading the league in batting average, home runs and RBIs).

Vitello acknowledged Moore’s accomplishments.

“No postseason awards for that guy, for some reason,” Vitello said of Moore. “Left off every list.”

Then, the coach pointed to the championship trophy and said: “Would you rather have those? Or would you rather have this?”

That question was rhetorical as Vitello took ownership of the crowd.

Kirby Connell, Zander Sechrist and Hunter Ensley also spoke at the championship celebration, emceed by John Wilkerson, the voice of the baseball Vols. Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon also issued a proclamation declaring June 25, 2024, Tennessee Vols Baseball Day.

The night was likely the final time that this historic group would be together. The 2024 Vols won both the SEC regular-season title and tournament championship and set a school and conference record with 60 wins in a single season. It also brought UT its first national championship in any sport since 2009.