Family matters drew me back to Omaha for the Fourth of July holiday in 2017, so I paid a visit to the Infield at the Zoo memorial at the original site of Rosenblatt Stadium. Below are a few pics and thoughts from my visit. (Click pics for larger view.)
Back story: What happened to Rosenblatt Stadium?
Immediately evident is the high level of creativity and planning that went into the memorial. It’s a scaled down, family-friendly Wiffle ball field that gives current and future generations a taste of the Rosenblatt experience.
When I arrived with my wife and her brother, we were the only ones there. Without question, the most prominent feature of the memorial is the massive arched Rosenblatt sign that once hovered behind the left field bleachers. It’s now propped considerably lower on a brick wall that stands roughly where the baseline between second and third bases laid.
Aluminum bleachers from the infamous general admission sections now serve as benches in simulated dugouts. As I took a seat on the first base dugout bench, I envisioned tiny tots running the bases after a trip to the adjacent Henry Doorly Zoo. I could also imagine twentysomethings gathering after work for a few innings of pickup wiffle ball while hydrating with adult beverages.
A few minutes before we left, a family lined the third base dugout bench, broke out their sack lunches and soaked in the vibes as they ate. My hunch is they were taking a lunch break from their day at the zoo.
Rosenblatt’s home plate is on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame museum in Cooperstown, NY so a replica now sits where the original was. The bases for the wiffle ball diamond are much closer to home plate than the standard 90 feet for college and pro games that were played here.
A nice touch of the new park’s design are three concrete “base bags” that rest atop yard-high brick columns where first, second and third bases would have been. Both foul poles remain exactly where they stood for decades at the end of the third and first base lines.
Visitors to the memorial can relax behind the “outfield” in one of the 100 or so colorful seats held back when the stadium was demolished in 2012.
Sadly, the infield turf appeared to be suffering from neglect. The grass was a very pale shade of green and a variety of broadleaf weeds had filled the cavities of sparsely turfed areas. Such condition would have never been allowed during the tenure of Rosenblatt’s veteran groundskeeper Jesse Cuevas.
Having seen the situation first hand, it is apparent that the primary reason Rosenblatt Stadium no longer exists is that the Henry Doorly Zoo – Nebraska’s top attraction by far – needed more space for parking. By noon on the Monday I went, visitors’ cars were already bulging out of expanded parking area that now includes the former Rosenblatt grounds. I estimated that the zoo was taking in a minimum of $50 per car in admission fees alone. Multiply that by a thousand new parking spaces (conservatively) and we’re talking increased revenues of $50,000+ per day. Tack on money spent for food, souvenirs and attractions inside the zoo and the numbers tell the rest of the story.
Parting thoughts: Its better than nothing. If you’ve read other posts in this blog, you know I was a huge fan of Rosenblatt Stadium and was a vocal proponent for keeping it around. I’ve been to the new stadium and still feel Rosenblatt was better. I am also a businessman and understand how strategic decisons are made. We all face disappointments in life that we have to move on from. I’m moving on. Visiting the Infield at the Zoo did not bring me joy. It didn’t cause pain either. I guess if Rosenblatt Stadium is no longer there, all that’s left is better than nothing.
By Paul Fiarkoski