Back Home in Omaha

By Glenn Tanner - June 16, 2006


Remember ESPN's sappy CWS theme song? Well, it is sappy. But its theme hits dead solid perfect to me. Back home in Omaha. I've been coming to the CWS since 1993, and even though I'm 100% Texan, every year when I come here I feel like I'm coming back home.

My first visit to Rosenblatt Stadium actually occurred in 1992. My college friend Tom had moved back to Omaha to attend medical school, and I flew in to meet up with him for a trip to Wrigley Field. Before starting our drive to Chicago, we naturally decided that it would be a good idea to go out on the town and stay out really late. Another good idea came along at about 2am -- I wanted to see Rosenblatt Stadium. So at 2am, we drove to the stadium, parked, and somehow climbed over the outfield fence. I stood there in awe, my feet and my jaw both firmly resting on the perfect outfield grass as I looked around at the field I had seen so often on TV. Tom casually mentioned, "You should come back next year for the Series." You betcha!

In 1993, we had no ticket connections, but managed to make it to every game but the championship game. Sometimes we got in on general admission tickets, sometimes we bummed tickets off friends, and sometimes we snuck our way into the stadium. Back then, GA seating was in these horrible splintery wood bleachers down the foul lines. For a while, we'd sit in the box seats until we got booted. Then we figured out that there was a block of seats that were reserved for players, with no assigned seating. So suddenly we had great seats and were able to sit and talk with the guys we would be watching on the field the next day. Great stuff!

A lot has changed since 1993. The stadium has changed from a rickety old minor-league park that seated about 15K to a beautifully renovated 26K-seat palace with a Jumbotron. The atmosphere of the event has changed. Things used to be pretty low key -- you used to be able to walk in the stadium with a bottle of water and get free ice at the concession stands on a hot day. Now, everything is more profit-driven, with 13th Street pretty much swamped with souvenir stands and $5 soft drinks inside the stadium. Lambert Bartek's stadium organ has been at least partially replaced by canned music, including that insufferable Chicken Dance. The weather has even changed -- the Series used to start the Friday after Memorial Day, so summer sometimes hadn't officially reached Omaha. (I remember shivering in 45-degree weather (day game!) watching Mark Kotsay's Fullerton team spank Todd Helton's Tennessee Vols.) Now, it's usually a sweatfest, with people jockeying for seats in the shade. We even have a relatively solid ticket connection, so it has been years since we've had to scam our way inside the stadium. The two things that haven't changed, however, are the people of Omaha and great baseball. And those are the two things that make this week my favorite week of the year.

If I were able to design my perfect day, it would most likely involve sitting in the sun watching a couple of great baseball games, high-lighted with ample tailgating. And that's pretty much what I get here. I lived in Hawaii from 1995-1999 but I'd still make the trip to the CWS. That was a little more difficult, both because of the plane ride and because it was more difficult to explain it to people. People in Hawaii wondered why in the world I'd go to Nebraska for vacation, and people in Omaha couldn't understand why someone would rather be in Nebraska than Hawaii. I finally told someone that during CWS week, the city of Omaha was my idea of paradise.

Even better than the baseball, though, are the people from Omaha. My friend Tom moved away from Omaha in 1997 and hasn't been back to the CWS since 2001. But I've become friends with his friends from high school. I stay at their houses, I eat their food, I go to games with them, and it's like I've known them all my life. They had their 20th high school reunion last year, and I almost felt like I should go. I've spent most of my time here with my friend Matt, and we've had several weird moments over the years when people asked us how we know each other. We seem to have finally settled on an answer: "From the Series." That actually seems to make sense.

We also now have regular tickets connections in Section O, and I've developed some great friendships there, too. I know Connie is going to give me a big hug and immediately want to see pictures of my daughter today. I'll see Joe and Kim even before the game. They'll be tailgating in row L, and they'll have plenty of food to share, including a big tub of red licorice for me. Joe will also be listening to the US Open on the radio. I'm not sure what surprises me more -- that they broadcast golf on the radio, or that there are people that listen to golf.

In 2004, Texas lost a couple of heart-breakers in the championship series. About an hour after the final game, I was walking through the parking lot when I saw someone I know from Section O. She got a look of genuine pity on her face and told me she was sorry that my team had lost. I shook my head and said, "Hey, I've been here for 10 days and have had an absolute blast. I'm much more sad that I have to leave tomorrow morning than I am about the game." Because you see, it hurts to leave home.

Posted by Glenn Tanner at 10:32 AM on June 16, 2006
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