College World Series 2021 – Magic returns to Omaha
OMAHA, Neb. – On Saturday afternoon June 19, 2021, the parking lot in downtown Omaha was hot, smoky and rocking. The tailgaters partied alongside their converted campers, vans and ambulances, lined up under the monolithic tower in the right field of the TD Ameritrade Park dashboard. They drank beer. They burnt meat. They reveled in the shade of the rustling leaves of the trees and swayed their hips to the beat of Chumbawamba as he arrived from a nearby DJ booth. A fat, red-faced man in a Big Red Nebraska t-shirt sang, pointing his long-necked bottle at no one in particular. “I get knocked down, but I get up, you’re never gonna hold me back … We got knocked down, but here we are again, fucking COVID can’t hold us back!”
The singer – he said to call him “Crockpot” – then began to fall through his folding chair to land his buttocks first on the scorching 2pm asphalt. He didn’t care. He just laughed and smiled. Everyone in downtown Omaha was laughing and smiling. To finish.
Composite bats stained in the tent to try before you buy from Easton. Bullets slammed against the vinyl back of Rawlings’ fastpitch booth. A few blocks away, the Boudreaux Thibodeaux Boys, an annual gathering of Louisiana oil rig workers and Omaha drywall contractors who randomly met during the nearly 20-year-old series. years, sent columns of smoke from plates of beef and pots of okra. On 73rd Street, retired baseball coaches ate fillets of whiskey at the Drover. On the banks of the Missouri River, dozens of youth teams competed in the Omaha Slumpbuster and Battle of Omaha baseball tournaments. At the Henry Doorly Zoo, Arizona fans asked zookeepers if they could borrow a wildcat or something a little more ursin because, you know, “Bear Down.”
“This is how it’s supposed to feel here,” said Tim Corbin, head coach of defending champion Vanderbilt, shortly before the start of a Game 2 evening showdown with Arizona who became an instant classic 7-6, 12 innings victory for his Commodores. . “You can just stay here and absorb the energy in the air. You feel this place. That’s why it’s magical.”
Yes, magic. That’s exactly how I felt when the delayed 74th College World Series finally kicked off on Saturday. It was the day O Town finally felt normal again. Because for the first time in 724 days, a varsity baseball game was being played in Omaha in June, as it had happened every summer for seven decades until a year ago, when the Omaha highway was closed. , covered with detour signs, road cones and antigen tests. TD Ameritrade Park was padlocked. The roasted corn concession tents and stands in the Baseball Village fan zone were never erected. The row of flagpoles that were moved to downtown Rosenblatt Stadium when it was razed in 2013 was bare, missing the flags of the eight participating teams. The wind was literally out of the city sails.
“It seems overkill to say that neither of us knew what to do with ourselves, but we really didn’t,” explained Paul Terry, a North Omaha resident, waiting for his teenage daughters to finish Instagram as Zesto ice cream sign. Terry said his family has attended the College World Series almost non-stop since the event moved to Nebraska from Wichita in 1950. “But for everyone in this city whether they even go to the series or not, being here is only part of the calendar. Like Christmas or July 4th. Imagine how freaking out you would be if someone walked in and erased one from your family calendar. “
It was worse than that. When the NCAA announced the cancellation of its spring championships on March 13, 2020, it was as if someone was walking through downtown Omaha and suddenly wiping out two dozen city blocks. It is the space occupied by the baseball stadium and the bars and businesses that have been built around it over the past decade. The size of the economic crater was even larger. In March 2021, Creighton University released a study commissioned by CWS from Omaha, Inc., the local operational arm of the series. He estimated that the CWS generates $ 88.3 million per year, a cash flow fueled by food purchased, sales taxes paid, and even tickets purchased by baseball fans visiting Boys Town and the Henry Doorly Zoo. It creates more than 1,000 full-time jobs and by the opening weekend of CWS 2019, 95% of the city’s 15,000 hotel rooms were booked. Last year, the owner of The Dugout, a souvenir shop across from the baseball stadium that has become the merchandise hub (and hidden air conditioning) of the downtown CWS experience, felt that more half of his annual income came from the week and a half of the series. The canoe closed permanently during the pandemic winter.
The dollars that are gone and the businesses that have gone with them are overwhelming to sift through. But this calculation is nothing compared to emotional subtraction. Jack Diesing Jr., second generation president of CWS of Omaha, Inc. was so out of town he left town, planning a golf trip with friends because he couldn’t fathom the idea of being in Omaha without the games. Corbin and his wife are planning a long summer road trip, a bucket list visit to Mount Rushmore. The Nashville Highway took them through Omaha. They couldn’t resist stopping at the stadium. The coach recalled: “It was hard to see the city in the state it was because no one was there, but we had to stop. That’s how we’re built. That’s how we are built. instinctive.”
Reporting to Omaha in June is an instinct. Like a bird migration. And no bird travels alone. On what should have been the opening day of the 2020 College World Series, legendary Omaha World-Herald sports reporter Tom Shatel decided he would go to the baseball stadium anyway. He and ESPN varsity baseball analyst / Omaha native Kyle Peterson climbed the stairs at TD Ameritrade Park and peered longingly between the rails to catch a glimpse of the empty green infield. The only movement found in a parking lot was in Lot D. It involved driving COVID tests. But soon, they were joined by others, a steady stream of lost CWS pilgrims, who showed up at the stadium because their DNA ordered them to do so. Shatel, Peterson, and their new friends stood there quietly until a security guard told them they had to go.
“I would do anything to have a College World Series,” a friend told Shatel, adding desperately, “I would do anything to be able to listen to the Vanderbilt Whistler. Damn, I would let him sit behind me. . “
On the opening day of the College World Series 2021, those same stairs were covered with 46,063 fans, including Vandy Whistler, crawling through the security checkpoint and taking giddy selfies with the Road to Omaha statue. It was too hot. There were too many people. Game time was just moments away. But, as it was Lot D at Baseball Village at the Boudreaux Thibodeaux Classic, all you could see in any direction were smiles of relief from summer varsity baseball.
– Ryan McGee (@ESPNMcGee) June 19, 2021
“This line is moving so slowly, I feel like I should be pissed off, but I really am not. Looks like no one is really doing it,” Council Bluffs, Iowa resident Regan Thomas said, speaking then. that she was applying sunscreen. on the shoulders which were adorned with a sleeveless blue t-shirt with capital letters indicating “OMAHA 2020” but with a lowercase “1” hidden inside the final zero. “I’m so excited to be back that I don’t even need a seat. I will stay there all night.”
“That feeling now is that it’s almost like we’re reopening everything,” said Tim Corbin, sounding both a trainer, a fan and a true believer in spreading the gospel of this CWS magic. “We’re helping to rejuvenate the College World Series. And in some ways, Omaha.”
Not in some ways, coach. In every way.