|Standing at home plate in Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium (June 14, 2012)|
Growing up in Omaha, during the 80’s, making a trek to the College World Series was a given. Even if you weren’t a fan of baseball, the event was so much fun that it attracted people from all over. It was a carnival, with some baseball thrown in for good measure.
Back then, tickets were easy to come by. Perhaps this meant baking out in the sun, while sitting in general admission, but it was a party. You chanted at other parts of the stadium, hit beach balls at one another, and tried to snag a home run ball.
One of the best baseball games I ever watched was the 1996 NCAA Championship Game. LSU came back to beat Miami in the bottom of the ninth on Warren Morris’ home run. The crowd erupted.*
*LSU is one of Omaha’s adopted teams when it comes to the CWS.
As the CWS became more publicized, and was broadcasted by ESPN, demand for the event to grow increased. Not only that, other cities started to investigate whether they could host the CWS. This, and Rosenblatt showing its age, started the movement to build a new downtown stadium.
I liked Rosenblatt, but I was always in favor of a new stadium. I could understand the sentiment with Rosenblatt, but hardly anyone visited it outside the CWS. It was ageing, and falling behind other stadiums that had modern amenities. If it would be torn down it would allow the number one tourist attraction in the area, the (number one rated) Henry Doorly Zoo, to expand and grow naturally.
Most importantly, the new stadium would allow Omaha to keep the CWS for another generation.
I was always on board with the new stadium. I think a number of people in the area were.* We loved and appreciated the memories of Rosenblatt, but the decision for a new stadium was the best one for Omaha.
*I think former Mayor Mike Fahey was unfairly criticized, by a minority of people, when it came to building a new downtown stadium to host the CWS. I never thought this vocal minority had Omaha’s best interests in mind, and their histrionics were ridiculous. Sure, a decision like this wouldn’t please everyone, and healthy debate was necessary, but building the new ballpark was the right decision for Omaha.
The past few years the stadium debate has unfortunately drowned out the College World Series. Some in the local media seemed to have blinders on and always worked in the stadium issue into anything they were writing. One columnist even admitted as much when Fresno State won the CWS in 2008. It should have been a great moment for Fresno State, but instead some of the media focused on the stadium issue at Fresno State’s expense.
Because of this, I swung opposite field. It was reactionary to what I perceived as short-sighted thinking by some, but I was tired of always hearing about Rosenblatt in recent years. I wanted the new stadium to be built, and I wanted the CWS to start playing there as soon as possible. I wanted the focus to be back on the game and the players, not the politics.
I wanted Rosenblatt gone.
Last year was the first time the CWS was held at TD Ameritrade Park, and it was a success. TD Ameritrade Park is fantastic. It’s better than Rosenblatt in almost every way, except for history. I was able to attend two of the games, and the experience was great.
Last year’s CWS focused in on the new stadium, and the comparisons to Rosenblatt. It was understandable, but I was hoping this year’s CWS wouldn’t have any kind of stadium-related issue be a part of the narrative. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of reading about it. I don’t read certain journalists’ articles because of their recent history in covering the issue.
And this year, one of the CWS stories will be “saying goodbye to Rosenblatt”. The Henry Doorly Zoo is opening it up, for a few days during the CWS, so the public can walk through it before its torn down.
You know what? Good. One last chance to walk the park. Reflect upon some of the great memories. The first day it was open to the public, I went down over the lunch hour and walked around it.
Rosenblatt has been a wonderful part of Omaha’s history, and it hosted one of the cities’ premiere events for 60 years. I have some great memories from Rosenblatt. I’m glad the Henry Doorly Zoo is honoring it by developing the space, in its place, after it’s torn down.
While I’m grateful for TD Ameritrade Park being built, and excited for the possibilities with it, I’m also grateful for what Rosenblatt Stadium provided to Omaha for multiple generations.
So long, Johnny.
Click here to see a 360 panorama picture I took of Rosenblatt Stadium.