It has been said that people tend to return to their roots. A couple weeks from now I will be returning to my roots for an experience of a lifetime: helping cover the final College World Series baseball tournament at Omaha’s Rosenblatt Stadium.
What’s remarkable about this journey is that I didn’t plan it. There is no way I could have. In a way, it just happened. When this journey ends I will surely have feelings of bitterness, yet I’m counting on the memories to be sweet. I doubt you need me to tell you about how it came to be that the stadium where the championship team of college baseball has been decided for 60 straight years will meet its fate. My own story is similar.
Growing up in South Omaha
The son of a twenty year military veteran, I began to put down roots in South Omaha at the age of seven when my dad retired from the Air Force. The home I was raised in sits on 24th and D Streets, about three-quarters of a mile west of the main entrance to Rosenblatt. From the bedroom I inhabited, my view was over neighboring rooftops and a distinct valley dense with trees. Protruding from the treetops across the narrow valley were Rosenblatt’s stadium lights.
I could always tell if something was going on at “the Blatt” just by peering across the horizon. If it was a concert, I could hear it. Baseball games were evident by the long pauses between announcements and cheering. Fireworks were unmistakable and always inspiring to watch.
My exposure to Omaha politics
Like so many kids who grow up in South Omaha, I moved west when I outgrew Mom and Dad’s house – all the way to 35th Street (still in South O). That’s where I bought my first home – eleven blocks west and about five blocks south of my childhood home. Shortly afterward, in 1994, I learned first-hand about the city’s power of eminent domain to take property from individuals and turn it over to businesses. Where my starter home once sat, now sits a parking lot for the employees of a meat packing plant – a mainstay industry in South Omaha.
Although it was an entirely different mayor and city council than was behind the decision to demolish Rosenblatt, I learned in 1994 the same thing advocates for saving Rosenblatt learned in 2008: you can’t fight city hall. Well, you can, but it does no good.
With my settlement from the City of Omaha in the bank, I picked up and moved even further west and further south. This time to neighboring Sarpy County, just like the Omaha Royals (the MiLB tenant of Rosenblatt) will in 2011. Some have bagged on the Royals for not moving downtown to the new $130 million tax-payer funded stadium, but I don’t blame them for making a decision that wouldn’t support the city’s decisions. I know how bad it stings to be forced out of your home, especially when you have been a good citizen and member of the community.
New adventures lured me from the Omaha area to Colorado in 1996, where I have lived ever since. Years passed without me missing Omaha one bit. Then, on a trip back to visit family in the Rosenblatt neighborhood for Easter, 2007 a yard sign caught my attention: “Save Rosenblatt”. Nostalgia hit me like a ton of bricks. “Nobody is foolish enough to destroy Omaha’s crown jewel,” I assured myself. Or were they?
And so the story goes, big money trumps tradition. The city wins (what they won I don’t know), Rosenblatt fans lose. Thanks for playing. Heartache began to set in for fans of the stadium and the world series of college baseball.
For me, the road back to Omaha in June 2010 will leave a great big check mark on my proverbial bucket list. I will experience the championship series in a way few will ever get to: from the perch of the press box, attending as many games as I can handle, taking notes, taking pictures and sharing the whole experience with anyone who wishes to follow it.