OMAHA, Neb. >> Fans at the College World Series and across the Southeastern Conference may have never seen Preacher Franklin.
They’ve surely heard him.
Franklin is one of the two famous, or infamous, “Vanderbilt Whistlers,” and his distinctive chirps can be heard throughout stadiums the Commodores play in and in the background of television broadcasts.
Vandy fans love it, or at least tolerate it. Fans of the opposing team or neutral observers find it annoying. Really annoying.
The 72-year-old Franklin’s whistle typically goes nonstop between pitches.
“I can whistle all night, no problem,” he said.
He has had to pick his spots the last couple games of this year’s CWS, though. TD Ameritrade Park officials told him to knock it off after receiving complaints.
“It’s been dozens – over social media, via email, telephone calls and in-person complaints,” said Kristyna Engdahl, spokeswoman for the agency that operates the ballpark.
Stadium rules prohibit “disruptive noise making of any kind,” and violators can be removed. Ballpark officials aren’t whistling Dixie, and Franklin knows it. He and two friends drove 750 miles from Smyrna, Tennessee, to be here, and Franklin doesn’t want to get kicked out.
Franklin said he came to a compromise with the crowd manager overseeing his section.
“When Vanderbilt does something good, I’m going to whistle,” he said. “The guy told me I can whistle when they score or make a great play. We semi-sort of agreed on that. I call it a truce.”
The other whistler, Jeff Pack, hopes to come to Omaha this weekend, and Franklin will make sure to fill him in on the new ground rules.
Franklin said he was 6 or 7 when his older brother taught him how to whistle in his special way. As a kid, he said, he once whistled during a high school basketball game, causing the action to stop. That only encouraged him to keep whistling away.
He said he developed his passion for Vanderbilt sports in 1959, when a friend asked if he wanted to go to a Commodores basketball game. Vandy endeared itself even more to Franklin when the school donated used basketball warmups to his high school.
Franklin is semi-retired from his siding business, and he and his wife, Jacki, travel throughout SEC country in their recreation vehicle attending baseball games and, for football and basketball, games that are at home or close-by. Jacki stayed home this week to help take care of a newborn grandchild.
Jacki said by telephone from Smyrna that she isn’t entirely comfortable with all the attention her husband has received in Omaha.
“Even though the fans love it, I hope it doesn’t make a bad impression on Vanderbilt,” she said.
Hard as it will be, Franklin said he planned to his whistling under control as long as the Commodores are at the CWS.
“I’m going to try to stay within the limits or I’m going to push it as far as I can without getting thrown out,” he said. “The players love it. The coaches, I don’t know if they love it, but I don’t think they mind it.”