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The Road to Omaha: Top Ten reasons to love College World Series
By Allen Stoye , 55th Wing Public Affairs
/ Published June 17, 2008
OMAHA, Neb. --
Whether you've watched it on TV, or listened to it on the radio, until you've actually been here and experienced the atmosphere, you can't fully appreciate all that is the College World Series. So, with apologies to David Letterman, here are the top 10 things I love about the CWS:
There has always been a certain amount of love for newcomers or teams that weren't expected to be here. Oregon State became a fan favorite when they first arrived in 2006, and upstart Fresno State already has a following this year. Just as it is in the March Madness basketball tournament, we all love an upset.
There is one elevator in Rosenblatt, and it leads to the press box. It is believed by many to be the slowest elevator ever created. Legend has it that it is so slow an enterprising young man can meet a girl on the way up, and be married by the time he reaches the top. On opening day this year, I happened to be sharing the elevator with a colleague and Erin Andrews, the ESPN reporter that one might call easy-on-the-eyes. He tried his luck, hoping for a date. Sadly for him, no luck, which meant for an even longer elevator ride.
The side stories:
Last year, a former North Carolina player proposed to one of Offutt's finest whom he had met at the previous year's Series. Interesting trivia pops up each year, such as the last time Fresno State opened with a win in the CWS - it was 1959, and five-time national champion coach Augie Garrido was their starting left fielder.
Baseball is a game of superstitions, and, lest one forget, the Series was where the tradition of the rally caps was born. Maybe some of this goes away in the professional game, but the CWS is a stage like no other, with players refusing to step on chalk lines, carrying out rituals before each at-bat, wearing the same unwashed undershirts they have worn since Regionals to keep a good string going. I try not to get too close to those guys.
The activity outside the stadium:
There is no better tailgate party than at the College World Series. Go up to a Carolina tent, chat baseball, and get offered a brat. Hit the next tent that is covered in LSU's purple and gold, or the burnt orange of Texas, and have someone hand you a cold beverage. Heck, there are people that are here every year who come for the atmosphere, regardless of whether their teams make it--a few Mississippi State and Texas tents come to mind this year. From music and playing horseshoes, to just sitting around and shooting the breeze, these diehard fans are the heart and soul of the Series.
One might remember when the new Star Wars movie came out eight or nine years ago and the hype that surrounded it. I used to think those who camped outside of movie theatres for days to try to get an opening night ticket were a bit odd. Come to think of it, I still think they were odd. Out here, though, five days before the tournament started, people were staking out their tents getting ready for that tailgating discussed above. I can't fault their enthusiasm over the start of this superb event...and they weren't dressed up like Chewbacca or Darth Vader, either.
The Kids having fun:
There is a huge junior tournament here to coincide with the CWS, bringing youth teams from around the country. It's a pleasure watching coaches conduct teaching sessions as their teams watch the big boys practice. One can find kids that are filling their autograph sheets, and hear the shouts of the lucky few who win the scramble to come up with a foul ball. It is obvious for many of these young players, this is a trip-of-a-lifetime.
Rosenblatt is truly a melting pot. Represented in the crowd is a cross-section of America and one will find cute sleeping babies that ESPN is so fond of showing, to people who have been coming here for years, like Melvin Thomas, a spry 85 years young. "Mel T" they call him. He has been coming to the Series since it began in 1950, back when the paint was barely dry on what was then a wooden outfield fence and before this cathedral of a ballpark bore the Rosenblatt name. The sportsmanship is great. I haven't heard the crowd boo in the last five years and they will cheer a good play even if it is made by their opponent. Well, I take that back. There is one instance when I have heard boos, and it is directed at the poor ball girl. If she makes the mistake of not catching a foul ball that rolls down the protective netting behind the plate the boos will pour down like a winter storm in Nebraska. Of course, they cheer just as loudly when she catches it.
The Big Kids having fun:
There is something about college athletics, and even more so about college baseball, where scholarship limitations and roster restrictions have most players on a half-scholarship at most. These are players who genuinely love the game. They will stand up the whole game, arms hanging over the dugout rail, cheering their teammates. There is honest joy here, and it is a pleasure to watch.
1. Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium:
The Blatt. The Stadium on the Hill. It's been a political firestorm in Omaha over the past year, and now a new stadium is official. In a few years Rosenblatt will be no more. Tradition is to be replaced by luxury boxes and the site of many dreams and glories will be part of the Omaha Zoo. Oddly, one day after the NCAA signed their deal with the city for a new stadium--16 footsteps appeared in the infield grass. Stadium superintendent Jesse Cuevas is baffled by and can't figure how they got there with round-the-clock security. With no apparent start or stop, they track between home plate and the pitcher's mound. Although they have worked to correct it, one might pick it up during ESPN's broadcast, particularly during the pre-game, when players are lined up along the chalk lines. There is talk around these parts that it might be the ghost of Johnny Rosenblatt himself. Who knows? One thing is for sure, memories of the Stadium, and experiences within that great cathedral of a ballpark, will live on in the hearts and minds of countless baseball players and fans.