Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Goodbye, Johnny! You Will Be Missed.


Help! Fearsome Frogs have invaded Omaha!

Once again it is College World Series, Omaha’s annual block party. Last night I saw the TCU Horned Frogs succumb to the Bruins of UCLA. Once the sun set, the evening breeze cooled us in a pleasant way. The evening was lovely, yet bittersweet.

This was the final CWS game that I will see in Rosenblatt Stadium.

The Johnny, as locals call it, hosts its 61st and final CWS this year. The facility is showing its age (aren’t we all?), and it would be nice to see the field of play from the concession area, as in most modern ballparks.

Johnny Rosenblatt was an athlete and local businessman and political figure who brought the CWS to Omaha:

Johnny Rosenblatt (1907-1979) whose name graces this ballpark, played amateur, semipro, and professional baseball before entering a life of public service. He located this hilltop site and pushed for its construction. It opened in 1948, and two years later, attracted the NCAA College World Series. Rosenblatt Stadium has won the hearts of those who have attended the College World Series.
Johnny, ebullient and upbeat, served as mayor of Omaha from 1954 to 1961, but was stricken with Parkinson's Disease in the prime of life. Omaha's Rosenblatt Stadium, also home to the Omaha Royals, has carried his name since 1964. Thanks to the dedication of the city of Omaha and countless benefactors, the stadium has evolved into a representation of what college baseball is all about -- teamwork, dedication and camaraderie.

More about the stadium and its history can be found on the CWS website.

Lots of traditions do not make the cut for the NCAA’s history. Every game, the general admission folks begin to chant “Right Field Sucks” and “Left Field Sucks.” Back and forth the verbal volleys fly, often for an entire inning. Contraband, highly illicit beach balls bounce throughout the stadium, although primarily in these outfield “cheap seats.” Last night, in addition to the occasional ball ponging about, left field got organized in this misdemeanor activity. They managed to keep about 40 inflated beach balls (and one inflated whale) hidden until the middle of the fifth inning. At that point zombie beach balls attacked. THEY WERE EVERYWHERE. Security and ushers rushed to remove errant balls from the field and delayed the game to expell at least two purported masterminds. Frankly, I found it delightful! To organize this crowd of strangers into an inflatable-toy flash mob required an impressive skill set, especially given the amount of beer some had consumer prior to entering the stadium.

A few years back, I bought tickets to the finals at a charity auction. My son, then in middle school, and I were in town without sister or father, daughter or husband. We attended every minute of the 3 game final series, including one which required 45 minutes huddling in the concourse during a thunderstorm. The temperature, about 95 when we entered the Johnny, dropped to 70. The souvenir shop sold out of sweatshirts in about 10 minutes. I did not rush to leave, even though I had to work the next morning. We stayed so he could see the victory dog-pile when the Oregon State Beavers claimed their title. My dedication to baseball during that series impressed my son, possibly more than anything I have else I have done. RoadtoOmaha

I understand the shortcomings of Rosenblatt. The CWS deserves a shiny new facility, although I wish it would still bear the name of the man who brought this event to Omaha, rather than the corporation who paid for naming rights. They can move the “Road to Omaha” statue there, but it won’t be the same.

Goodbye, Johnny. I’ll always love you.

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