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Rosenblatt Stadium memories will live on

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Posted: Jun 17, 2010 12:48 PM
Source: Associated Press

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Topics: Rosenblatt Stadium, baseball, Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, College World Series, Omaha, Nebraska, LSU, Skip Bertman, national championship, Tigers, CWS, WBRZ

To people in college baseball, Rosenblatt stadium is as much a shrine to the sport as Wrigley Field, Fenway Park or the old Yankee Stadium.

Every year since 1950, the Division I championship has culminated with the College World Series at the ballpark atop a hill in Omaha, Neb.

Come Saturday, the series will begin its last run at Rosenblatt before moving to a new downtown stadium in 2011.

The final field at Rosenblatt includes TCU, Florida, Florida State, UCLA, Arizona State, Oklahoma, Clemson and South Carolina.

Retired LSU coach Skip Bertman said he feels the pangs of nostalgia.

He won five national championships and made 13 other visits to Rosenblatt as either a head coach or assistant, and he's come back most years since retiring in 2001.

The Tigers won't be back to defend their national title this year, but Bertman will be here anyway.

"They can't take away the memories," Bertman said. "It's only girders, steel, aluminum and wood, and they're just going to move it a couple miles. They're not taking the College World Series away from Omaha. The new girders, steel, wood and metal will house the fans and players in a more comfortable fashion and everyone will benefit."

A ticket for the CWS' last go-round at Rosenblatt is a tough one.

Sports fans across the nation who have put off making a trip to Rosenblatt suddenly realize that this is their last chance, local ticket broker Chad Carr says.

A box seat to Saturday's opener, with a face value of $27, was listed as high as $325 on Carr's Ticket Express website earlier this week.

Carr said his CWS sales were about 30 percent ahead of a comparable time last year.

"There's a sense of nostalgia in the air, with people wanting to experience the College World Series in its true, non-corporate form one last time," Carr said.

Rosenblatt was considered state-of-the-art when it opened as Omaha Stadium in 1948.

The city spent about $1 million to build what originally was a 10,000-seat stadium.

It was renamed Rosenblatt Stadium in 1964, after Johnny Rosenblatt, a popular Omaha mayor and baseball enthusiast.

College baseball was not at the forefront when Omaha built the stadium.

The city wanted to attract a minor-league baseball team, and in 1949 the St. Louis Cardinals moved their Western League farm team here.

The Los Angeles Dodgers later placed a minor-league team at Rosenblatt, and in 1969 Omaha began its Triple-A association with the Kansas City Royals.

Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, Bob Gibson and other greats came through, either as minor-leaguers or as part of major-league exhibition games.

The stadium's national acclaim has come in more recent years and is owed exclusively to the College World Series' 10-day run each June.

There have been countless memorable moments, from Warren Morris' two-out, bottom-of-the-ninth home run that gave LSU the 1996 national championship to Dave Winfield's one-hit effort for
Minnesota in 1973 that went for naught against Southern California to Miami's phantom pick-off play against Wichita State in 1982 to the controversial end of Robin Ventura's 58-game hitting streak in
1987.

"It is the epitome of college baseball," Wichita State coach Gene Stephenson said. "It is the pinnacle of where everybody wants to be."

The CWS, to be sure, wasn't such a big deal in the beginning.

The event was played in Kalamazoo, Mich., in 1947-48 and in Wichita, Kan., in 1949. The tournament couldn't gain traction either place, and Omaha business leaders offered to host it in 1950.

Just 2,400 fans attended the first national championship game, in which Texas beat Washington State 3-0, and the CWS lost money nine of its first 14 years in Omaha.

The business community thought the event was good for Omaha and offered to underwrite the losses.

The NCAA, for its part, was impressed with the hospitality and stuck with Omaha despite overtures from places including Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The event surged in popularity once ESPN began televising games in the 1980s.

The growth required renovations totaling almost $40 million since 1987, and seating increased to its current 24,000.

With bigger crowds has come congestion in the narrow concourse.

There are too few restrooms and concession stands.

The clubhouses are spare, if not dumpy, and players typically put their uniforms on at the team hotel before heading to the stadium.

Yet there is charm to the place, especially with longtime organist Lambert Bartak providing the musical backdrop, chirping birds nesting in the grandstand ceiling, and the sounds of hawkers
selling soda and Cracker Jack.

"It's kind of a good, old-fashioned feel. You feel walking through there no different than Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth would have felt," said Morris, the former LSU second baseman.

As beloved as Rosenblatt is, city leaders believed it needed to be replaced if Omaha was to garner a long-term commitment from the NCAA.

The CWS has a $40 million annual economic impact on Omaha, and it has given the city invaluable national exposure.

In exchange for a 25-year contract to keep the CWS in Omaha through 2035, the city is building a 24,000-seat downtown stadium - TD Ameritrade Park - at a cost of $128 million.

"Rosenblatt will be missed but not forgotten," said Jack Diesing Jr., president of the local organizing group CWS Inc. "We really did everything we could over the years without tearing the whole thing down. It's just time for a change. The grand old lady withstood the test of time. If Rosenblatt hadn't been here, we wouldn't be talking about where we're going to be the next 25 years."

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