Sports
The greatest show on dirt

 

Bill Barrows at the NCAA baseball tourney in Omaha, Neb. Photo provided

By Bill Barrows

By the time that you read this, the College World Series finals will be in full swing. The CWS is the culmination of the NCAA Division I Baseball Championship tournament—featuring 64 teams in the first round—which determines the NCAA Division I college baseball champion. The eight participating teams are split into two, four-team, double-elimination brackets, with the winners of each bracket playing in a best-of-three championship series.  I had the privilege of attending this year’s festivities.

Since 1950, the CWS has been held in Omaha, Nebraska. It was held at Rosenblatt Stadium, on the south end of town from 1950 through 2010; starting in 2011, it has been held at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha, which is a beautiful stadium that is part of the Omaha downtown revitalization project that is ongoing.  “Ameritrade,” as the locals refer to it, is a site to see. The best way to describe it would be to say that it is a homey, modern ballpark steeped in tradition, yet affords the fans the chance to get up close and really enjoy games almost like you would at a local high school game.

ESPN broadcasts the entire tournament from start to finish and they have a huge presence in Omaha. The NCAA is criticized a lot over issues like amateur status, member school scandals, discipline to name a few, but they do a wonderful job putting on this early summer Midwest showcase. A friend is a media relations guru for the CWS and handles writers, TV types and social media services. He is outstanding at his craft.

The people of Omaha are very friendly and they are definitely a part of this show. I’m told that their volunteer force spans all ages. I spent some time talking to a retiree who has volunteered at the Series for several years. He has been an usher and an ambassador since the Rosenblatt days. A longtime baseball fan, he said he enjoys the people, loves talking to out-of-towners about the stadium and about Omaha. I spent a lot of time talking and observing the routine of the facility director. He is in charge of the facility year around.

The coordination of this effort is seamless. They have it down to a science. And I mean to the minute!!! There is a schedule posted in each dugout that outlines when the teams arrive, what time they are to stretch, take batting practice, take infield, when the grounds crew takes the field all the way to “the presentation of the colors”, the national anthem and the first pitch. I stood and watched on Sunday evening as the facilities director, standing a few feet away from me, talked to the umpires, then, instructed the ball girls, talked with a few dignitaries and then the head coaches. The coaches and players alike talk about how special that this event is and cherish it because it is a once in a lifetime journey.

I was afforded field access and spent time observing the grounds crew and listening to them as they went about their routine meticulously. They left no detail untouched. ESPN had them install microphone in the turf around the plate, the mound and they had microphones inside the bases. Those were checked before each game and all issues were reported to the facilities director.

The games were spectacular, especially if you are a baseball nut like I am. They were a cross between a college football game and a beach party. There were chants by fans trying to change their team’s momentum with each and every one. There were beach balls, known as contraband to the ushers, being volleyed around the stands. As college students do, they did the wave, then, they did a slow-motion version, then a high speed version. The carnival atmosphere was really something to behold.  The food was top notch. The regular fare of hot dogs, burgers cheese fries and popcorn, yes, they had them. But the Batter’s Box Nachos were awesome. They had BBQ Pork, pulled buffalo chicken and brisket chili topped with cheese. Or how about the Bratwurst Burger topped with Oha-slaw, a cool concoction made with a signature salad dressing made in Omaha. My personal favorite was the Cuban Dog. ESPN’s Edwardo Perez, of Cuban decent raved about it!

But the baseball was action packed and not without clutch hits and timely strikeouts.  Eight of the best teams in the nation, playing a game in a place made just for this event.  The CWS motto is “The Greatest Show On Dirt” and trust me, it is!

 
 
Posted on 2017 Jun 27