by Paul Fiarkoski
Most people think of the College World Series when they think of Rosenblatt, but it was once the spot for way more than that. Here is what I say to anyone whoever came to Rosenblatt for the College World Series and thought it was the best party ever: “You ain’t seen nothin’!”
To this day, I have still never seen a more spectacular fireworks display than the ones at Rosenblatt. The people driving through Omaha on Interstate 80, even truckers, would literally just stop to watch the fireworks. The South Omaha neighborhood surrounding the stadium was ONE BIG PARTY. The residents would invite their friends and family over and it turned into the city’s biggest party. The prepping usually began a few days before the Fourth with lawn mowing, hanging up banners, etc.
On the night of the fireworks, usually the 2nd or 3rd, the entire neighborhood was virtually standing room only. The smell of barbecue, beer and sulfur from spent fireworks began permeated the air around noon. If you didn’t have a parking spot in the neighborhood or in someone’s yard by 4 p.m., that meant you would be walking a long way or watching the show from afar.
The home I grew up in was nearly a mile away from Rosenblatt at 24th & D Streets. We never had people park near our house for the College World Series. But for the fireworks shows, the curbs along the front and side of our house would be packed about three hours before show.
We always watched the fireworks right from the elevated deck on the back of my parent’s house. The Rosenblatt lights rose far above of all the treetops between our house and the stadium. The fireworks rocketed many times higher. I remember the first time I heard Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be American“. A local country radio station, KYNN if I recall correctly, had landed the rights to play about 25 minutes of patriotic music that was synched up with the fireworks display. This way, you didn’t have to be in the stadium to get the full experience. I was overwhelmed by the sense of pride I felt that night listening to Greenwood’s lyrics while being mesmerized by the incredible show choreographed by the famous Grucci family.
I couldn’t help wondering how much was spent on those displays or when the finale would come. The performance seemed to go on forever, yet it never got old. When it ended, there were 20-something thousand people inside the stadium would file out and hit the streets in their cars. Estimated crowds in the surrounding area often exceeded five times the number of paid spectators. This all led to huge bottlenecks in the narrow residential streets of South Omaha and on the adjacent interstate.
When I began dating the woman who would become my wife, she lived with her mom three blocks from the stadium. On Grucci fireworks nights, it was typically three hours after the fireworks show was over before the traffic jam subsided.
After decades of dazzling Independence Day fireworks shows, the skies over Rosenblatt remained dark for the first time in 2011. Many of the folks in Omaha, especially South Omaha, felt a great void. They have been sharing their thought on the Rosenblatt Stadium fan page on Facebook.