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Rosenblatt Stadium legend: Chopper the ball shagger

Rosenblatt legends come in all shapes and sizes. Some were athletes, others were groundskeepers or announcers. One legend was a 4-foot tall, 80 lbs. ball shagger by the name of Eugene Rosales, but everyone knew of him as Chopper. Even ESPN’s Kyle Peterson reminisced about Chopper during a recent broadcast of a Creighton – Nebraska game.

I tracked Chopper down and asked him to share his memories as Rosenblatt’s College World Series ball shagger.

RR: Do you remember what your official title was?
ER:  My official job title I believe was ball shagger. I was too young and excited to have that job to ask them why they didn’t just use the same person who did the Royals games. I was actually an employee for the City of Omaha .

RR: How old were you when you performed that role?
ER: I was 11 when I first got the job in the summer after finishing 6th grade. My dad knew the foreman of the grounds crew (Frank Mancuso) and he simply asked him if I could have the job. Frank was a cool cat with his cigars. 

RR: Did you ever meet anyone famous at Rosenblatt?
ER: I actually have met a ton of people and players who went on to be stars in the major leagues. Some of the players I met were Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Pete Incaviglia, Dave Magadan. A lot of them I still have autographed baseballs in a box at home. I may have met Chris Berman from ESPN not really knowing who he was since cable TV was a relatively new thing back then.

RR: You became a sort of Rosenblatt legend in your own right. Explain how you went from being a foul ball shagger to a Rosenblatt icon.
ER: That’s quite a compliment, but I think there are probably more deserving people of the icon status than me. Guys like Jesse and Terry Cuevas come to mind. I remember Terry wearing his cowboy boots all the time. He was always so nice to me. I only had that job for four summers from 81-84.

He’s so modest, or embarrassed. Chopper became a CWS sensation for the dance moves he pulled off whenever he caught the foul balls off the backstop net. His moves had moves! Chopper was as entertaining as the games on the field.

RR: What is your fondest memory (or a few) of Rosenblatt Stadium?
ER: I have lots of them. The only memories I have of the actual stadium facility so to speak are how I was always so intrigued by the light towers that lit the stadium for night games when I was very young. Believe it or not, one of my goals was to climb up one of them. That never happened of course.

My other memory of the actual facility was how I was so taken with being able to go into the clubhouse and visit with the players and coaches. Other memories are mostly of the people that worked there and how hard everyone worked to get ready for the event. I got to sign lots of autographs. I still have a couple of scars on my right arm from diving on the gravel warning track around the field. I guess I didn’t take heed to the warning huh?

Chopper (Eugene) still lives in Omaha employed in the mortgage lending business. He’s a loyal fan of the Kansas City Royals.


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NET Nebraska debuts documentary: Rosenblatt – The Final Inning

When I was back in Omaha for the College World Series in 2010 I snapped this picture of the NET Nebraska (PBS) crew that was shooting the documentary about Rosenblatt Stadium called Rosenblatt: The Final Inning.

NET Nebraska crew

NET Nebraska crew films a clip for Rosenblatt - The Final Inning at the 2010 College World Series

Next thing I knew, they had a mic on me and the camera in my face. The premier showing is Saturday, June 11 at 7 pm CT at which time I’ll find out if I said anything stupid. From what I understand this production will be quite a bit different from the video released by the NCAA in 2010 in that it covers more than just the history of college baseball at Rosenblatt. Make sure you tune in or set your DVR.

For those of you outside the Omaha & Lincoln metro areas you can watch a live webcast online at www.netnebraska.org. I’ll have to watch online too. Check out the teaser clip now.

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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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