A couple days before the last College World Series began at Rosenblatt, I read a post on the Rosenblatt Stadium Facebook fan page that from my perspective could not ring any more true. It read, “2009 was the last year of the College World Series at Rosenblatt; 2010 will be a 10-day funeral.”
That’s the feeling I get here this week, like I’m at a funeral. Just as if people were coming for a wake, people are talking about Rosenblatt with nothing but respect, choosing their words carefully, so as not to disrespect the departed.
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You can feel it in the way people conduct themselves on the streets, at the tailgates, in the stands. There is something noticeably different about the feeling in the air at this year’s College World Series. On 13th street, you get the sense people are just going through the motions. They’re wandering around looking at things, mostly memorabilia, but they’re not excited about it. The vendors I have talked to indicate there’s a lot of browsing, but not as much buying as they’re used to. The exception is with anything that can remind them of Rosenblatt. People are snapping that stuff up: t-shirts, books, posters, photos, stadium replicas … even dirt from the infield. Which leads me to wonder if the reason that the City of Omaha secured the stadium grounds with a chain-link fence this year was to prevent looting. My only other hypothesis was that the pupose of the fence was to funnel more people past all the paid sponsors. No matter the reason, it deserves “bonehead move of the year.”
In the parking lot, the lucky ones who have cracked the code on finding a tailgate spot within the tightly secured compound seem to be doing it for the sake of nostalgia. It’s definitely not the party atmosphere we felt in 2009. Granted, LSU is not here this year but still, it’s just different. Last year there were meat smokers and grills galore (the smell alone would get your blood flowing). This year, the trend is toward meat and cheese trays. What? When I ask people about their plans for next year, their faces lose all excitement.
The Dale family has built a family tradition of tailgating at the College World Series, they’ve been doing it the same way for the past 26 years. This year the chain-link fence saga changed everything. They were able to secure a spot on the grassy area across College World Series Blvd. from Rosenblatt’s main parking lot. They even printed t-shirts this year to commemorate the event. Mike Dale, the patriarch, admits his health is declining and doesn’t know how much longer he’ll be able to carry on the tradition. So, he’s making sure his son Jason is prepared to continue his legacy when the new stadium opens downtown. Mike goes on to share that they have no idea what the situation will be like downtown. They’re prepared to rent out a meeting room at a hotel if that’s what it takes. Double-what?
In the stands, many of the traditions carry on. Beach balls bounce around the general-admission sections as in years past, with periodic chants that left field (or right field) sucks. But even in the stands, you get the somber feeling that its over. I spoke briefly in the stands with Jim Monaghan, who shared (with no lack of emotion) how torn up he is about losing the season-ticket seats he has occupied for 30 years. He’ll try out the new stadium, but he’s less than thrilled about it, especially considering his two season tickets in 2011 will cost him $3,300. His seats this year, in a comparable location, were $550.
Something new that fans are being exposed to this year are clips on the scoreboard screen from the NCAA’s new “documentary” about the College World Series. I’ve watched and re-watched The Long Home Run and have concluded it’s less about cherishing the memories of Rosenblatt Stadium and more about the NCAA trying to heal the wounds inflicted on the people of Omaha, local residents who love their stadium so much. Nevertheless, it is a program I think all sports fans should watch.
Fans are making their own documentaries by taking more pictures and video than I can recall ever seeing. They’re capturing every detail from every angle. Since when is it so important to have pictures of the ticket booth at a stadium? People are snapping pictures of signs, concession stands, seats, ushers, foul poles, the press box and, of course, themselves. For a snapshot in front of the infamous CWS statue, the wait in line is averaging about 10 minutes on game days.
The 10-day funeral will conclude either June 29 or 30, with the final dogpile at Rosenblatt. Shortly thereafter, fans, players, coaches, media and staff will form a procession out of the South Omaha neighborhood that has been to good to them (and Rosenblatt) for so long.