There’s a good chance that you’ve seen Sikes Orvis today.
If you’re in one of the thousands of cars that gets hung up on the new intersection at Highway 6 and West Jackson, your eyes have probably wandered toward a massive billboard that reads “This is Olemaha” and pictures the senior slugger mid-swing.
Such publicity is the price of being a senior captain of an SEC program, particularly one that enjoyed unprecedented success last year. Add a signature mustache to that face and a propensity for power at the plate, and you’ve got a surefire recipe for a fan favorite.
Such a whirlwind of publicity can make it difficult for many student-athletes to stay grounded. One doesn’t get the sense that Sikes Orvis is one of those guys.
He walks over to the dugout before practice and shakes my hand. He doesn’t make much eye contact during our conversation. This doesn’t come across as rude or aloof, though; he’s simply more interested in what’s happening on the field.
“I just got done shooting a thing for ESPN,” he says offhandedly. He squints through the sunlight at his teammates rolling up a tarp.
The mustache is gone. He’s opted for a moderate scruff that marks him as the 22-year-old college student that he is. But one gets the sense that he’s more comfortable like this anyway.
“We were playing down in Baton Rouge and one of the ESPN commentators said ‘Fear the Stache.’ Next thing you know, I get on the bus and I have about 200 Twitter notifications. I was being compared to the most random people.”
Fast forward roughly a month, and large groups of local schoolchildren with fake mustaches (boys and girls alike) are hanging a “FEAR THE STACHE” banner from the walls of Oxford-University Stadium for a midweek game.
“I saw the banner,” he grins. “I actually have [it] now, in my room.”
Among his favorite comparisons: John Kruk. A middle-aged Blockbuster employee. The security guard from Terminator 2. But one comparison, perhaps the most oft-cited, stands out above the rest.
“I’m a huge ‘Parks and Rec’ fan. I’ve seen every episode,” he grins. “Ron Swanson’s my favorite.”
Sikes is nothing if not self-aware. “I’m an old soul in a young body. I love the whole mustache look… [y]ou get the creepy looks. But I like to laugh at myself, and what better way than just putting a ridiculous mustache on my face?”
He also attributes some of his humility to the ribbing he receives from his teammates: “Christian Trent spent a good couple hours searching my name on Twitter to find a bunch of ridiculous stuff and making sure [he] showed it to me. We have a great group of guys, very close-knit, and we’re pretty good at picking on each other.”
Drafted by the Boston Red Sox out of high school, Sikes didn’t have to come be a Big Man on Campus. He chose to, citing the college experience and the idyllic atmosphere of Swayze on the weekends as major factors in his choice.
“It was a really cool experience getting to go out there and play a game up in Fenway. But I knew from the start that I really wanted to come to school. I knew I was going to play at one of the most beautiful ballparks in the country in front of some of the greatest fans.”
“I’ve played in some of the best atmospheres, and the best stadiums. Auto Zone in Memphis. Obviously, Swayze’s up there. Of course, Alex Box down in Baton Rouge is always real loud. Our  Super Regional down in Lafayette was something else. They had about 3500 fans, but it sounded like there was 30,000. I mean, they got after us.”
Orvis is no stranger to banter with fans, at home or on the road. Of course, as with any athlete in this day and age, he also owes a good bit of his celebrity to the effects of social media. Perhaps the best example is the prevalent hashtag #WhiskeyAndMeat that fans use when referring to him.
“That kind of came in with the whole Ron Swanson persona,” he explains. “Last year, me and my old roommate Austin Blunt were just kind of joking around. We’d say ‘Whiskey and Meat,’ and stuff like that, after I had a good game.”
“Couple of the fans started taking to it, and it just kind of blew up. Couple fans that, every game, always tweet ‘whiskey and meat,’ or, ‘get that guy a steak,’ all this funny stuff.”
And while he admits to enjoying a nice steak and a good whiskey, he again insists that this persona is perhaps another exaggeration.
“I wouldn’t consider myself a connoisseur. I’m still ballin’ on a budget, so, whatever my parents want to get me.”
While he may not come off as gruff and brooding as Ron Swanson, Sikes exudes the character’s no-nonsense practicality that belies his role as a leader for these young Rebs. “This year, being one of the older guys…[i]t’s a lot of responsibility,” he explains. “People recognize you now. You can’t just do whatever you want.”
“If I could start over and be a freshman all over again, I would right now.”
His gaze shifts back to the outfield. For a split second, he seems to let down his media-savvy guard and speak as a member of an SEC baseball team in the middle of some growing pains. With only three home conference series remaining, the time to pass the torch is rapidly approaching.
“I look out there, and a lot of times, it’s mainly just freshmen and sophomores. A lot of young guys being thrown into a tough situation early. But they’re really starting to come around… [I] think our best baseball’s ahead of us.”
He jogs over to his teammates at the tarp. And despite the fact that he’s towering over the highway at the first exit out of town, he seems to be altogether here, solidly rooted in the present moment, and enjoying every minute of it.