Is this Heaven? No, it’s Omaha

Omaha. It’s unassuming. It’s in the middle of nowhere. It’s surrounded by wheat fields and flown over by crop-dusters. But every June, it turns into a Baseball Mecca as Rosenblatt Stadium hosts the College World Series. People come from all over by the tens-of-thousands just to experience it. For this year’s Series, I came from Nashville, and my dad came from Wichita. We were two first-timers, coming to pay homage one last time to the ‘Blatt. You see, this year is the last year for the CWS to be played at Rosenblatt, the place it’s called home since 1950.

So what makes this place so special?

On any given day you might see the next great Major-Leaguer, a baseball legend returning to his roots, or balls flying out of the stadium at record pace. You’ll see beach balls flying through the outfield bleachers (much to the chagrin of the security guards), you’ll hear 25,000 people booing the ball girl when she drops a foul ball rolling off of the screen behind home plate and erupting in elation for her when she catches it, and you’ll smell the (World?) famous ‘Omaha Steaks’, although you might recognize them better by their name to those outside Omaha: hamburgers. Yeah, that’s right, their hamburgers are called steaks. Cocky? Maybe. True? After having enjoyed one, you betcha. Honestly, it’s that exact pride that exudes out of Omaha when this event rolls into town.

This week-and-a-half in Omaha is about so much more than just baseball. It’s the people and businesses of Omaha opening their doors (some almost literally 24/7) and standing with arms wide open welcoming the patrons and the players both. It’s about places like Starsky’s where they only serve beer until noon. Not because they’ll run out by then, but because liquor laws prohibit them from serving anything stronger until then.

It’s about places like Stadium View Sports Cards where they pass out FREE beer. They boast that they’ve given out over 40,000 free beers since the early 90s, and I wholeheartedly believe them. You can see why they call it ‘Stadium View’ and that they do give away free beer (even at 9:00 AM on a rainy Sunday morning):

It’s about the dozens of vendors who line 13th Street in front of the ‘Blatt selling everything from bats to shirts to shot glasses to branding irons that emblazon your favorite meat with your favorite team’s logo. It’s about the locals who pay $10 to park just so they can tailgate, as I found out after an impromptu conversation with one of them when I got back to our car:

Shirtless Guy playing a lawn game: ‘Hey man, who won the game?’
Me: ‘TCU was winning in the middle of the 7th when I left.’
SG: ‘AWESOME! I hate Florida State! Where ya from? (looking at license plate) Ah….Kansas.’
Me: ‘Actually, I’m from Nashville and my dad drove up from Wichita. We met in KC last night and drove up this morning. What about you?’
SG: ‘Local.’
Me: ‘So you’re just here tailgaiting? I love that!’
SG: ‘Yep, just here to have a good time!’

Isn’t everyone? That pretty much sums up the event. It’s a good time for everyone involved. As for TCU, they were this year’s Belle of the Ball. Each year it seems that Omaha ‘adopts’ an underdog as their ‘home’ team. This year’s darling was Texas Christian University. Led by a goofy left-handed pitcher (is there any other kind of left-handed pitcher?), they charmed the crowd with their ‘Why not us?’ approach and didn’t waste any time solidifying their place amongst the CWS perennials by putting up five runs in the bottom of the first inning of the opening game of this year’s Series against Florida State (this was FSU’s 20th CWS appearance). TCU got eliminated by UCLA on Saturday night, but not for lack of crowd support.

This is the last year that the CWS will be played at Rosenblatt. Next year they move to the shiny, new TD-Ameritrade Park. Will it be an upgrade? Depends on who you ask. For myself and the other baseball purists, it’s not. Honestly, I don’t think it’s even a lateral move. I think it’s a $128 Million downgrade. You’re taking away tradition. You’re taking away dreams. I didn’t grow up dreaming of playing in a multi-million-dollar stadium. I grew up dreaming of playing at Rosenblatt. Don’t get me wrong, Rosenblatt is an old, rundown stadium. To think that the the other weeks of the season when the CWS isn’t in town it’s a Triple A park is pretty sad. Considering the guys playing for the Omaha Royals are one step away from the Majors, they definitely need something nicer. The new park will definitely serve that purpose, but at what cost?

For me, the CWS isn’t about the stadium. It’s about the whole experience. There’s nothing special about Rosenblatt, yet there is EVERYTHING special about Rosenblatt. The people milling around, the vendors, Zesto ice cream and cheesburgers (better than Omaha Steaks for my money), the players getting dropped off directly in front of the stadium and walking through the throngs of fans lined up on either side of them. It’s an experience. It’s a tradition. It’s home. At least for a couple more games.