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A Rosenblatt lover’s review of TD Ameritrade Park

I am aware that dozens of writers have already made comparisons of Omaha’s new TD Ameritrade Park to the condemned Rosenblatt Stadium three miles to the south. However, I feel like I needed to write one on behalf of the people who really loved Rosenblatt Stadium. If you’re looking for the quick conclusion to my review, here it is: I liked the overall experience at Rosenblatt way better!

Need more background? Read What happened to Rosenblatt Stadium>>

My first visit to TD Ameritrade Park was the evening of day four of the 2011 College World Series. I arrived so late in the game that I didn’t bother going to the game. I parked my car at an open meter about three blocks south and wandered around the new baseball village that is reportedly owned in part by Omaha’s former mayor who was in charge at the time the decision for a new stadium was made. I was rather impressed with the layout of the “village”, although it really lacked people on that night. As I continued my stroll around the vicinity I was hit with the overwhelming feeling of “where am I?” Twenty years earlier I served a summer internship for the Omaha World-Herald in the same general area and spent quite a bit in north downtown. On this visit back to the area I did not recognize it whatsoever. I remember thinking to myself as I jumped back in my car to go meet some people in the Old Market, “why wasn’t this here when I lived in Omaha?”

I went back a few nights later for a cold one after covering the marathon Friday night game between Virginia and South Carolina and the place was crawling with drunks. About thirty minutes before every other bar in Omaha celebrates last call, I was forced to toss a quarter of my 40 of Bud Light when the testosterone fortified security personnel (off-duty Omaha Police officers) told me I, and everyone else, had to leave. Shortly after being herded out like a cow being prodded to the kill floor of a South Omaha packing plant, I thought I was going to have to duke it out with an intoxicated muscle head who tried to throw a shoulder at me just outside the village.

Parking & tailgating
Day five of the College World Series was my first day to go inside the new stadium. Before going in, I had to park in Lot D featuring the bubbling spring on the north end. I arrived 90 minutes before the game parked at the far east edge of the lot to preserve up close spots for other fans. (Clue: there were never empty spots at Rosenblatt 90 minutes before a game.) The few tailgate parties I saw paled in comparison to Rosenblatt tailgates by a long shot. There were no smokers or deep fryers; just a few coolers and propane fired tailgate grills. The most active gathering I saw was a gathering of about a dozen people around a tent near the space closest to the stadium. It was clear from the banners they flew proudly that the party’s underwriter was the advertising agency of record for College World Series Omaha, Inc.

Press box
Once inside the business end of the stadium I got a taste of what others mean when they have said the new stadium is “sterile”. I felt like I was in a hospital. I am not alone in my assessment that the press box set up was much better at Rosenblatt. I overheard one reporter say he felt like he was covering the games in a library. My particular beef with the press box at TD Ameritrade is that the glass panes are narrower than at Rosenblatt, so you have more vertical lines disrupting your view. On Day 1 of the series, a number of media members complained on Twitter about spotty wifi access in the press box. I’m sorry, but that should not happen at a brand new, state-of-the-art stadium. Even the press box at 62 year-old Rosenblatt Stadium had good wifi.

The next day I vowed to get out into the stadium to get a taste of the fan experience. To say the least, I was impressed. Some have said TD Ameritrade Park has a big league feel to it. I would say it doesn’t. It’s actually better. Most big league parks are so big that you don’t feel like you’re close to the action. I tested out numerous vantage points from around the main level and all the views of the field were great. I did not make it to the upper deck. While I’m on the topic of views, I much preferred the view of treetops and the valley beyond at Rosenblatt than the buildings poking up around downtown Omaha. Regarding the grass on the field I have mixed feelings. It sure looked pretty; however, since the most common question I heard about the turf was whether it was real (it is), I would have to give it a thumbs down.

On the topic of the new stadium experience becoming the corporate world series as some have suggested, I have to say that it wasn’t as corporate as I expected. Even in the area surrounding the stadium, I didn’t get the overwhelming feeling of being suffocated by commercialism. In fact, I would say that by draping a huge tarp of some kind over the TD Ameritrade sign above the scoreboard, the NCAA would strike virtually all commercialism from the College World Series experience. Unlike at MLB or minor league games, where nearly every turning point in the game is sponsored by somebody, you just don’t get that at the Trade during the CWS. A few weeks prior to the CWS, I did notice during an ESPN broadcast of a Creighton-Nebraska game that the on-deck circle was emblazoned with the logo of a large Omaha bank. Still, that didn’t detract from the game. Anyone not familiar with the bank wouldn’t have even known it was a logo.

The scoreboard and video reply monitor at TD Park does not stack up to the one at Rosenblatt. If it’s not smaller, it sure looks like it and it doesn’t display as much information. At Rosenblatt, you could see information not just about the current batter, but you could also see who else was in the lineup. Not so at TD. Others have told me that the lineup is displayed at TD, but it’s definitely not as present as it was at Rosenblatt. The other thing I liked seeing at Rosenblatt was the pitch speed display. I looked all over and couldn’t find the pitch speed anywhere at the new stadium. One final gripe I have about the scoreboard is that everytime I look at it, I am reminded how much money I have lost in my IRA at TD Ameritrade and how difficult their statements are to read (zing!). Remember the arched Rosenblatt sign over the scoreboard at Rosenblatt? What a classic!

One thing that is vastly improved at TD is the concessions. Truthfully, I only bought a pretzel and a souvenir cup of Dr. Pepper but there was virtually no wait, and the ambience was much more inviting than at Rosenblatt. The people I am happiest for in the whole move to the new stadium are the concessions workers. I always felt bad for the sweaty folks working in the hot, cramped confines of the Rosenblatt concession stands. My younger sister was one of them once upon a time. I’m glad that they can now work in greater comfort. The menu boards are attractive and easy to read too. One myth about TD Ameritrade is that you can watch the game while you stand in line. I actually lost my place in line because I heard the crowd roar and ran to the railing to see what caused the ruckus. By the way, the railing around the lower reserved seats is a nice touch. I like the fact that you can set a drink on the narrow counter top or take notes if you want to.

On a personal note, I was bummed that you can no longer buy the curly fries inside the stadium. I always looked forward to the curly fries at Rosenblatt. Nor can you buy an Omaha Steaks sandwich at the stadium or have a cold “Jesus” water handed to you on the way in. These things may be available down at the corporate Baseball Village a few blocks away (I didn’t bother to find out), but not in or immediately around the stadium. Most people won’t even notice since Famous Daves BBQ sandwiches and plenty of other goodies are still available.

The statue
I can summarize what has happened to the famous Road to Omaha statue in one word: gag! They relocated it from Rosenblatt and placed it right in front of a bland, colorless, tiered concrete wall flanked by the arched stairways leading into the main stadium entrance behind home plate. In its current location, it’s virtually impossible for fans (or players) to get a picture in front of the statue without including people walking up the stairs or the tacky TD Ameritrade side in the background. I saw team pictures shot from a virtual profile angle in order to get everyone in the picture. In order to stand far enough back to get a group photo straight on, the photographer would be standing in the street. Thankfully, somebody had the good sense to plop a few bushes in behind the statue prior to the 2011 College World Series, so as to give a little color to the backdrop.

The stadium lights
I’m sure the stadium lights at TD Ameritrade are far superior in terms of candle power and efficiency or whatever metric stadium lights are evaluated by. Dozens of very luminous bulbs are stretched across a bar of metal that measure 40 to 50 feet long on all sides of the stadium. There was certainly no lack of visibility during the night games. Still, I prefer the old school lights perched high above Rosenblatt. One other thing about the lights at the Trade is that the light structure rising above the third base side of the stadium casts an odd, rapidly moving shadow on the field for an hour or so before sundown.

I may think of more attributes to cover and add them to this post at a later date. Please don’t take my word for it. You owe it to yourself to go and form your own opinions, especially those of you who have experienced Rosenblatt.

My conclusion is this: there was something infectious about Rosenblatt that made you want to come back again and again. Having spent several days at the new stadium, my feeling when I left was “Okay I saw it, so what?” I liked the overall experience at Rosenblatt way better!



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Remembering Rosenblatt Stadium – the concert venue

In the 1970s and early 80s concerts at Rosenblatt Stadium were a big deal. Many times in my early teen years, my buddies and I rode our bikes or skateboards down to the stadium during concerts. We had no plans, or means, to get into the concerts but it was just fun to be a part of all the activity taking place around the stadium. We would hang out for a while on one of the street corners just watching people as they made their way to the stadium. Once everyone was inside the stadium we would make our way back home.

Summer concerts at Rosenblatt were especially good for people watching as a pubescent male who attended a Catholic grade school because that was about the only opportunity to get glimpses of busty, tanned gals in halter tops. We often dreamed about the day we would be able to make it into a concert and how we would dance around with all the girls.

The Beach Boys
Finally, my shot came one summer in the early 80s. The Beach Boys were coming to Rosenblatt and my brother, nine years my senior, offered to take me along with his friends. I would have been twelve or thirteen at the time. I remember many things about that first concert experience and few of them had to do with the music. In particular, this was my first exposure to people openly consuming large amounts of alcohol and it was my first time ever smelling marijuana. I remember thinking how all of it made people just a little bit crazy.

Here’s what I mean by crazy. While standing in line to use one of the portable jons that had been arranged in a row to the north of the third base line stands a hairy, buff shirtless guy walked by with a Beach Boys button pinned right into his chest! He seemed not to care, or even know, that a trickle of blood was matting the fur on his front side.

Moments later, just as my turn to relieve myself approached, a couple of guys came up from behind one of the portables and dumped it over with someone inside – and the door facing down! You would have thought the Tazmanian devil was trapped in that bivvy the way it rocked back and forth as the lad trapped inside tried to free himself. The rest of us stood around in stunned amazement with a blanket look of “what do we do?”

Certainly, nobody in our group dared to help raise the portable back to an upright position with all the profanity-laced threats coming from within. There was no telling what this guy was going to do once he got out. So we did the only logical thing and split.

For big concerts like this that weren’t affiliated with a baseball game, they would set the stage up on the warning track along the wall in right centerfield. Concert goers would spread blankets out all over the outfield turf and party it up for an hour or two in anticipation of the show starting.

I’m not sure who thinks to bring beach balls to Rosenblatt events, but it seems there were always plenty on hand even back in the 80s. Waiting for your turn to volley the rainbow colored sphere is a great way to keep your mind off the anticipation of the opening number.

As soon as the mic checks began, fans would jump up and begin crowding toward the stage. Thankfully, my brother and his friends had the good sense to hang toward the back of the crowd for the Beach Boys concert.

The Police
My next most memorable concert at Rosenblatt was in 1982. The Police were on tour after the release of their Ghost in the Machine album. While most of my friends were into bands like Lynrd Skynrd, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC and other hard rock groups, I had become quite a fan of the Police.

I talked one friend into going to the concert with me, then saved up money from my paper route to buy a ticket. As with the Beach Boys concert, I only have vivid memories of a couple elements of the night. One was the walk to the stadium with my buddy. It was so hot we were sweating like crazy when we got there.

I also remember being upset that we didn’t get there early enough to get anywhere near the stage. We endured the opening band and intermission, beach ball volleys, sound check, etc. before the Police came out.

Finally, the pinnacle moment of my summer had arrived. The Police – live and in person! That didn’t last long. About three songs into the set some joker tossed a bottle in the midst of the band and the Police were done. My final glimpse of the band was the Police zipping away in limos behind the right field wall.

I couldn’t believe what was happening right before my eyes. The moment I had been waiting for all summer vanished just like that. I still haven’t forgiven the bonehead who launched the bottle on stage.

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Remembering Rosenblatt Stadium: the fence debacle of 2010

For an undisclosed reason, the City of Omaha decided 2010 was a good year to secure the entire Rosenblatt Stadium campus with a 6-foot-high chain link fence, allowing admittance only through designated entry points and disrupting traditions that fans had built over a few decades.

In years past, locals traditionally staked out their tailgating spots up to a week in advance by putting out the frame of their party tents. They would chain the frame to a tree, light pole or other stationary object, then come back when the College World Series started to install the canopy and layout the rest of their party.

Tailgating tent frames at Rosenblatt

Tent frames stake out would-be tailgating spots one week before the start of CWS 2010

Shortly after the tent frames shown here went up in 2010, there was a media blitz in Omaha telling people to come take down their tents because “maintenance crews needed to mow the grass”. Any tent frames still there the Monday leading up to the College World Series were going to be disposed of, people were warned.  One fan reportedly traveled all the way from Chicago to remove his tent.

Come Monday morning, the city did more than mow. They swiftly erected a temporary but stable six-foot high chain link fence, in effect closing off access to tailgate parties to anyone who didn’t have a reserved parking space.

Following are the reactions of a few Rosenblatt Stadium fans on Facebook when news of the fence broke:

“They fenced in the ENTIRE lot … no more ability to leave your tailgate up in the grassy areas. You have to have a parking pass and set up/break down every night. And you can’t “walk” beer into a tailgate … it has to come in via car. Absolute travesty.”  Marc Pena

“I like some of it. I always wandered how the same people always got the grass spots. You should have to pack up and leave every night. There isn’t going to be any tailgating at the one downtown so probably just getting you ready for what is to come.” Jeff Sila

“The last year at Rosenblatt for CWS. Fans and supporters have come to love the place, the atmosphere, the operations as they are — good, bad, quirky or whatever. So the city decides to make this adjustment and change the experience for the last year. I don’t get it. The cries of “efficiency” fall on deaf ears when I consider other areas of city responsibilities.” Mark Kirchhoff 

“Sure you can put them [awnings] out, if you are somehow lucky enough to get told to park by a median, then you have to take them down and start over the next day. Grrrrrr!!!!!” Kelly Secord Cheshier

“The neighborhood might be ready, but the tailgaters are ticked that the city won’t let them put up their tents on the grounds any longer.” Sean Weide

The party went on, but the festivities paled in comparison to prior years. What I experienced during College World Series 2010 were folks sort of going through the motions as I detailed in my blog entry, The Ten Day Funeral.

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My love-hate relationship with the NCAA

I love NCAA athletic events. College football was my first love. Having grown up in Nebraska it was a natural choice. Husker football is religion in Nebraska.  After I moved to Colorado, I expanded my horizons a little. I’ve dabbled in college hockey, basketball, soccer and gymnastics. Recently, I even watched a regional college golf tournament that was being hosted at the golf course in my neighborhood.

Is there anything more inspiring than watching amateur athletes pour their heart and soul into the fight? For them, the victory usually means nothing more than bragging rights or the thrill of hoisting a trophy above their heads. That moment of victory makes all blood, sweat and tears they put into there sport worth it.  No salary, no retirement pension, no cash bonus. Just tuition assistance (for some), and a little notoriety once in a while.

Even though I am a terrible golfer and have actually come to loathe the sport, I couldn’t resist the urge to go watch last week. The feeling took over me when I approached our subdivision from the adjacent highway and saw the NCAA Regional Championships banner prominently place into a well manicured patch of turf.

Without the aid of TV announcers or subtitles I had no idea who the players were that I watched, but I know they were the best players from the best golf programs in the region. Not a touch of arrogance about them whatsoever, each player carefully studied the course, assessed the conditions and played his best shots. Meanwhile, officials hovered over the finalists, presumably to make sure they didn’t take any extra swings or get any tips from folks like me.

My initiation to the NCAA as a governing body came around 2005 when I heard about a dispute between the NCAA and Jeremy Bloom, a University of Colorado athlete. As bright as Bloom’s athleticism shown on the football field, he was even more dazzling on skis.

Bloom was seeking sponsors to help fund his travel and training in order to prepare for the 2006 Olympics. The NCAA stepped in and said that he was violating the “code” of amateur athletes. Thankfully, Bloom persisted. While he was declared permanently ineligible to play football by the NCAA for accepting sponsorship money, his career includes two trips to the Winter Olympics and a stint in the NFL.

In a recent interview, I heard Bloom share his perspective on what it felt like to walk around campus seeing his name on the back of jerseys worn by fellow students knowing that while he received no compensation for the sale of his name, the gear maker, university and the NCAA were all cashing in on his name.

On September 2, 2010, I attended a Colorado Rockies baseball game in Denver with a couple of buddies who were former NCAA athletes. Back in my childhood neighborhood in Omaha, the final baseball game ever was being played at Rosenblatt Stadium. I could hardly focus on the MLB game before me as I continually checked my smart phone for Twitter posts from fans at last Omaha Royals game at the legendary stadium.

A few beers into our guys night out, one of my pals commented on my obsession with my phone. That’s when I blubbered a comment about the NCAA ruining one of the best experiences in college sports by threatening to move the College World Series from Omaha if a new stadium were not built. I followed with the sentiment that the NCAA stands for Nazi Control of Amateur Athletics.

We toasted with our beer cups as both emphatically agreed with my assessment, then each proceeded to share their own experiences of how NCAA rules made life in college hell for them.

My statement was based mostly on the experiences I had at the College World Series a couple of months earlier. I had been recruited by a college baseball blogging site to come and help cover the last College World Series Rosenblatt. The opportunity afforded me an in-depth look at how the NCAA does things behind the scenes. Don’t get me wrong, most of what they do is necessary to help prevent chaos. Yet, they have implemented such strict rules governing behavior in the press box and a post-game conferences that it’s a challenge for reporters to produce a unique story.

As if the rules weren’t enough, the aspect of control that still stands out most for me was how the water cups bearing the name of a prominent NCAA sponsor were carefully placed as props on the table for players and coaches who would face the press. Interestingly, in roughly ten days of press conferences I think I saw only one player drink from his cup.

Still, the relationship continues. I love college sports more than ever. The NCAA I could live without.

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Creighton changed everything

Prior to 1991 people didn’t wait in line to watch baseball at Rosenblatt. Then Creighton changed everything.

I wasn’t much of a fan of Creighton growing up. The school just didn’t do anything for me. It produced doctors, lawyers and politicians – the kinds of people I was told as a kid I shouldn’t associate with. And besides, my family could never afford to send me to school there. It’s where rich kids go to school, I was taught.

I used to love it when one of my professors at UNO (Univ. of Nebraska, Omaha) worked little digs into his lecture about companies hiring “cheap Creighton grads.”

Having graduated from UNO in 1990, I entered what may have been the happiest phase of my life. I was twenty-three, free from the burdens of school and stayed in great shape tending to the landscapes of many of Omaha’s aforementioned doctors, lawyers and politicians. They really opened my eyes. Not all rich people were heartless money grubbers as I had been led to believe. I learned they valued hard work and doing a good job as much as I did. They rewarded me with repeat business and referrals to the point I had to start turning down clients.

Something else happened in 1990 to change my perspective of Creighton. A friend of a friend invited me to play volleyball on a league at the Bluejay Bar on the southwestern edge of campus. At the time I was sharing a house with a buddy about three minutes away. I loved playing volleyball, drinking beer and the opportunity to meet chicks, so how could I refuse?

Over the course of the summer, I discovered Creighton kids were no different than those of us who went to the “other” university in town. They liked beer, volleyball and loud music as much as I did.

Next door to the Bluejay was Stan’s Barbershop. I traded philosophies with Stan one night over a beer after a volleyball match. Then he became my barber. I was now getting my hair cut in the same shop as Creighton kids.

I grew to know and appreciate a number of Creightonians that summer. They even invited me to a wine and cheese social known as Jazz on the Green at the nearby Joslyn Art Museum, the curator of which was a client of mine.

What was happening to me? “How long could I keep this secret life from my friends in South O?” I wondered.

The next summer, in 1991, it would all become okay. That’s when Creighton’s baseball team somehow accomplished a feat no school from Nebraska had done before them. They earned a trip to the College World Series. Okay, the trip was just across town, but they would compete with the seven other best college teams in my neck of the woods, at Rosenblatt Stadium. For an entire week, it seemed like everyone in Omaha swapped out their Husker red for Bluejay blue.

Before 1991, getting tickets to the College World Series was like getting a ticket to a matinee movie. There were times I had so many offers for free tickets from friends that I became choosy about whose seats I would accept. We all knew that if you had a ticket to a game it was like a day pass to all the games being played that day.

Enter the Creighton Bluejays into the tournament and all bets were off. The College World Series instantly became the hottest ticket in town. It seemed like everyone I knew was loading up on the ticket books being sold at local grocery stores. Even my new girlfriend and I bought tickets.

Wendi and I began dating in January. At the time, Wendi still lived with her mom about three blocks west of Rosenblatt’s home plate. That meant free parking and easy access to the stadium whenever we wanted. We continued to leveraged the benefit well after we married and moved out of town, clear up until the final season in 2010.

I’m ashamed to admit that without the help of the internet I wouldn’t be able to tell you a single player’s name from the 1991 team. Nor could I remember the coaches’ names, nor how many games Creighton played or how well they played. What I can tell you is that the one Creighton game we attended at Rosenblatt was packed. Plus, it was hot as hell. We waited at least two hours in the general admission line out past the third baseline stands just to get in. Then, we got baked in our old-school wooden bleacher seats just beyond the left field wall. I don’t think I ever drank so many three dollar Sprites before or since.

According to the record books, Creighton went two and two in the 1991 tournament. Both losses were to conference rival Wichita State. It didn’t matter that they didn’t play for the championship. By making it into the top eight they earned the respect of college baseball fans. More importantly, they made believers out of the people of Omaha. In so doing, they gave the College World Series a boost past the proverbial tipping point.

There is no doubt in my mind that the 1991 Creighton team drew thousands of people out to Rosenblatt that may have otherwise never stepped foot inside the grand old ballpark. Apparently they liked what they saw. If you look at the stadium’s history on a timeline, it’s clearly evident that Creighton’s presence at the College World Series, along with greater tv coverage, was the catalyst for a boom era at Rosenblatt.

In the twenty years since Creighton’s debut at the College World Series, numerous renovations and upgrades to the tune of millions of dollars nearly doubled the seating capacity of the stadium.

Much to my disappointment, the Rosenblatt Stadium era has come to an end. This year the CWS moves to a new stadium just blocks from the Creighton campus. Having won the Missouri Valley Conference championship in the regular season, Creighton earned a spot in the NCAA tournament of sixty-four teams. It seems the Jays are intent on making an impact at the new stadium too.

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The Rosenblatt sledding hill – deep snow, deep shit

Hill on north side of Rosenblatt Stadium. Courtesy collegebaseballlineup.com

Over the years I have heard people say that the hill on the north side of Rosenblatt Stadium was at one time the best sledding hill in Omaha. It wasn’t. But I wouldn’t have hesitated to give it the silver medal for second place. That was before someone had the bright idea to level out and pave the northernmost half of the hill.

Without a doubt, the best sledding hill in Omaha is about three-quarters of mile south of Rosenblatt on 13th Street. Hook a sharp right at Spring Lake Drive and there she is. I try to avoid traveling back to Omaha (from Colorado) in the winter, but as far as I know, the hill in Spring Lake Park is still the bomb diggety.

Sledding as a kid
When I was a kid the snow riding vehicle of choice was a tube, not those decorative little over-sized vinyl floaties with handles you see on the hills today. We used real tubes from real trucks. It’s important that you know Omaha, especially South Omaha, is a pretty big hub for truckers. That meant we had an ample supply of truck tubes.

Just down the street from my house was a place that repaired tires. My buddies and I would keep an eye on the scrap pile after hours and pull out the truck tubes that we knew had potential. We would take the tubes home and patch them up and give them new life.

As hard as we tried, we could never get all the grime off the tubes with a garden hose. So until we rubbed them clean on the snow, those first few runs were slow going. We made quite a mess of our coats – and the snow – as we glided in prone position down the slopes. Once you wore all the nasty tire residue off the tubes, they would cruise down the hill with the speed and grace of a Lincoln Continental.

The trouble with the Spring Lake Park hill was that everyone knew it was so good. That meant that about three hours after sunrise on the day after a snowstorm, the snow was rubbed down to bare dirt and grass.

The hill at Rosenblatt
It was times like these that we relied on Plan B and headed over to Rosenblatt. It’s a short shot by car, but before any of us could drive this meant trudging across sometimes unshoveled sidewalks up hills with big honking tubes draped over our shoulders. But we were kids with the need for speed, so off to Rosenblatt we would go. The thing about the hill at Rosenblatt was that it faced due north. And it had pretty big berms built into the side of it for erosion control. That translated into big snow and big air.

The problem with the berms was that snow would drift into the leeward side. In order to keep from bogging down in the drifts we had to dig out the troughs of the berms by hand. It didn’t take long to figure out we could make some hellacious kickers on the top of these berms.

Starting at the top, we would run like bobsledders for the first twenty or thirty feet then dive onto our tubes then zip down the hill at blazing speed. It’s amazing nobody ever broke their back with the height we got as we launched off the kickers like bullfrogs and slammed back to down to the snow.

Oddly, around the time my buddies and I began to drive we sort of lost interest in wintertime tubing. I guess it’s because spinning cookies in vacant parking lots like Bo and Luke Duke was so much more fun.

Hair-brained adventure
When we were in our early twenties, my friend Tom bought a 1978 full-size Ford Bronco with a lift kit and oversized tires. One dark, blustery night he called me up a few hours after a snowstorm began pounding the Big O. He told me to put on some warm clothes and that he would be over shortly.

When I climbed up into the passenger seat a few minutes later, he tossed me a beer and proclaimed, “We’re going four-wheeling!”

We buzzed around the vacant streets of South O climbing the biggest, steepest hills we could find. The thrill wore off about three beers into our adventure. We found ourselves at the base of the hill on Rosenblatt’s north side.

“We’re going for it!,” Tom announced without hesitation.

Tom was always the daredevil in our little band of brothers. I knew instantly what he meant and I knew he was serious, so I buckled my seatbelt.

By this time, a good five to six inches of wet, heavy snow had blanketed the area and there was no sign of it letting up anytime soon. The drifts on the uphill side of those berms were now close to a foot deep.

The berm closest to the bottom must have been pretty small because we scaled right over it like a deer clearing a barbed-wire fence. Berm number two wouldn’t be so easy. By the time the front tires neared the crest, we were reclined back like astronauts preparing for lift off. Had the arched Rosenblatt sign been installed above the left field bleachers at the time, we would have been staring directly at it.

Seconds later we could only see snow as the front end plummeted into the drift on the back side of the berm. Tom gunned it and we rocked back in our seats as we began the next ascent – momentarily. As we inched up the hill, the back tires plunged into the drift. At this point, the steepness of the hill offered the front wheels no traction. I couldn’t overcome the feeling that things were starting to go wrong.

The Bronco lunged forward a few times only to back-slide into the trough of the berm. We repeated this sequence several times before Tom decided it was time to back down the hill. Good idea, I thought at the time.

The “Oh Shit!” moment
As the driving snow, awkward angles and a beer buzz worked collectively to impair our vision, something happened as Tom attempted to guide the craft out of the drift. The back wheels were now leading us downhill but they couldn’t quite pull us over the hump. As he juiced the accelerator a little more our angle began to shift. Our vision slanted from the left field fence toward center field as the front end of the Bronco wiggled in counter-clockwise fashion down the hill toward the east.

You may have heard of the “Aha!” moment popularized by an Omaha insurance company. This was our “oh shit!” moment. I can’t help but thinking this had to be quite a hysterical sight for motorists passing along on nearby Interstate 80.

There we were, parked in a snow drift a third of the way up the hill on the back side of Rosenblatt. Snow all around us, no phone, beer on our breath and clear evidence of how we got into this predicament in the tire tracks leading up the hill behind us.

It took a while, but we persevered. Armed with only our gloved hands, a snow scraper and an empty 12-pack container we began to dig our way out. About thirty minutes later we were back at the bottom, where a gently sloped parking lot now sits, reassessing the hair-brained scheme.

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Basecrawl documentary features CWS tailgating at Rosenblatt Stadium

Following is an exclusive Remember Rosenblatt Q&A conducted in 2010 with Troy Foster, co-producer of the Current TV documentary of BaseCrawl – a video journal of every baseball player’s ultimate fantasy. Foster and two buddies embarked on a mission to attend one game at every Major League ballpark in a single season, plus the College World Series at Omaha’s Rosenblatt.

Basecrawl.com co-producers Troy, Daren & Nolan

RR: Why did you feel it was so important to detour several hours off your basecrawl itinerary to go to a minor league park (Rosenblatt Stadium)?

Troy:  You’re not a hard-core baseball fan unless you’ve experienced the annual spectacle that is the College World Series. Not knowing about Rosenblatt Stadium is like saying you’re a baseball guru who’s never heard of Cooperstown.

When we were mapping out our basecrawl itinerary, we made sure that we’d pass within a stone’s throw of Omaha in June. In fact, the dates of several Major League games before and after the College World Series were framed around our stop at Rosenblatt, rather than the other way around.

RR: What was your most memorable College World Series experience?

Troy:  Personally, watching my alma matter win national championships in 2006 and 2007. I went to Oregon State in the late 1990s and spent an occasional spring afternoon in Corvallis watching the Beavers toil in obscurity. Their facilities were sub-par back then and nobody took them seriously because they were one of those “northern teams.” Head Coach Pat Casey and a special group of players scrapped and clawed their way to respectability, first making it to Omaha in 2005.

Following the Beavers triumphs at Rosenblatt Stadium actually reconnected me to baseball, which was an important part of my childhood but wasn’t a strong interest as a teen or adult. However, Oregon State’s storybook run this decade inspired me to give baseball another try and indirectly led to the basecrawl that was the subject of our documentary.

RR: How did the atmosphere of Rosenblatt Stadium compare with all of the MLB parks you attended?

Troy: The game-day experience was, without a doubt, better than anything we saw at the 30 Major League ballparks. Granted, each team in the Majors plays 81 home games and the ones we attended were of no particular significance, but there was something special going on at Rosenblatt Stadium. The tailgating and festival-like atmosphere wasn’t just an event, it was something to behold. I’ve heard other people describe it as akin to a college football atmosphere and I’ve even used those words myself, but I’ve been to plenty of college tailgaters — including the Fiesta Bowl — and this blows those out of the water. If you’ve watched the BaseCrawl installment on the College World Series you’ll notice Daren and I had a little bit too much fun soaking in the atmosphere.


RR: Any tips you would offer anyone considering going to the 2010 College World Series?

Troy:  If you’re a fan of the game of baseball, you need to make it to Rosenblatt this last year before it closes. I’m stunned that Omaha’s powers that be think they need a new ballpark, or that they think they can do better than Rosenblatt. This ballpark is a gem I’ll be sad to see it go.

In terms of any “how to” tips, I would suggest booking hotel reservations NOW if you can, because there’s no such thing as a last-minute reservation or vacancy in Omaha during the College World Series. Both years I’ve been to Rosenblatt we stayed over the state line in Iowa — the first time in Glenwood and last year at a campground. Also, get to the games early and enjoy the scenery and the tailgating. Don’t stress over tickets. They were being sold on the street in abundance for not much more than the change in your pocket.

Finally, don’t be like the guy who didn’t make it to the original Yankee Stadium before they tore it down. This year is Rosenblatt’s last song and dance. Don’t miss it.

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